Efficiency Can Lead to Wrong Judgments

Even twins aren't exactly alike, though my brain wants to make them that way. Wrong judgments!

How is it possible that we can make a complete assessment of someone in less than a second? Sure, our brains are fast, but that is absolutely amazing!

The secret is attachment. I don’t have to assess EVERYTHING about another person to make my assessment of them. Instead, my mind simply assesses ENOUGH about them to relate them to a previous, more thorough assessment of another similar (to me) person – and extrapolates or assumes what it doesn’t know.

When someone LOOKS or SOUNDS like your favorite uncle, for example, you might save yourself some energy by simply making the new “someone” into your favorite uncle. Never mind that he is nothing like your uncle – only that he LOOKS or SOUNDS LIKE your uncle.

“How long do you have to make a good first impression? About half a second, new research has revealed. Scientists have discovered that humans make judgements on someone’s trustworthiness within the first 500 milliseconds of hearing their voice.” (2)

It’s not only personality and physical assessments we attach to people. We attach judgments, too. The stronger the judgments I’ve attached to a similar earlier person, and the more closely the new person resembles them, and the less I question my assessment, the quicker and more efficient the process.

This can lead to flaws in our judgments, of course, because, as I mentioned above, the new person is NOT your uncle.

Life is fast paced and requires considerable energy to live – so our brains have evolved this simple and elegant solution – which works fine enough most of the time. For example, the last person I encountered who wielded a gun wanted to harm me – when I encounter another person with a gun, I may [rightly] feel the same way about them even though the new person is not the previous person. The brain energy I save might now be used in creating or modifying an escape plan.

When I realize that I’m not actually in danger, I might settle down a bit and reconsider my assessments of others. As difficult as it is to “unwire” judgments I’ve quickly and wrongly attached to folks I barely know, doing so can greatly lessen my day-to-day stress and help me connect and communicate much more effectively.


  1. “How Do You Say ‘Hello’? Personality Impressions from Brief Novel Voices,” Phil McAleer, Alexander Todorov, Pascal Belin, March 12, 2014, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090779 http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0090779
  2. Above study reported and interpreted by University of Glasgow, University News, New Research Reveals the Secret to Making a Good First Impression, by Dr. Phil McAleer http://www.gla.ac.uk/news/headline_312691_en.html

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