Dr. Grant Halvorson is a social psychologist and associate director of the Motivation Science Center at Columbia Business School. In a recent video for Big Think, she took a look at confirmation bias — what it is, how it works, and how to overcome it.
Confirmation bias is the brain’s tendency to seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs.
Confirmation bias is something that affects us all. It’s why people typically consume news that reinforces what we already (think we) know. It’s why in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are people who believe climate change is a myth or that vaccines cause autism.
But it’s the primacy effect that explains why our brains really emphasize the first information we receive about a person or topic. The primacy effect is kind of like the overzealous sibling of confirmation bias. It’s why our first hunch about someone or something tends to stick with us. Our brains don’t like feeling unsure, so they put a lot of weight on early impressions.
Here’s why they’re right, according to science: Thanks to the primacy effect and confirmation bias, first impressions get a whole lot of weight when it comes to how we perceive (and are perceived by) other people.
Luckily, there are a couple of ways to overcome a bad first impression.
The first method of overcoming a bad first impression is to prove that impression wrong over an extended time. It’s not as simple as a one-time friendly encounter. To overcome the bad impression, it could take weeks or even months to override both primacy effect and confirmation bias.
The second method is to find a way to work closely with the person you’ve left a bad first impression with. Dr. Grant Halvorson suggests finding a way to work with the person — for example, working on a group project where all people involved have clear responsibilities and expectations to help override first impressions.
Why? When someone else has a direct impact on our own outcome, our brains will naturally want to make sure the first impression we got was an accurate one rather than simply sticking with that first impression. Of course, the best route is to put your best foot forward and give an accurate representation of who you are. While you can’t control how others perceive you, you can make sure you’re offering up a genuine version of yourself to people you meet.
Keep all this in mind the next time you’re meeting with new coworkers, acquaintances, or anyone, really.
We all have biases, but we can fight them by acknowledging and understanding them.