You never get a second chance to make a first impression, Proverb.
Let me tell you a story. Three girls applied for a job interview. A psychologist gave them a test to select the most suitable candidate for the post. The test was basically a single question: Where is Egypt? The answers given by the candidates were: “It is in Africa,” “It is in Africa or Europe,” “I saw a beautiful National Geographic documentary. It explained everything about mummies and the pyramids of Egypt. I liked it a lot and I am very interested in learning more about Tutankhamun.”
Later on, the psychologist read the answer-sheets. The first candidate had proven to have good knowledge of Geography. She is competent and knowledgeable. She had given the correct answer without doubts or hesitation. The second girl is flexible and easily adapts to changing circumstances. She was able to integrate different alternatives. The third girl is a highly motivated person and someone who can learn, improve, and work as a team member. After three days, the boss had a meeting with the psychologist and asked him: “Why did you choose her? (the third girl).” “I have no doubts whatsoever,” he replied, “she has the biggest boobs!”
They say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and the same applies to the first time we meet and get to know someone. We analyze him or her and form a mental image of that person through our senses. First impressions are very important, among other reasons, because they are lasting. Why? Because we ignore discordant facts or neglect adverse findings as we have aversion towards the information which is not consistent with our initial thoughts and ideas. We also mold new information to fit our old existing schemes.
Thus, we label people based on their appearance and characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, physical attractiveness, socio-economic status, age, sexual orientation, outfit, etc. From that moment forward, this mental image will determine how we act and interact with them.
Physical attractiveness and good looks are very important. As the old saying goes, beauty is good. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Attractive” people have many advantages in life: better educational outcomes, an easier time gaining employment, higher incomes and better working conditions, more likely to marry, and more success in work, love, and money.
Higher expectations tend to drive people to move forward, learn, and excel and make them more efficient, improving their performance in anything that they undertake.
This phenomenon is called the Pygmalion effect. It has its origin in the legend of Pygmalion and Galatea told by Ovid in his great Metamorphoses. Pygmalion was a king of Cyprus. He could not find the woman of his dreams. He created an ivory statue of a woman and fell in love with it: “But while he was single, with consummate skill, he carved a statue out of snow-white ivory, and gave it exquisite beauty, which not a single woman in the world has ever equalled: she was so beautiful, he fell in love with his creation,” Ovid, Metamorphoses 10. 243 ff. He dreamed that the statue came to life and was granted his wish by Aphrodite.
A classic and very revealing experiment was conducted in 1968 by Rosenthal and Jacobson. An intelligence test was performed for all the students in a school and a list of “gifted” students was created. Months after this, the “best” students confirmed expectations, they did better academically and when the intelligence test was repeated, they significantly improved their performance relative to the less “gifted” students. However, and here is the key, the list was not created from the initial test, but using pure randomness.
How was that possible? The favourable or unfavourable teachers' expectations regarding their students produce a significant effect on their academic performance. People tend to fulfil their own prophecies. Teachers can enhance the quality of their classes by creating appropriate, rich, and engaging lessons, they can provide students with complementary reading materials and resources that interest them, as well as, invaluable feedback and advice to their students. Students regarded as good, gifted, or talented are more likely to be highly motivated and academically successful.
Economic bubbles, such as the dot-com bubble in the late 1990s and the real-estate bubble in 2000, are other good examples. The term bubble refers to a period in which the price of an asset exceeds its real value because investors believe that they can sell the asset at an even higher price to someone else in the future. They show that when many people believe that a phenomenon will happen ― the price of an asset will continue to rise in the future ―, it will. The irrational exuberance surrounding these bubbles and the panics that ensue are both self-fulfilling prophecies.
What is the moral of the story? It is very important to encourage, praise, and trust our children, relatives, subordinates, and friends. It helps them to build and boost their self-esteem and confidence, keep them motivated, increase performance, and achieve their goals.
We should also surround ourselves with positive people. Negative people (“everyone and everything sucks,” “there is nothing that we can do about it,” etc.) do not value you, nor your thoughts, opinions, or actions. They have very low expectations on you, your projects or career. They will drain your energy, drag you down to their level, and they will never ever help you to succeed and grow in your career and life.
Let them go. Do it gracefully and with love.
On the contrary, positive people will help you to think positive, they will give you wings to learn, grow and improve. They will boost your chances of success.
More importantly, make sure you have a good self-esteem and self-confidence in your potential and ability to grow and improve. Make your goal a self-fulfilling prophecy, as Henry Ford put it: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t ― you’re right.”