First impressions may not be as important as we thought: Study

Cropped shot of two businessmen shaking hands after making a deal in the office.

Well, here’s some good news about first impressions. You can relax a little more because even though you may worry after meeting someone that you came off not in the exact way you wanted, you are probably being a lot harder on yourself than you need to be. According to a new study published in the journal "Psychological Science," people tend to underestimate how much another person likes them after they first meet.

The researchers conducted an experiment in which they paired participants who had never met and had them rate their partner after they had a conversation. Most of the people believed they liked the person more than the other one liked them. Even though the researchers saw visual cues that indicated positive feelings between the partners, the participants were less likely to pick up on them.

Margaret Clark, Ph.D., a Yale University psychology professor and one of the authors of the study, said in a news release “We’re self-protectively pessimistic and do not want to assume the other likes us before we find out if that’s really true.”

The Liking Gap

The researchers ran a number of experiments between the pairs with multiple conversations in different settings and found that people still tended to underestimate how positively their partner felt about them. The researchers labeled this phenomenon as the “liking gap.” “The liking gap works very differently. When it comes to social interaction and conversation, people are often hesitant, uncertain about the impression they’re leaving on others, and overly critical of their own performance,” wrote the study’s authors. “In light of people’s vast optimism in other domains, people’s pessimism about their conversations is surprising.”

So basically if you just met someone and thought you made a terrible impression you are probably mostly imagining it, unless you are just the most awkward person ever.

This article originally appeared on Ladders, a publication dedicated to breaking news, opinion, analysis and advice at the cutting edge of our changing workplace. For more, sign up for Ladders' newsletter here