Undoing Our First Impressions

We see first impressions all throughout Bel Canto. Very few of the characters actually knew each other before the birthday party for Mr. Hosokawa, so almost every character has been making first impressions of each character they come in contact with. Gen’s opinion of Carmen continues to change as the story unfolds. First he thought she was just a young boy like all the rest, next and more recently he has started to fall for her once he realized she was a girl, but early on in chapter six he questioned who she was. He placed negative assumptions on things she may have done in her past, but still recognized that she was unique as “He couldn’t stop wondering how a girl like that had come through the air conditioner vents with criminals.” (p.210) The characters aren’t the only ones formulating first impressions. We also as the readers have made first impressions as Anne Patchett introduced the characters. However, she makes it a clear objective to change our first impressions as we continue to read. The question I have is why is it so easy sometimes to override first impressions when we are wrong, but other times it is so difficult even when we realize we were wrong?

It all boils down to whether our first evaluation of the person was explicit or implicit. Explicit evaluations are much easier to reverse, because they are not as strong as implicit evaluations. Explicit evaluations tend to be more at the forefront of our conscious minds, they are the opinions that we are clearly aware of. These thoughts are used by many scientists to explain and also predict deliberate behavior of individuals (Sritharan and Gawronski). These are the acts that we knowingly decide to do and have complete control over our decision to do them. It is much easier to predict how someone will act in a situation if they are more self-aware of how they feel, and what opinions they have about a certain topic or person. To give an example, it would be like if I were to say “I like football”. Since I know that I like football, it is also easier for my opinion to change over time and become “I don’t like football”. The new things that I may discover about football are more easily deciphered and can more efficiently change the way I feel about the sport.

Implicit evaluations however are very different. They too are often times conscious thoughts or actions, but we have less control over them. These are measured indirectly by scientists which means that they take a stimulus and see if the perception of that stimulus facilitates a response to another, unrelated stimulus (Mann and Ferguson). Often times this type of evaluation is further beneath in our minds, because it is derived from memories. Memories and experiences that we go through play an important role in how we react in certain situations. They also play a massive role in formulating the opinions that we have about various topics. Implicit evaluations are much harder to change, because they are not surface level thoughts, and they are more of an integral part of who we are and what we believe.

Much of the studies done on explicit and implicit evaluations have been done on the topic of racism and prejudice. Particularly psychologists have studied a lot about implicit evaluation and it’s affects on racism and prejudices since the 1980’s (Sritharan and Gawronski). A lot of people are starting to suppress or deny their prejudices, because of the fact that it is socially unacceptable to be prejudice. Individuals are starting to place comments like “I’m not racist” right before saying a completely racist comment. This allows them to truly believe that they aren’t making a racist comment, but often times they know their intentions and still choose to suppress those feelings of realization, which makes their evaluations implicit.

Gen’s negative thoughts about Carmen most likely derived from implicit evaluations. He started to place attributes on her that he actually thought of terrorists or child soldiers. These assumptions he made of her were most likely caused by the experiences he had had in his life, or maybe even just by the influences that those around him had on him, like Messner. Messner has made several comments about these types of hostage takeovers, and the individuals involved, and maybe now Gen is placing those attributes on to Carmen.

How do we break past implicit evaluations to where we can see the facts and be more open to change? Can we make it to where when we choose to we can uncover our evaluations and resurface them to become explicit evaluations that we can then deal with more efficiently? I want to find out more research on how to do this. I found very little, but I want more so I can start to do this in my own life.


Works Cited

  1. Mann, Thomas C., and Melissa J. Ferguson. “Can We Undo Our First Impressions? The Role of Reinterpretation in Reversing Implicit Evaluations.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 108.6 (2015): 823-49. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <http://web.b.ebscohost.com.librarylink.uncc.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=6&sid=8195c678-f8f8-426b-8f02-3d4dc6859770%40sessionmgr110&hid=128&bdata=JmxvZ2luLmFzcCZzaXRlPWVob3N0LWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=2015-12430-001&db=pdh&gt;.
  2. Sritharan, Rajees, and Bertram Gawronski. “Changing Implicit and Explicit Prejudice.” Social Psychology 41.3 (2010): 113-23. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <http://web.b.ebscohost.com.librarylink.uncc.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=3&sid=c36cb6ed-fe1b-461a-b376-5671f81de0ad%40sessionmgr115&hid=128&bdata=JmxvZ2luLmFzcCZzaXRlPWVob3N0LWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=2010-17202-002&db=pdh&gt;.
  3. Petty, Richard E., and Pablo Briñol. “A Metacognitive Approach to “implicit” and “explicit” Evaluations: Comment on Gawronski and Bodenhausen (2006).” Psychological Bulletin 132.5 (2006): 740-44. Web. 7 Oct. 2015. <https://www.uam.es/otros/persuasion/papers/2006%20Psych%20Bulletin%20-MCM-.pdf&gt;.

3 thoughts on “Undoing Our First Impressions

  1. hcelemen says:

    I found your post very intriguing because I didn’t even realize the first impressions the characters have been making towards each other. In fact, I think that I missed this because I have been too busy trying to figure out what MY first impression of them is as the reader. At this point of the book, it seems that everyone is starting to re-evaluate their first impression of the people they’ve met or known for some time. There’s also Kato turning out to be a skilled pianist, Thibault and his ability to cook, Rueben’s change of opinion towards Roxanne’s inability to cook, the Generals’ past lives before becoming a terrorist group, and Roxanne growing closer to Carmen. It is interesting that their opinions of each other can be broken down to explicit or implicit.

    Explicit: making a clear statement leaving no room for doubt or confusion. It is almost akin to simply accepting an opinion without much forethought. I tried to apply this to myself based on your example. When I was younger I kept saying “I hate strawberries.” My reasoning for this is that I didn’t like how sour it was the first time I ever tried it since moving to America. They didn’t have strawberries in the Philippines. It’s such a shallow reason but I grew up avoiding the taste of strawberries because I kept up the mantra that I hated it. Yet the moment came that I finally took a bite of the sweetest and freshly grown strawberry while strawberry picking with my little cousins. And just as suddenly, I stopped hating it. It’s almost a slap in the face how easily my opinion changed since my first impression. So based on your findings, this would be an explicit opinion. So why do we continue making explicit opinions that may eventually get discredited or are simply untrue?

    Despite your statement that explicit opinions can be easily changed based on our knowledge and feelings towards the stimulus, I perceive the significant impact of explicit ideas on how we develop our personality. If you really felt strongly about “liking” football, you could be the person who attends and cheers at every football game. But if your opinion had changed, you would have a great aversion towards the sport. In result, this would also affect whom you would feel more comfortable being with for such events. What is it about our psychological structure that triggers us to subconsciously make such simple statements that then shapes our personality and behavior? If it is easily managed by switching your opinion on something you’ve grown to like or dislike, then what is the truth or what is your true opinion of the stimulus?

    Implicit first impressions are even more fascinating. Implicit: with no qualification or question; absolute and can be implied but not plainly expressed. Religion and race superiority easily fall in this category. If this is based on our memories and experiences then we are most vulnerable as children because we are at a critical point in our life where we have role models that we mirror and try to build our character from. Most religious children come from families with strong religious ties and backgrounds. I found the first definition for it very interesting because of how it applies to beliefs. We may believe in a non-existing entity or improvable bias. Yet, even though when we know this and realize the flaw in our beliefs, we continue to follow those opinions. It makes me wonder if those opinions were simply ingrained into us through childhood conditioning. Do we accept these things as the truth because we’ve heard and seen how strongly our role models accept it? Even when we grow up and become free to form our own opinions, do we still subconsciously fall back on these beliefs because it has become the foundation of everything else we’ve grown to accept or deny in our lives?

    There are so many ways to further pursue this topic and I think it would interesting for you to further examine how these explicit and implicit opinions are being developed initially in children. I believe that a lot of our psychological construct that is harder to explain in adulthood specifically goes back to what we experienced as children. It will be interesting to see if Gen’s feelings towards Carmen will change due to the explicit and implicit opinions he is making.


  2. Colin Murphy says:

    Hi Bryson,

    Thanks for your well-written post!

    Your research is very interesting; I’ve never considered the existence of two different ways to form first impressions. After reading your post, however, I can definitely understand how the differences between explicit and implicit evaluations can determine one’s ability to change his/her opinion of someone. Another example of a first impression the hostages (and readers) made earlier in the novel was toward the accompanist. In fact, it wasn’t until well after he had died that we realized our impression of him was flawed and that he was a diabetic. Whether this impression was implicit or explicit, though, is difficult to say.

    It’s funny how often people will claim they’re in the right and then say something completely contradictory (i.e. “I swear I’m not a racist, but -insert stereotype here-”). Their consciousness just never quite seems to change their implicit beliefs (no matter how hard they might try). A few years ago I read an article where volunteers were rapidly shown photos on a computer of various situations. The photos disappeared so quickly that one’s conscious mind was unable to interpret what they were seeing (however their unconscious self could). And, as you mention in your post, the participants would react in a manner that would represent their implicit beliefs.

    Although you’ve done a great job of relating Gen’s behavior to your research on impressions (I definitely agree his was implicit), some further research would be interesting to see. It’s my understanding that through the process of Slow Research our primary focus is to be on the research itself and not the novel. You’ve done a great job identifying an important aspect of the chapter; the next step is to see where your research can take you. The questions you propose at the end of your post are great research avenues you might choose to explore in your future posts to really find a deeper understanding of the topic.

    Again, great work! I look forward to seeing where you’ll take your concluding questions in your research next week.

    – Colin


  3. annawallace003 says:

    I think that the topic you chose to pursue this week was extremely important and relevant to this weeks reading. As a reader, I can honestly say that during the past few weeks I have slowly forgotten that the characters have just recently met and aren’t all too familiar with one another. The first person that comes to mind is Hosokawa. At the beginning of Bel Canto he never actually knew Roxanne and now he has gotten to personally know her, his impression of her has changed. This example is just one of the many character relationships that I recall.

    After reading the research that you have done about implicit and explicit biases, I found myself thinking back and relating to what types of impressions that the characters made on one another when they first met. I find it interesting that these type of biases are uncontrollable, I have never really considered how first impressions stick or don’t stick and your research clearly explains the reasoning behind it.

    You have done a great job covering this topic. As far as other directions you could go in with this, I would suggest possibly looking at it from the perspective of the workplace, particularly in interviews. They say that ones first impression can either make or break your chances of getting the job. What you found seems to correlate with this statement in that since you are meeting with someone for the first time, the impression will stick and become difficult to change.



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