Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Jumping to Negative Impressions Again: The Role of Pessimism, Information Valence, and Need for Cognitive Closure in Impression Formation

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Jumping to Negative Impressions Again: The Role of Pessimism, Information Valence, and Need for Cognitive Closure in Impression Formation

Article excerpt

Impression formation is the process of putting together individual pieces of information about a person to form a whole impression (Rosenthal-Stott, Dicks, & Fielding, 2015). Research on first impressions is important; when meeting someone for the first time, people often want to make a lasting, respectable first impression that is free of ambiguity. There are many variables that influence impression formation, including the valence of the event, information that is disclosed by the target, the timing of the disclosure in the interaction, whether the target disclosing the information is responsible for the event (Jones & Gordon, 1972), and whether the person making the evaluative judgment has a pessimistic or optimistic attributional style (Goodmon, Kelly, Mauldin, & Young, 2015).

The valence of information disclosed has a significant impact on impression formation (Collins & Miller, 1994; Goodmon et al., 2015; Jones & Gordon, 1972). For example, Jones and Gordon (1972) had participants rate the likability of a target person (advisee) who was having their first advising meeting with their academic advisor in which the advisee talked about past life events. The target either mentioned a good fortune (e.g., earning an academic scholarship or inheritance of money) or a bad fortune (e.g., being expelled for cheating or going through a parents' divorce) and whether they were responsible for the event. They determined that the disclosure of negative information has a negative impact on impression formation, causing individuals to rate people who disclose negative information lower than those who disclose positive information (Runge & Archer, 1981). They also found that it is better for a person to disclose negative information early on when they are responsible for the event, but better to disclose a bad fortune later when they are not responsible. Their findings demonstrate that negative impressions are difficult to modify (Hargie, 2006; Mann & Ferguson, 2015), and that after learning negative information, people have a very difficult time setting it aside and listening to new evidence (Hargie & Dickson, 2004). People pay more attention to negative information, and upon hearing said information, demonstrate a confirmation bias by ignoring contradictory information, even if it is positive (Hargie, 2006).

Goodmon et al., (2015) replicated the previously described findings and extended the study to determine how impression formation varied as a function of the evaluators' attributional style (i.e., whether someone is pessimistic or optimistic), a subject characteristic that is related to one's cognitive expectancies about the future (Barnett & Martinez, 2015), as well as their evaluations of the causes of good and bad events (Peterson, 2000; Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2005; Reivich & Gillham, 2003; Seligman, 1990). Using a methodological paradigm similar to Jones and Gordon (1972), they found that, compared to optimistic participants, pessimists gave lower likability ratings for targets who revealed responsibility for a certain academic event, regardless of the event's valence (positive/good fortune or negative/bad fortune). Interestingly, Goodmon and colleagues (2015) found no significant difference in likability ratings between optimists who read about a target who revealed a negative incident and pessimists who read about a target who revealed a positive incident. This last result suggests that when a person is being evaluated by a pessimist, they are already on a lower playing field than if they were being evaluated by an optimist.

One reason for this lack of difference between pessimists who rated targets who reveal positive events and optimists who rated targets who reveal negative events may have to do with the different attributions optimists and pessimists make regarding how permanent (or temporary), pervasive/global (or specific), and internal (or external) causes are. …

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