We judge people and make certain decisions super quickly.

Cognitively it makes sense. If I had to spend 5 minutes thinking about what vegetable to order with my meal, how to respond when someone asked me a question, or how warm/cold I wanted me shower to be, it would take a lot of cognitive effort. Instead, (super oversimplified) we become familiar with something and our decisions in that realm begin to happen automatically.

Often that’s a very good thing. I love that I can drive and talk on the phone, that I can walk to class while listening to a book, or that I can eat while having a conversation with someone.

Occasionally, though, putting certain decisions and judgements on automatic is bad. It causes me to write off the ‘awkward’ kid as someone not worth spending time with before getting to know that he is 10X smarter than I am. It also changes the impression I get of each incremental action that someone takes.

There’s this thing called the Halo Effect that basically says when we find one good trait about someone, we automatically often assume they have other good things about them. If someone is nice to me, I might also think they are generous. If someone looks athletic, I’ll assume they are sociable. It’s why good looking or tall political candidates tend to perform better, all else held constant. It means that we also tend to only look for things that confirm our beliefs.

If I meet someone and they act like a dick to me the first time, then I might write them off as a bad person, and with each action that they take, I’ll be looking for maliciousness. If they do something nice I might think about it as an anomaly and if they do something that could be viewed as bad, I’ll look at it through a negative lense.

From an evolutionary and cognitive standpoint, these judgements make sense, but they can be quite detrimental.

Understanding the bias is a big step towards making it go away. That guy might have been mean to me the first day we met because he was super stressed out and I came across strong, not because he’s a bad person.

Even knowing when your instinct might be failing you can be extremely helpful.

Are they really that bad (or good!) of a person?

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