You find yourself in a certain situation A. You perceive the situation: perceive objects, actions of people involved...You develop an opinion on the situation, and it was the first time you perceived an example of a generalization of such situations.

Then, you find yourself in situation B, which is another example of some generalisation of A. Let's say that A was you having a crush on someone, and so was B (only the two crushes were different people).

To what extent does your perception and opinion of A influence your perception and opinion of B? Will you always compare (for example) the crush B to crush A? Or is it possible that the influence of A on B is limited, and your view of B won't necessarily be biased in such a way? Can your generalisation of beauty differ a lot from the first 'beautiful' thing you perceived? Are the first times you receive stimuli decisive for future perceptions of similar stimuli?


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In social contexts, one area to look is within the field of cognition. John Bargh’s famous experiment (ref below) showed that whether we hold a cold or warm drink in our hand prior to meeting a person for the first time influences our subsequent impression of them - this is called priming.

Stimuli that influence our attitudes to others do not only come from the environment. They also are processed internally. There is a vast field of experiments in social cognition (especially implicit cognition, happening in the first 200 milliseconds or less in ways we are not ‘aware’). These experiments show that unconscious evaluations and categorisations of others happen lightning quick, and influence later (conscious) attitudes we have towards them. These evaluations are made from everything from facial symmetry, height, weight, voice depth, accent, smell, age, gender and status.

We also generalise experiences. Let’s say you once had a negative experience with a man with a beard. Now, you may tend to react in the same way to other men with beards as that original person - no matter that they’re different.

Most of our relationships are built on these entirely arbitrary considerations, which are in all likelihood adaptations from previous evolutionary environmental challenges.

:: Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth

Lawrence E. Williams and John A. Bargh 2008

:: Implicit social cognition

Adam Hahn, Bertram Gawronski 2018


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