Glad to be back writing after a long holiday break.
Meeting new people can be an exciting, anxiety-provoking or downright boring experience (think your spouse’s work party). Depending on the venue, meeting new folks sets your brain in motion in a clinical manner you may think is reserved for things like chemistry and quantum physics. Think about the last time you met someone new. As you were talking with this person, your frontal cortex was processing all the sensory information available at the time. How did the person look? Were they focused on you, or were they looking around the room? Were they wearing make-up? Did they wear perfume? All this information is put into a mental image based on a checklist your brain has previously laid out. Thus, the “gut feeling” you get about a person is really an emotional reaction generated by your amygdala. Pretty cool.
Let’s take the example of the first time I met my husband. Technically, the first time I met him was on the phone. It was a blind date so he called me first. I had a great conversation with him. All the while we were speaking, my brain was drawing a composite based on his voice and affect and the description of him that my friend had given me. The frontal parts of my brain were busy drawing social references and making judgments about his language and social ability. Couples who have been married a long time always say it’s a good sense of humor that contributes to longevity. Well my husband made me laugh on that first phone call and on the first date more times than I can count. All this laughing and smiling was a direct result of my brain processing how it felt to just be with him. Neurologically, I was very attuned to how connected he was to me and what I was saying. I was subconsciously reading all his cues: he leaned in closer than he needed to when the bar was noisy, he asked lots of questions and waited patiently for an answer and his facial expressions were warm and happy.
Can we change our first impressions? Neuroscientists say no. You can’t really update your first impressions of anyone. Your initial associations and emotions are fairly persistent. What you can do is learn additional things about a person. A first impression is rapid and the first line of information for our species. “It only takes a moment to make a first impression” is quite true. It’s really a survival skill when you think about it. You are making a very rapid and concise decision about whether this person is a solution to the “problem” you may have, such as needing another friend, wanting a mate, creating an alliance, needing a reference etc.
Once again, the brain is searching for relationships. Once again, the people you meet every day challenge you to change the paradigm. Is the relationship we seek with others a reflection of the needs of our neurochemistry or the needs of our soul? Or are they the same thing?
Are our brains really the housing for our spirit and our souls?