We expect clients in Counseling Centers to have grave problems.
Guard against these impulsive first impressions.
Here is a clever illustration of the power of the first impression to
influence our overall judgment:
A. If you start with 8 and multiply it by 7 X 6 X 5 X 4 X 3 X 2 X
B. If you start with 1 and multiply it by 2 X 3 X 4 X 5 X 6 X 7 X
Without figuring, what do you guess the answers are?
The average guess for A is 2250 and 513 for B. The correct answer
for both is 40,320. Your ability to guess numbers isn't very important,
but it is important that we recognize the fallibility of our minds. Our
ability to judge the actual outcome of some economic or political
"theory" or promise is not nearly as high as the certainty with which
we hold our political beliefs. Likewise, our first impressions of people
tend to last even though the first impressions are inconsistent with
later evidence. This is true of trained therapists too.
It may come as a surprise to you but considerable research
indicates that, in terms of predicting behavior, better trained and more
confident judges are frequently not more accurate than untrained,
uncertain people. Why not? It seems that highly confident judges go
out on a limb and make unusual or very uncommon predictions. They
take more chances and, thus, make mistakes (which cancels out the
advantages they have over the average person). The less confident
predictor sticks closer to the ordinary, expected behavior (high base
rate) and, thus, makes fewer mistakes. (Maybe another case where
over-simplification is beneficial.)
While it is not true of everyone (see chapter 8), there is a tendency
to believe we are in control of our lives more than we are (not true for
depressed people). For example, people think their chances are better
than 50-50 if you put a blue and a red marble in a hat and tell them
that they will win a real car if they pick out the blue marble, but they
get only a match box car if they draw out the red marble. Gamblers
have this I'm-in-control-feeling throwing dice, obviously an error. We
want to believe we are capable of controlling events and we like others
who believe in internal control (Sears, Peplau, Freedman & Taylor,
1988); it gives us hope. This is also probably related to misguidedly
believing in "a just world, i.e. thinking people get what they
deserve. We believe good things happen to good people ("like me")
and bad things happen to bad people. There is little data supporting
this belief, but, if bad things have happened to you, people will
conclude you must have been bad and deserve what happened (and,
therefore, many will feel little obligation to help you).