It is a part of human nature that we tend to form impressions of people, things and objects. We tend to classify people as good, bad, strong, weak, helpful, unhelpful and in fact into so many other categories. Similarly, we form impressions about things and objects. An excellent example of this is what is called ‘brand loyalty’.
We consider certain brands of things like soaps, toothpastes etc., to be always good and superior than others. Thus we see that impression formation is a basic characteristic of human nature. Some form impressions early and some form impressions slowly.
Some tend to form their impression on the basis of their own experiences and others tend to accept impressions from others. For example, if I tell my close friend that a particular individual is good and competent he is most likely to accept it.
While on the one hand all of us tend to form impressions of people and things, there are people who, by the same logic stand to gain by creating impressions in the minds of others who matter. A young man appearing for an interview tries to be at his best when facing the interview board.
Similarly, people who want our help try to create an impression that they have been cheated and put to undue suffering. In view of this, it is not surprising that psychologists have taken to a serious study of various factors which influence impression formation. The processes are very subtle.
The interest of psychologists in undertaking sustained research and study of impression formation can perhaps be traced to the early work of the gestalt psychologists. Since the time gestalt psychology came out with its theories and laws of perception, a lot of research has gone into the various factors and processes which influence the processes of impression formation. The principle of closure is of particular significance. Impression formation is thus, a natural tendency when we tend to arrive at suitable, ample and meaningful cognition.
Earlier, an attempt was made to examine some of the issues and factors involved in perception of another person in a direct situation. Emphasis in that context was placed on the cues used by the perceiver, the traits and characteristics of the perceiver, the contextual and situational conditions etc.
While the findings presented there might mostly be of theoretical interest and also mainly related to inferences and judgements by the perceiver on specific attributes, qualities and characteristics of the perceived individual, in this section we move on to a different situation.
The Gestalt theory as we very well know, primarily rested on the assumption that people while perceiving always look for meanings and in this process tend to close gaps. The reader must have certainly learnt how people even while perceiving a physical stimulus tend to close gaps and see an incomplete square or rectangle.
It is this particular perceptual mechanism which very often underlies the process of impression formation. Thus, a well-dressed person, with skill of communication and good manners creates a very good impression. The reader can see a similarity between impression formation and stereotyping.
People form impression about other individuals or groups of people either on the basis of limited experience or even without experience. Thus people form impressions about occupations and many other things. Some occupations are considered to be noble and others not. The process of impression formation is often highly subtle, even unconscious and is influenced by a number of factors.
Impression formation is essentially a form of person perception. The reader no doubt, while doing a basic course in psychology must have become familiar with the process of perception and some of the principles governing the same. He must have come to know that very often because of its dynamic nature, an impression is formed on the basis of a few pieces of information. People, while forming impression do not always depend entirely on sensory data or facts.