On the need to ‘Mix it up with Folks’: Beyond reliability to considering validity and methodology reform in first impressions research

Liam Satchell*, Bastian Jaeger, Alex L. Jones, Beatriz Lopez, Christoph Schild

*Corresponding author for this work

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A popular area of social psychology is researching the initial perceptions of new people. ‘First impressions’ studies are popular because the initial judgments of others can be consequential and have important everyday consequences (such as job interviews, first dates, justice outcomes). In the context of broader concerns about the credibility of psychological science, first impressions research has developed commendable initiatives to improving reliability in terms of open stimulus databases, international collaborations, replication studies and reanalyses. However, these moves to reliability could come at the cost of validity. There is a long history of critiquing the usefulness of passive-observer judgments of atomised presentations of people for understanding first impressions - and these concerns are still relevant today. Here, we highlight the praiseworthy practices to improving reliability in first impressions research, before moving on to identify persistent methodological concerns in terms of inadequate stimulus sampling and diversity, constrained participant response options, limited consideration of study context, and limitations of atomised presentations of target people. We identify how these methodological limitations lead to issues with theory development and how we might be over/underestimating everyday experience, and even misunderstanding social differences in autism and mental health. Finally, we identify opportunities for methodological reform, focusing on codifying, not controlling, interactions, promoting inductive, participant-led, methodologies, and asking for stronger theory development and clarity on ‘can’ vs ‘do’ research questions. Overall, we praise reforms for improving the reliability of first impressions research, but significant improvements to making scientific predictions about a first impression of a person require renewed consideration of validity.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPsyArXiv Preprints
Number of pages39
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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