Why do we instantly like or dislike certain people?

In this discussion thread I don’t want to deal with racism, hate groups, or group inclusionary/exclusionary psychology. Nor do I want to deal with situations in which we might naturally distrust another person, e.g. being followed by a strange man while walking down a dark alley.

I want to deal directly with why we seem to instantly like or dislike a waiter, a clerk at the checkout counter, or a new neighbor or coworker.

We recently added a new employee at the office. He is smart, well dressed, clean, polite, and responsible—but I don’t really like him, and I don’t know why. He has not said or done anything wrong, and he doesn’t remind me of anyone I hate. I don’t want to say that I hate him; it is more like a slight distrust of him, and a moderate amount of disinterest in him as a person—and I’ve felt like that from day one.

I consider myself to be a fairly decent judge of a person’s honesty or legitimacy. For example, I can usually spot a liar or con man pretty quickly. I also consider myself to be pretty accepting of differences in people, and have deliberately exposed myself to all kinds of cultural experiences. I’m also not a tribalist—a person who seems to have an aversion to everyone outside his group. So why do I—like many people do—instantly like/trust or dislike/distrust another person?

Is it simply gut instinct? In other words, is it some kind of survival device that evolution has equipped us with? We all know that being able to make rapid assumptions about the possible threat of other life forms or situations is key to survival. We make rapid and reliable assumptions all the time. But are these instantaneous responses (in relation to like/dislike) nothing more than a left over—and misplaced—instincts from our cave dwelling days? And if they are, can we trust them?

Should we try to overcome these inclinations? Is it fair to other people?

What do you think?

Tags: dislike, distrust, like, psychology, trust

Views: 8169

Replies to This Discussion

But I have been perhaps even more mistaken when spontaneously deciding that I like a person, without getting to know them better. I've found that I've left myself 'wide open' to be hurt and disappointed.

Same here. Life ain't easy, is it?
Perhaps you are just picking up on a mannerism or expression that you aren't entirely aware of yet. Maybe over time you will be able to figure out what it is. I know where you are coming from though. Some people just give me a bad vibe...and I am a very friendly person...not terribly outgoing or social but it takes quite a bit for me to actually dislike someone.
Personally I have a hard time being around anyone who is unpredictably moody. I had a lot of experience with that and I think over time I learned to pick up on, and would physically react to, the slightest downward changes in a persons mood.
As for scent/pheremones, I have had those reactions on the positive side of the spectrum too...seems just as likely that some people just don't "smell" quite right...
I think it's often a resemblance to someone else we've had a bad or good experience with. It might be a small thing but the pars pro toto mechanism comes into play so a nose, a manerism, a turn of phrase can be enough.

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