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: 9267

Replies to This Discussion

I don't think there misplaced instincts. I have a neighbor that's a lot like your co-worker. He's a little to friendly, a little too helpful twards the neighbors. Try's a little too hard to project the father image in public with his two daughters, ect. He just comes across as being fake. He's pretentious. When I first met him, I commented to my mom that there something not right with him, and I sometimes wonder what's he hiding, or trying to make up for. I believe that this sixth sense cannot be overcome because it is our friend or foe indicator. If you feel that a person is nonthreatening, chances are they wont be. But, if you feel that there's something not right with them, it should only be a matter of time befor your " dislike " is cinfirmed.
You know, too much friendliness is very off putting for a lot of people. Like once when I was in the doctor's waiting room, and this older couple came in, and they were much too chatty and friendly. It is annoying, for some reason.
I have often wondered myself why I don't like someone right when I meet them. Hmmm, even that is a bit strong. There just seems to be something not quite right, "can't put my finger on it" kind of feeling. I wish it were otherwise but nearly every time my feeling turns out correct. I guess instinct is the right word and doesn't need to be understood or explained. It's kind of like the back of a book, gives you clues to look for but doesn't tell you the whole story.
I have found that that is even so online.
I agree.

When first talking to a few kids who would be going to University with me, I had this really strange feeling in my stomach with a few of them. I ignored it. Those same people I felt a slight mistrust around helped make my life hell for a year.

Trust your gut instincts. Has anyone read Blink?
Blink? No, sounds vaguely familiar though. Tell us about it.
It's penned by one glorious Malcolm Gladwell, and I'm tremendously lazy - hence, I use copy-paste:

From Amazon:

Blink is about the first two seconds of looking--the decisive glance that knows in an instant. Gladwell, the best-selling author of The Tipping Point, campaigns for snap judgments and mind reading with a gift for translating research into splendid storytelling. Building his case with scenes from a marriage, heart attack triage, speed dating, choking on the golf course, selling cars, and military maneuvers, he persuades readers to think small and focus on the meaning of "thin slices" of behavior. The key is to rely on our "adaptive unconscious"--a 24/7 mental valet--that provides us with instant and sophisticated information to warn of danger, read a stranger, or react to a new idea.

Gladwell includes caveats about leaping to conclusions: marketers can manipulate our first impressions, high arousal moments make us "mind blind," focusing on the wrong cue leaves us vulnerable to "the Warren Harding Effect" (i.e., voting for a handsome but hapless president). In a provocative chapter that exposes the "dark side of blink," he illuminates the failure of rapid cognition in the tragic stakeout and murder of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx. He underlines studies about autism, facial reading and cardio uptick to urge training that enhances high-stakes decision-making. In this brilliant, cage-rattling book, one can only wish for a thicker slice of Gladwell's ideas about what Blink Camp might look like.

On first glance it looks like pop psych, but there are legitimate arguments in there.
Wow! Sounds interesting. I just requested it on CD from the library. That way I can listen to it at work or while doing the dishes, etc. Must be pretty popular. The library has 6 copies and they're all checked out. You should post a review of this book either on this group or the Nexus Book Club. I bet a lot of people here would appreciate that kind of book.
I think pheromones are important in intersocial relationships, but they tend to do the most damage when people are just unhygenic. But when they work in the affirmative, they are arousing, I think. That is really the only time when pheromones seem to influence me.

That quote is just silly.
Dallas wrote:

"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?"


My personal experience tells me that I should learn to listen to these instincts more carefully. There have been several instances in my life that I felt something was "off", but paid no attention to my detriment.

For instance, one night walking down the same street that I walked down everyday to go home, I saw two men coming towards my husband and I. One of them said something to the other and I suppose that the body language was suspicious because I felt wary at that time. When they got up close, the man who leaned in to speak pulled out a gun and pointed it at my head.

On the other hand, when I think about the number of times that I've had an odd feeling, and nothing went wrong then I begin to question the validity of my instinct. Interesting questions.
Wow. What an experience. I've had a very similar one myself. One when I worked a night job and I was walking back to my car in a "night club" area, two kids pulled a gun on me. I had time to jump in my car and honk the horn, at which point they ran, but it scared the beejeezus out of me. After that, I got really depressed for a long time, and didn't feel safe. That was 15 years ago now.

Like you, sometimes my gut feeling is wrong, and sometimes it is right. I usually find though that when it is wrong is when I associate a person or situation with a bad situation or person from my past. So the new person may resemeble someone I distrust, so I mistakenly project that mistrust onto them.
Well written response, Sydni.

I don't want to 'jump to conclusions' before I've even given the person a couple of chances for me to form a better opinion.

Yes, but sometimes those snap judgments are nothing more than experience speaking through our memory.

I often felt self-conscious in social settings, particularly around new people, and to make myself feel more confident I would make myself feel superior by finding fault with others. That way it didn't matter what they thought of me, I already decided what I thought about them....

Been there. Done that.

So now, when I form an instant opinion about someone, I try very hard to remind myself to not give in to those feelings.


You know though, sometimes we instantly like people, too. Yet we trust those feelings more implicitely. I wonder why? Perhaps becasue they are postitive feelings.

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