OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

OSU PROF'S SUMMER CLASS TO CAST NEW LIGHT ON FIRST IMPRESSIONS

06/15/2004

CORVALLIS - Frank Bernieri says his general psychology course will help people learn how to raise a child, educate them on buying and selling a car, let them know what it is involved in falling in love and how to know if they're insane.

And oh, by the way, he'll also tell you why people's first impressions tend to be lasting ones and influence practically everything they do.

Bernieri chairs the Oregon State University Department of Psychology and his summer course, General Psychology 202, is open to the public. His research has been featured in national magazines, on the Discovery Channel, and in a book by Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll, and he has worked with NBC Dateline on first impressions research.

"First impressions are like planting a seed," Bernieri said. "When you shake someone's hand, you immediately make a judgment. Was it a good handshake? Was the person well-groomed? Are they attractive? Everything that happens after that point is anchored to that first impression and skews what we learn and perceive.

"People are amazed when they see the research," he added. "They find out how biased and inefficient our social analytical skills are and there just isn't much we can do about it."

Bernieri worked with Dateline on a project that looked at an Ohio employment agency's in-depth interviews with candidates for a technical position. The agency produced comprehensive personality profiles, questionnaires and reams of background on the candidates. Bernieri had several focus groups analyze five seconds of video of the opening handshake and correctly pick the successful candidate.

It is a scenario that repeats itself time after time, Bernieri says.

"When we hand out a teaching evaluation form on the first day of class - right after the syllabus - invariably students will fill it out almost the same as they will on the final day of class," Bernieri said. "All that they experience during the term won't change the evaluation they made based on the syllabus."

Berneiri will teach two sections of General Psychology 202, both running from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The first session goes from June 21 to July 16; the second from July 19 to Aug. 13. Community members may register for the course without being a full-time OSU student. To register, call 541-737-1470, or go online at www.oregonstate.edu/summer.

"One of the things we talk about during the course," Bernieri said, "is that we almost never find out that we're wrong about our feelings. We'll manipulate the data to reinforce our first impressions. And because of that, we're way, way too confident about the conclusions we reach about other people."