The first impressions we form of unfamiliar others can often guide many important decisions such as whether someone is guilty of a crime or the severity of their sentence, even in the presence of more relevant information. While most of the current work in this context has focused on their impact during trial proceedings and sentencing, little is known about the potential impact of first impressions following a guilty sentence and the success of the subsequent reintegration into society. Here, we used a data-driven approach to address this question by first collecting unconstrained spontaneous impressions from two groups of perceivers – one group believed that the identities they were presented with had received a prison sentence, whereas the other received no additional semantic information (Study 1). This then allowed us to establish the most prevalent traits people refer to when describing their first impressions in this context and to reveal the underlying structure of these impressions using an Exploratory Factor Analysis (Study 2). We find a substantial negative shift in social evaluation following the knowledge of a prison sentence, both in terms of spontaneous descriptions and specific trait ratings. However, this additional contextual information did not affect the underlying structure of first impressions. These findings support social evaluation theories arguing for a more complex interplay between bottom-up visual and top-down semantic or contextual cues during the formation of facial first impressions but also reveal important constraints to the impact of such cues on the core impression formation processes.



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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology





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School of Psychology