The first impression we make of a person can be significant because it has a strong influence on behavior towards someone. Psychologist Solomon Asch “proposed two contrasting models of impression formation: the “elementaristic” model and a gestalt view” (Hampson, 2018, 120). In the last century, social psychology was heavily influenced by Gestalt psychology, which made the gestalt model of impression popular (LearnPsyclogy, 2020). The elementaristic approach is the belief that an impression is formed by the summation of separate pieces of information. However, Asch rejected this model since it did not explain the processes that he observed during the experiment. Thus, the gestalt theory seemed more promising to him.
The basis of gestalt psychology is the belief that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Thus, separate elements are not summed up, but they interact, influencing each other. For, instance, it has been found that adding one positive trait to a person’s description leads to a more positive impression, and the same happens with negative traits (Hauser & Schwarz, 2018). Thus, there are more influential “central” and less significant “peripheral” traits. Nevertheless, recently a third theory has been developed, which can be called a refined version of the gestalt model. According to this theory, certain elements take on more or less weight, depending on the context of the interaction, thus, many factors influence impression formation (Singh, 2020). The main difference between Gestalt theory and its refined version is the way of forming a complete impression. The first assumes that traits are first summed up and then interpreted as a whole. According to the second, on the contrary, each trait is interpreted depending on the context and then added to the interpretation of the remaining characteristics. For example, if the person is described as attractive, sincere, honest, armed, and dangerous, the last two elements are likely to be more influential (Singh, 2020). In this way, the disadvantage of Gestalt theory is that it does not take into account the context of the interaction, which can change the value of traits. However, such a model explains how specific markers influence perception in general.
Hampson, S. (2019). The construction of personality: An introduction (Second edition). Routledge.
Hauser, D. J., & Schwarz, N. (2018). How seemingly innocuous words can bias judgment: Semantic prosody and impression formation. Journal of experimental social psychology, 75, 11-18.
LearnPsychology (2020). Impression Formation | LearnPsychology [Video]. YouTube. Web.
Singh, A. (2020). Social psychology. PHI Learning Private Limited.