Have you ever hated someone at first sight?
Whether or not you believe in love at first sight, attraction at first sight is definitely a thing. I’ve felt that lurch of the heart (or groin) when I’ve met somebody I find immediately appealing. And it doesn’t just happen with romantic prospects.
I’ve met women – friends and colleagues – who I have liked at first glance.
Do you ever see someone and just know you won’t get on?Credit:Stocksy
But where attraction can exist, so too can repulsion. I have also hated – or, perhaps, disliked intensely – at first sight. Instead of a lurch of the heart, there was a clenching of the chest, and a sense of visceral distaste before a word had been spoken.
Those of you who have used dating sites will be familiar with this feeling. But anyone who has watched reality television – or, indeed, television full stop – will know it, too.
You see that new contestant flash onscreen and you know, immediately, that you hate them. You don’t know why. You can’t quite explain it. They just rub you up the wrong way.
When dislike at first sight happens in person, it is even more visceral. I still recall meeting a colleague for the first time several years ago and feeing a palpable pang of revulsion.
She was perfectly fine looking, but I couldn’t stand her. Something in the arrangement of her features just made me shudder.
Most of us who have experienced dislike at first sight rationalise our experience by talking about "energy" or ‘aura’.
“I didn’t like her energy,” we tell ourselves. Or, “She’s giving off weird vibes.”
But really, what is happening to us has a much more concrete explanation. To use a neuro-linguistic programming term, we are being "anchored".
Anchoring is a process of memory in which two different events or perceptions become linked, so that a stimulus (the "anchor") creates a reflex response.
In my case, something in my potential colleague’s appearance was anchored to a negative reaction for me. It wasn’t her energy so much as a memory.
Science has shown we make impressions incredibly quickly, in around 33 milliseconds (that is around 3/100 of a regular second). In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell’s book about first impressions and snap judgements, Gladwell describes the process of "thin slicing", in which we take a small amount of data (a thin slice) and extrapolate from that slice using a combination of intuition and experience.
Human brains are adept at seeing patterns; this helps us to make sense of our complicated worlds. The patterns we see can be so subtle and instinctive that they bypass our rational brains and reside solely in our instincts.
A new face may remind us of another person in our lives, or an experience we associate with a negative feeling, but the association remains beneath conscious thought.
Gladwell’s book and numerous psychological studies have proven that our first impressions are often better than chance would predict.
However, we also make mistakes, as anyone who has changed their mind about another human will know. And falling in love after initially falling in hate is a trope of romantic comedies for a reason.
So should you try to overcome your first impressions of a new person, or trust your instincts? I’m a passionate advocate for trusting your gut and honouring your intuition, but it is useful to recognise the margin for error.
Perhaps we are best served by taking account of a person’s actions, as well as their appearance, and by recognising our own prejudices and associations.
A person may very well have "bad energy" or a "weird aura", but it is possible they just remind you of your bad and weird Uncle George, and that they are a thoroughly delightful person.
If we understand how our intuitions work, we can avoid pitfalls and guide them to our advantage. And, just as love at first sight doesn’t always last the distance, maybe hate at first sight can end up fizzling, too.
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