Robert Lount of Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business found out why first impressions are so important: people are more forgiving of a
breach of trust later in the relationship as opposed as early on.
Here's the experiment:
Lount and his colleagues had college students play a computer game in which their partners (actually a computer, unbeknownst to the participants) betrayed their trust either right off the bat or somewhere in the middle of the game.
A betrayal of trust occurred when a player defected rather than cooperated in a round of the game. A cooperative play resulted in more money rewarded to both players, while a defector would get a lot more money than the partner.
After the computer partner made two defector moves, it would follow with 30 rounds of pure cooperation. Turned out that cooperation wasn't enough to gain back a participant's trust. Those who experienced a breach of trust at the game's start were the least likely to cooperate at the end of the game, cooperating less than 70 percent of the final 10 rounds.
Meanwhile, participants who experienced a betrayal later in the game, after 10 rounds of cooperation, showed the most cooperation at the end of the game, choosing to cooperate more than 90 percent of the time.
And in fact, those who were betrayed in rounds 11 and 12 were, on average, nearly 40 percent more cooperative in the last 10 rounds compared with participants who experienced an immediate betrayal.
When asked to evaluate their partners, participants gave more negative assessments of those early betrayers compared with the late ones.
"When the partner started off by defecting, and they were taken advantage of, they really formed these negative impressions — 'That person is immoral,' 'They're a jerk,' 'That's not the type of person I would like,'" Lount said.