Relationships: Best Face Forward

First impressions of trustworthiness are key.

By Matthew Hutson, published on March 1, 2009 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Are breaches of trust early in a relationship more harmful than later betrayals? On the one hand, we all know the power of first impressions. On the other hand, being crossed by a trusted comrade stings. Research indicates that, indeed, an early wrong is the greater offense and can permanently cripple a relationship, even after repeated displays of contrition.

Subjects made a series of decisions about whether to cooperate with or compete against a partner (secretly played by a computer). Players became angrier and rated their partner as less trustworthy when the computer competed on the first two turns, compared to later defection. These players also retaliated more during the final 10 rounds of the game, even though the computer never again defected.

If you can't avoid violating people's expectations—i.e., if you're human—take heed. "Say you're overbooked and you have to flake," says study co-author Robert Lount Jr., of Ohio State University. "Don't flake on the person you're having a first meeting with." Oh, and never show up late on a first date.

Second Chances

PT editors attempt to counter bad first impressions.

  • "Once I accepted a woman's offer to split the tab on a first date, and she called me on it. Oops. I took her someplace nice for date two." —Matt
  • "I've had interviewees respond negatively, and I've learned to say, 'Can we roll back and do Take Two?' Framing a restart as routine normalizes it." —Hara
  • "I've mistaken guests for hired help in social settings. I then go out of my way to have a long conversation with the person." —Anonymous