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How Your Reputation Impacts the Way You Are Remembered

Research reveals how information colors the way people see you.

Have you ever met someone that impressed you at a social event, and afterward, looked them up on the Internet and learned something that completely turned you off? How did that impact the way you remembered them? Whether you meet someone at a party or a networking mixer, and regardless of how good they look, your memory becomes tainted by what you learn afterward. Subsequently learned information can cause you to find someone unattractive, untrustworthy—or both.

Remembering Faces: Seeing a Halo or Horns

Alysha Baker et al. in a piece entitled “The Face of an Angel” (2013) explored the connection between facial viewing and attributions of morality.[i] They set out to explore the impact of the “Dangerous Decisions Theory” (DDT) which holds that “instantaneous perceptions of trustworthiness” based on viewing the face of a stranger impact the way in which we process subsequent information about the target.

In their study, participants viewed a face rated as “neutral” in trustworthiness and were then exposed to one of three vignettes portraying the subject’s behavior—immoral, morally neutral, or altruistic. When participants were asked, following a delay, to identify the subject on a “facial morph video,” which displayed varying levels of perceived trustworthiness, they found that exposure to immoral or criminal behavior caused participants to remember faces as having less trustworthy features.

Interestingly, they reported that the opposite effect was not evident after participants were exposed to an altruistic vignette, which indicates that memory distortion within the context tested may be uniquely related to negative information. In fact, they found that recognition scores linked with the altruistic vignette were the most accurate of the three conditions they examined.

Image by DanaTentis from Pixabay
Source: Image by DanaTentis from Pixabay

How Reputation Precedes You and Succeeds You

We talk a lot about how reputation colors the way someone is perceived upon first meeting, usually by providing a lens through which we make our first impression. Apparently, our memory of that first meeting is also colored about what we learn afterward, considering the findings by Baker et al. on the impact of subsequent, potentially biasing information on our memory for facial trustworthiness.

In the business arena, where we spend our time networking and then following up with the contacts we make, this reality may lead us to rethink the information we post online, given the ease with which people are able to Google new professional contacts or seek to connect on social media sites like LinkedIn or even Facebook. Because trustworthiness is an important quality in any type of relationship, especially when researching someone to consider doing business with, the ways in which subsequent information can impact memory will always be significant.

Beyond business connections, personally, a good name and positive repute will enhance the impact people are able to make personally, in terms of cultivating friendships and romantic relationships, and also socially within their local communities, where relationships of trust build partnerships and alliances. Remembering others in a fashion that enhances their perceived trustworthiness puts them on our shortlist for people to invite to events, confide in, get to know better, and collaborate with both personally and professionally.

Be Remembered—Fondly

In addition to wanting to be remembered positively, we want to be remembered—period. Considering that, apparently, we are more likely to be accurately remembered when subsequently learned information about us is positive, we have yet another reason to care about maintaining a good name and reputation.

Mindful of the ways in which our reputations can succeed us, we should be motivated to keep our social media free from compromising information and photos as well. By cultivating friendships and proactively seeking to maintain good standing in our professional community, neighborhood, and social circles as best we can, we can enhance the likelihood that we are always remembered positively, and treated accordingly.


[i] Baker, Alysha, Leanne ten Brinke, and Stephen Porter. 2013. “The Face of an Angel: Effect of Exposure to Details of Moral Behavior on Facial Recognition Memory.” Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition 2 (2): 101–6. doi:10.1016/j.jarmac.2013.03.004.