Cultural Differences in First Impressions

Cultural Differences in First Impressions

A review of:

Noguchi, K., Kamada, A., & Shrira, I. (2014). Cultural differences in the primacy effect for person perception. International journal of psychology: Journal international de psychologie, 49(3), 208-10. Retrieved from

By Bailey Correll

Why this article?

This article brings awareness to the differences in various cultures, ethnicities, and nations. The Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Mercer School of Medicine’s Diversity Statement both directly reference the need to understand and accept various aspects of different cultures. Knowledge of various cultures is useful to practitioners and to individuals. Practitioners need to be familiar with patterns of social acceptance in order to assist individuals with persistent mental illness in remaining in society.


In order to effectively sort through the plethora of social interactions encountered on a daily basis, people often make assumptions about others. These assumptions are called social perception biases. This article focuses a particular social perception bias called the primacy effect. The primacy effect is simply the grossly exaggerated weight of a first impression. North Americans and East Asians have been shown to process social situations differently. The value these two groups place upon first impressions may be another example of those differences.

North Americans have a tendency to focus on dispositional factors when another’s behavior falls into question. North Americans employ schematic-style perception and processing. North Americans assign stimuli to a schema, and use the existing knowledge of that schema to predict the stimuli’s behaviors. N. Americans tend to explain away any information that does not fit into the schema to which the stimuli has been assigned.

East Asians typically focus on situational factors instead. East Asians tend to focus on stimuli and the world as a whole; these people focus on interactions between the specific stimuli and the specific situation to predict events. E. Asians are more likely to take into consideration the context of most stimuli and modify any previous judgements.


This study hypothesized that Japanese participants would rate a target person as less kind than the Americans if the target displayed unkind traits after an initial “kind” exposure. The American were hypothesized to rate the target the same after the initial exposure regardless of subsequent behaviors.


Participants were 195 students from University of Florida (70% women, mean age= 19.43) and 135 students from Bunkyo University (65% women, mean age = 19.87).


Participants would assess the personality of a woman after reading a paragraph about her. Participants processed information about the target that framed her as a kind person. Then participants read a vignette about the target’s current behavior.

The vignette contained 17 sentences:

7- kind behaviors: “Amy shared her umbrella”

9- neutral sentences: “Amy woke up and saw that it was raining”

1- to be manipulated: Inconsistent “Amy ignored her friend” or consistent “Amy helped her friend.” This sentence was located in the middle of the paragraph.

Participants then rated 6 traits of the target’s personality on a 7-point Likert scale: kindness, trustworthiness, considerateness, faithfulness, coldness, and inconsiderateness. The scales were scored and averaged together for an overall kindness rating.


Results were compared using a 2 x 2 ANOVA: culture (US, Japan) x target cue (consistent, inconsistent). In the consistent condition, American and Japanese participants had no significant differences in perception of the target. In the inconsistent condition, Americans rated the target higher in kindness than the Japanese participants.


Americans were more strongly affected by the primacy effect than the Japanese participants. Japanese participants are thought to have used data processing to change their perceptions of the target. American participants are thought to have relied on first impressions. Cultural backgrounds often influence how impressions are formed. The formation of opinions is more accurate when it is an ongoing process. Data must be collected, analyzed, and updated as new observations occur. Relying on the first set of data in many cases leads people to wrongful assumptions.



Noguchi, K., Kamada, A., & Shrira, I. (2014). Cultural differences in the primacy effect for person perception. International journal of psychology: Journal international de psychologie, 49(3), 208-10. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (2010). American Psychological Association ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct.

Mercer School of Medicine. (2012). Diversity Statement. Mercer Health Science Center.