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Bridget Galassini | Monday, October 29, 2012

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Researchers have found that people make an initial judgment of one another within the first three seconds of meeting. Talk about pressure.

This judging is inevitable because it’s done subconsciously. People’s appearances send us a message, whether we want them to or not. That’s why we dress nicely for business meetings, interviews and dances. That’s why we dress appropriately for toga parties, ABC parties and America parties. We want to be wearing the correct clothes for the occasion to feel comfortable. Imagine if someone wore jeans and a hoodie to his job interview. That person would be discounted almost immediately, regardless of his knowledge or expertise in the field.

On one hand, this is understandable. One’s appearance shows the amount of effort that person has made to look his or her best for the occasion. Therefore, looking better means the person put in more effort, which means the person wants the position more. Conclusions are inevitably drawn.

A perfect example involves the presidential election of 1960 and the debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. These presidential debates were the first ones that were ever televised. According to history.com, Nixon appeared tired from the previous few days of campaigning. He had a five o’clock shadow and wore a dreary gray suit. Kennedy was well rested and tan. Then, regarding performance, Nixon looked off to the sides at reporters, while JFK looked into the camera.

Therefore, though “most radio listeners called the first debate a draw or pronounced Nixon the victor,” the TV viewers declared JFK the winner.
The radio listeners actually heard the ideas of both candidates without any bias from their appearances, consequently choosing Nixon. It’s a shame TV listeners had their visions clouded by the appearances of the candidates. Whether the debates altered the result of the election is unknown, but they did have a large impact. 

The same idea holds true regarding the current debates. I first listened to the second debate on the radio. When I later watched the debate video online, my perspective changed. I still heard the candidates’ points and ideas, but I was also focused on their gestures, facial expressions and interactions with one another. I realized that these are unimportant and distracting

For the final debate, I again listened on the radio. I focused on the candidates’ ideas and arguments, and I sometimes found them weak and repetitive. Perhaps instead of focusing so much time and energy on their appearances, politicians and their supporters could strengthen their arguments and develop better solutions.

They could take a hint from Matt Damon’s speech in “The Adjustment Bureau” when he, a politician, finally calls himself and his focus group out on their “bull.” He explains that although everyone calls him authentic, his focus group has pretty much made him the opposite.
What matters is what’s inside a person’s mind, not what’s covering his or her body.
Some of the best companies like Apple and Google have a relaxed dress code. They’ve figured it out. What people wear is pretty insignificant because it’s their ideas that matter

Presidential debates and other events of that nature should be approached in this same manner. Our society would be more idea-oriented and less appearance-oriented.

Imagine if all of the presidential debates were exclusively on the radio. We’d be forced to ignore the ridiculous subliminal messaging. This would never happen because viewers would become too bored. Hearing voices on the radio is not engaging enough for many people. The picture on the television is our entertainment. We need it, unfortunately. But hopefully we can see past it to what people really are.

Bridget Galassini is a freshman. She can be reached at bgalassi@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.