Thursday, April 3, 2008

The stories we create in our heads

If you asked the average person whether they were good at creating stories, the majority would probably answer along the lines of: "no, I don't have a creative bone in my body".

But the truth is, we're all creating stories in our heads, all the time.

I'm not talking about epic works of literature, but simply stories that help us make sense of the world.

The classic example is when we meet someone for the first time. Immediately - generally involuntarily - we begin to make judgements about who they are, what they do, what they're thinking.

We create our own story for them, to help us understand how we should relate to them. We attempt to read their tone, body language and appearance to guess their mood, intention, attitude etc. We then adapt our own response to suit that story (often creating a new problem if we've misinterpreted the original behaviour!).

An innovative American film-maker recently explored the nature of first impressions in fascination fashion.

In his short documentary Cross Examination Josh Weinstein hit the streets of New York with a film camera, and asked complete strangers questions about himself.

The questions ranged from "what's my story?" and "what's my message?", to "what's my family like?", "am I in love?", and "how old was I when I lost my virginity?", with the interviewees' answers based solely on their first impressions.

Weinstein changed clothing and accessories throughout the process, which naturally influenced the answers. But, of course, it's not that simple. Yes we make judgements (create stories) based on people's appearance, voice, language, and facial expressions, but more often than not, the judgements we make make say more about us than them.

It's certainly made me more of aware of how I perceive others - and how much of that opinion making has gone on even before I've become aware of it.

You can check out Cross Examination on you Tube at (it's only a few minutes long and well worth watching).


Bec said...

Wow, this is great! It's so true isn't it - the way people treat you says so much more about them, than yourself. But we often forget that, and think the way we are treated is all about us! I remember learning at Uni about this phenomenon (can't remember what it's called now) where if we make an initial judgement about someone that is very negative, then we get to know them and decide our judgement was wrong, then we will actually end up liking them WAY more than if we thought they were ok when we first met them. Freaky huh!!!

Paula Weston said...

I remember you telling me that theory a few years ago Bec (when I was still hyperventilating and using very bad words after an argument with a shall-remain-unnamed Councillor) and it's always stayed with me. I'm not sure I've experienced it fully myself, but I can certainly understand how it could happen, with the right individuals involved.