A second way to form impressions is to develop algebraic impressions—analyzing the positive and negative things you learn about someone to calculate an overall impression, then updating this impression as you learn new information (Anderson, 1981). It’s similar to solving an algebraic equation, whereby you add and subtract different values to compute a final result. However, when forming algebraic impressions, you don’t place an equal value on every piece of information you receive. Instead, information that’s important, unusual, or negative is usually weighted more heavily than information that’s trivial, typical, or positive (Kellermann, 1989). This happens because people tend to believe that important, unusual, or negative information reveals more about a person’s “true” character than does other information (Kellermann, 1989).

Of course, other people form algebraic impressions of you, too. So, when you’re communicating—

Algebraic impressions are more accurate than Gestalts because you take time to form them and you consider a wider range of information. They’re also more flexible. You can update your algebraic impression every time you receive new information about someone. For instance, you discover through Facebook that the cool classmate you went on a date with yesterday has political views much different from your own. Accordingly, you become a bit cautious about pursuing a romantic relationship with this person while remaining open to seeing where things will lead.