We all have opinions and judgments about other people, whether they are co-workers, customers, employees, friends, or something else. But, research shows, those opinions and judgments say a lot more about who we are than they do about the people we're judging.
What do your judgments of others reveal about you? Social psychologist Juliana Breines, Ph.D. answers that question in a fascinating post on Psychology Today. She reviews the research to identify what five common opinions of others tell us about the people who hold those opinions. You can find all five here. These are my favorites.
1. If you always see the good in people, you probably are kind and empathetic.
In psychological terms, you're high in "agreeableness," one of the Big Five personality dimensions. Agreeable people are often considered to be warm, kind, and empathetic. According to Breines, agreeable people are "more likely to view others positively, focusing on their good qualities and giving them the benefit of the doubt when they behave badly."
But only up to a point. Agreeable people are often assumed to be blind to the bad traits in others, but a research paper called "The Polyanna Myth" challenges that assumption. Instead, the researchers found, agreeable people are more sensitive to both prosocial and antisocial behaviors than their disagreeable counterparts. That is, agreeable people are especially pleased when they see others contributing to the good of the community, and especially displeased when they see others working against the communal good. Agreeable people probably care a lot about the communal good, so this only makes sense.
2. If you hate narcissists, you probably aren't one.
Many laypeople might think that narcissists can't stand narcissism in others. It seems reasonable to assume that people who always want all attention on them don't like it when others focus all their attention on themselves instead.
But actually, the opposite is true. Researchers tested subjects on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, and then showed them Facebook profiles of people who displayed obvious narcissistic traits, such as self-praising posts. They found that people who scored high on the narcissism test were less critical than others of the narcissistic Facebook members.
What's going on? Research has also shown that narcissists tend to have self-awareness -- they may know themselves to be narcissists. So perhaps they look favorably on someone who reminds them of themselves.
3. If you criticize other people's lifestyles, you may have doubts about your own.
Every life choice comes with benefits and drawbacks. Single people have more freedom but can face loneliness. Followers of the FIRE movement can follow their own pursuits, but don't get to travel as much as their less frugal peers. And so on.
So it's unfortunately a common human reaction to reinforce our own confidence in the lifestyle we've chosen by looking down on the lifestyles of others, Breines explains. One study found that people have a tendency to view their own relationship status, whatever it is, as the only ideal. For instance, married or partnered subjects were likely to view a single political candidate more negatively than a married one who was identical in every other way.
So next time you find yourself criticizing someone because that person has too many children, or no children, or seems like too much of a spendthrift or too much of a miser or for any other reason -- stop for a moment and ask yourself what's really going on. Could it be your bad opinion has more to do with what you think of your own life than your judgment about theirs?