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How You View Others Says a Lot About Self

What You Say About Others Reveals Clues About Your Own Personality, Researchers Say

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 6, 2010 -- You might want to think twice before you talk about others, because your words could reveal a lot about your own personality traits, even ones that you may not be aware of, or clues to whether you're kind or mean.

That's the finding of a new study, which concludes that the way you view others reflects a lot about who you are, including both good and bad characteristics.

"Your perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality," says study researcher Dustin Wood, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University. "Seeing others positively reveals your own positive traits."

On the other hand, your words could reveal negative perceptions of others that are linked to narcissism, antisocial behavior, and even neuroticism, says the research team, which also includes Peter Harms, PhD, of the University of Nebraska, and Simine Vazire, PhD, of Washington University in St. Louis.

Their study is published in the July issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The Study

The study participants, who were college students, were asked to rate positive and negative characteristics of other students with whom they were acquainted.

The researchers discovered that a person's tendency to describe other people in positive terms is an important indicator of the positivity of the person's own personality traits.

Strong associations were found between positively judging others and how enthusiastic, happy, kind-hearted, courteous, emotionally stable, and capable the person describes his or her self and is described by others.

The study also found that how positively people see others shows how satisfied they are with their own lives and how much they are liked by others.

The researchers say that negative perceptions of other people are linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial behavior.

"A huge suite of negative personality traits is associated with viewing others negatively," Wood says in a news release. "The simple tendency to see people negatively indicates a greater likelihood of depression and various personality disorders."

Because negative perceptions about others may underlie a number of personality disorders, the researchers say that finding ways to get people to see others in a more positive light might promote the cessation of behavior patterns associated with personality disorders.

Thus, Wood says, the study suggests that when you ask a person to rate the personality of a co-worker, for example, you may learn as much about the person whose opinion you're seeking as the one they are describing.

Being overly negative may be a tip-off that the person describing someone else is disagreeable, unhappy, neurotic, or has other negative personality traits, the researchers say.

Wood says that by evaluating the raters and what they said a year later, the researchers found strong evidence "that how positively we tend to perceive others in our social environment is a highly stable trait that does not change substantially over time."

They add, "many behavioral patterns that are commonly studied by psychologists are thought to be caused in part by how individuals perceive others in their environments, which in turn shapes the behavioral options that individuals see as desirable, adaptive, or appropriate."

The authors say their findings show that what a person sees in another is more than "simply the projection of an individual's self-image onto other people."

SOURCES: News release, Wake Forest University.

Wood, D. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010; vol 99: pp 174-190.

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