How to know someone’s personality with one question?


We know that the personality is complex and changes over time according to life experiences that we face every day. This indicates that is difficult to know someone deeply, we need to spend much time near him, establish an intimate connection that allows us perceive the changes that are occurring.

However, there is a simple question that can be useful in order to form a general idea of ​​who’s the person in front of us. We just have to ask him/her what he/she thinks of the others.

Tell me what you think of the others and I'll tell you how you are

Psychologists of the Wake Forest University have conducted several experiments, in one of these they asked participants to judge the positive and negative characteristics of three other people. Then they had to complete a personality test.

This way they saw that the more positively they judged the others, they were happier, excited and emotionally balanced. These people also showed higher satisfaction with their lives. In contrast, those who judged negatively the others tended to show more narcissistic and antisocial traits, as well as increased vulnerability to depression.

The researchers repeated the experiment a year later and got the same results, indicating that the way we judge the others says a lot about who we really are.

We project our personality and our way of seeing the world on the others

Asking someone what he/she thinks of the others we activate an unconscious mechanism of projection. In practice, we stimulate that person to project its characteristics on the others. Thus, the generous people tend to think that the other people are generous too and the selfish believe that the others are selfish like them. We see the world as we are.

At the basis of this mechanism there is also a cognitive bias called "false-consensus effect" according to which, we tend to think that our habits, values, beliefs and opinions are much more common and more widespread than it would be logical to think.

It is the tendency to believe that the others think and feel the same as us. In fact, a curious study conducted at the University of Castilla-La Mancha has revealed that people who drink heavily believe that the others drink as much as they do as well as abstainers think that other people drink very little too.

Of course, this relationship is not always linear. There are cases where is true the opposite, for example, those suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder often believe that the others are worth very little and are less interesting and intelligent. On the other hand, who is prone to paranoia will see in the others malevolent people that can’t be trusted.

In any case, we must always keep in mind these wise words of Confucius: "When you see a good man, tries to imitate him. When you see a bad man, examine yourself."

Wood, D. et. Al. (2010) Perceiver effects as projective tests: What your perceptions of others say about you. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 99(1): 174-190.
Yubero, s. et. Al. (2005) La percepción del consumo de alcohol: el análisis de los sesgos atributivos como orientación para la intervención social con jóvenes.Bits: Boletín Informativo Trabajo Social; 8.

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