Research shows what you say about others says a lot about you

How positively you see others is linked to how happy, kind-hearted and emotionally stable you are, according to new research by a Wake Forest University psychology professor.

“Your perceptions of others reveal so much about your own personality,” says Dustin Wood, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest and lead author of the study, about his findings. By asking study participants to each rate positive and negative characteristics of just three people, the researchers were able to find out important information about the rater’s well-being, mental health, social attitudes and how they were judged by others.

The study appears in the July issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Peter Harms at the University of Nebraska and Simine Vazire of Washington University in St. Louis co-authored the study.

The researchers found a person’s tendency to describe others in positive terms is an important indicator of the positivity of the person’s own personality traits. They discovered particularly strong associations between positively judging others and how enthusiastic, happy, kind-hearted, courteous, emotionally stable and capable the person describes oneself and is described by others.

“Seeing others positively reveals our own positive traits,” Wood says.

The study also found that how positively you see other people shows how satisfied you are with your own life, and how much you are liked by others.

In contrast, negative perceptions of others are linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial behavior. “A huge suite of negative personality traits are associated with viewing others negatively,” Wood says. “The simple tendency to see people negatively indicates a greater likelihood of depression and various personality disorders.” Given that negative perceptions of others may underlie several personality disorders, finding techniques to get people to see others more positively could promote the cessation of behavior patterns associated with several different personality disorders simultaneously, Wood says.

This research suggests that when you ask someone to rate the personality of a particular coworker or acquaintance, you may learn as much about the rater providing the personality description as the person they are describing. The level of negativity the rater uses in describing the other person may indeed indicate that the other person has negative characteristics, but may also be a tip off that the rater is unhappy, disagreeable, neurotic — or has other negative personality traits.

Raters in the study consisted of friends rating one another, college freshmen rating others they knew in their dormitories, and fraternity and sorority members rating others in their organization. In all samples, participants rated real people and the positivity of their ratings were found to be associated with the participant’s own characteristics.

By evaluating the raters and how they evaluated their peers again one year later, Wood found compelling 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.

The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.

12 thoughts on “Research shows what you say about others says a lot about you”

  1. First of all we should observe” who is who” and “What is he or she” and “why is he or she”…it will lead us all to a great truth. History is before us all. Experience in life and opinions of people make our brain work. An idle brain can not understand what is the “root” and why still it is the “root”. Monotonous life wont give solutions. Only active brain with ideas and reformations can lead us all to the brightness.

  2. Interesting. This seems to be an assumption in advice books as well. But is there a way to improve anti-social and narcissistic behavior? Is there a way to apply these findings?

    This correlation doesn’t explain anything.

  3. Is it any surprise that someone who positively judges others is going to positively judge themselves, and be liked and judged by others as positive? “Scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.”

    Of course this is the result. If you dislike people, *regardless of the reason*, they aren’t going to like you either, most likely.

    This ScienceBlog (or press release) writer writes that negative ratings “…may also be a tip off that the rater is unhappy, disagreeable, neurotic — or has other negative personality traits.” So is this trying to imply that merely being unhappy is a “negative personality trait”?!?

    And look at the study cohort: a bunch of college students! Before you all go using this study to legitimize “happy at all cost” thinking, as this writer and the commentators imply, how about talking to people who’ve lived in the real world for 10, 20 or 30 years or so, with corrupt politicians that send their jobs overseas, corrupt corporations that lay them off for no reason or stab them in the back, or who lose their job, their house, and maybe even their family not because they did something wrong but because of office politics. Talk to people dealing with a more whole experience of the world and you may get a different picture about how easy it is to see people negatively, and for good reason.

    Look at the title of this article. It DEFINITIVELY says that what you say says a lot about you, even though the study says this MAY only be true, as even the article writer acknowledges. Also, the first sentence says the same thing, even though the link is not guaranteed in any particular case. This is called ScienceBlog, but this is quite irresponsible writing.

    But perhaps most importantly, think about what this article and the study ignores. How does the positivity or negativity of a person correlate with the ACCURACY of their judgment of others? The implication in this article and study is that negative judgments are bad. But what about the inaccuracy of judging others positively? What are the harmful implications and consequences of a population that is obsessed with happiness, seemingly at all costs, that repeatedly refuses to hold wrongdoers accountable, that would no doubt show up in this study as painting everybody in a positive light.

    The study cited is just a study. But the writing here has a couple of fatal flaws. And the commentators quickly latch on to it as justification for their simplistic equation POSITIVE = ALWAYS GOOD. This country is obsessed with shiny, happy consumers doing corporate bidding and, as we see here, has no problem doing whatever it can to twist science into the vilification of those who aren’t happy (often for legitimate reasons).

  4. It’s very interesting how you perceive yourself and the world around you as having such an impct on how you view or rate others, how it affects your life and the life of others you come in contact with.
    I would be interested in seeing the results of people who do not have the tendency to be “happy, kind-hearted, and emotionally stable” ( as ahown through their rating others in this research project) , and giving them the opportunity to go through some effective, sustainable leadership development, if their results would be different.

  5. Great insights. I’ve consistently found that people who view others in a positive light create rewarding interactions. It’s as if what we have going on inside us is mirrored in how we relate to others. The happier and more fulfilled we are the more likely we are to treat other people well.

  6. And sometimes the poor oppinions are spot on and the Type B personality types do psychological studies because “they” are unwilling to give ground either. It boils down to combat styles.

    Sort of like Tweeting this link, after given business practices show a less than forthright approach to stakeholders.

  7. I cannot agree more. Every one is positive at one point or another. That is why there is progress. That is why there is hope. That is why we do whatever we do. Looking at other’s happiness 100% is the ideal and an acceptance of the value of other’s freedom to feel happy and prosperous. The negative thoughts emanate out of comparisons of unhealthy nature and from the stronger rootedness of the ‘me always first’ attitude. I would send this message to all whom I think are looking for a freedom from such negative thoughts. I thank the research team for spreading this.

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