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Pop quiz: If you had to describe the person beside you to someone else, what would you say about that individual? Pretty? Self-centered? Know-it-all? Sweetheart? Jerk?
Turns out, the words you use to describe someone say more about you than about the person you’re critiquing, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Those who see the positive in others are happier, more kind-hearted and more emotionally stable than those who find the negative, say the Wake Forest University researchers.
For the study, lead author Dustin Wood, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest, and his team, recruited 165 people and asked each one to rate the positive and negative characteristics of three people, plus themselves. On average, participants knew the people in their group for over three years. Each volunteer also completed several standard psychological tests that screen for conditions like narcissism and depression. One year later, Wood and his team followed up with the participants to see if their evaluations had changed. For the most part, they did not.
Through this work, the researchers found they could predict how satisfied someone is with his or her life, based on what they said about other people.
“A huge suite of negative personality traits are associated with viewing others negatively,” Wood said in a statement. “The tendency to see people negatively indicates a greater likelihood of depression and various personality disorders.”
For instance, according to background information in their article, people who are antisocial or neurotic (anxious and worry-prone) often view the world as hostile or threatening. They assume the worst in others as a means of protecting themselves.
So if you want to find out about a person’s inner workings, all you have to do, it seems, is ask your friend what they think about another person. I guess that’s why it’s best to take other people’s opinions with a grain of salt -- and draw your own conclusions. Kind of renders personal recommendations pointless, doesn’t it?
I have to wonder what this research says about people who live for gossip. Trashing other people has practically become a sport -- where whoever comes up with the wittiest and cruelest take on the latest celebrity (or coworker) train wreck wins. On the one hand, it’s mindless entertainment. On the other hand, it’s completely unkind. When I asked Dr. Wood what his take was, he thought it came down to the content and spirit of the gossip. Some people, he says, just like to share information about others, because they’re interested in their lives. Those people, he said, are probably doing okay on the inside. As for the Perez Hiltons of the world? “I believe my research would suggest that people who are more interested in getting and sharing the dirt on other people have a number of negative personality characteristics themselves,” says Wood.
I would end here with a snide comment about Perez and all the other gossipmongers of the world, but considering the circumstances, I think it’s best to bite my tongue. After all, who knows what you might then think about me? Of course, if you were to go off and say something mean about me to your friends, well, that’s all about you.
Time for a little self-reflection: What do you think your view of others says about you? Chime in below.