What do our perceptions of others reveal about our own personalities? A lot, researchers are discovering.
According to a recent study that explored perceiver effects, how positively you see others may be linked to how happy, kind-hearted and emotionally stable you are. In contrast, negative perceptions of others are linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial behavior in the perceiver (Wood et al., 2010).

Researchers found that if you ask someone to describe and rate the personality of a peer, you may learn as much about the rater as the person they’re describing. In fact, by asking each study participant to rate positive and negative characteristics (e.g., how nice, interesting, trustworthy, happy, and stable others generally seem) of just three of their peers, researchers were able to assess the rater’s own well-being, mental health, social attitudes and how they were judged by others.


So not only does how you see others say a lot about you, how you see others may reveal how others see you.


The study revealed that a person’s tendency to describe others in positive terms across a wide range of traits is an important predictor of the positivity of their own personality traits. They discovered particularly strong associations between how the rater describes himself/herself and is described by others with respect to these traits: enthusiasm, happiness, kind-heartedness, courteousness, emotional stability, and capability (e.g., academic or professional).


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


In contrast, negative perceptions of others were linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial (e.g., sociopathy) behavior in the rater. Researchers also found that the simple tendency to view other people negatively indicated a greater likelihood of depression.


When raters were asked to reevaluate their peers in a 1-year followup, researchers found that perceiver effects — or how we tend to perceive others in our social environment — is a highly stable trait that, much like personality traits in general, doesn’t change substantially over time.


But, over time, however, meditation can help improve not only our own personal traits, but can also alter how we perceive others. For more, see our interesting take on how Sahaja impacts character and whether meditation can influence your personality.


Wood, Dustin, Harms, Peter, Vazire, Simine. (2010) Perceiver effects as projective tests: What your perceptions of others say about you. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 99(1), Jul 2010, 174-190.