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See Inside January / February 2011

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say...: What Your Description of Others Says about You

What you say about others reveals a lot about you

Got a friend who thinks most people are jerks? It is probably no surprise that he is not the nicest person in other contexts, either. But the way you view others may reveal much more about your character than you think, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers at Wake Forest University, the University of Nebraska and Washington University in St. Louis found that college students who were more inclined to rate their peers positively—as being trustworthy, nice and emotionally stable—reported greater life satisfaction, less depression, and better grades and test scores. In general, women were more likely to rate others positively than men, although the study did not examine why. And a survey of the volunteers’ classmates showed that people who rated others positively were more likely to be well regarded by their peers and to be judged as being agreeable, conscientious and emotionally stable.

On the other hand, those with negative opinions of others were more apt to be disagreeable, antisocial and narcissistic. “You stand to learn a number of very different things about a person from just observing whether the person describes others positively or not,” says lead author Dustin Wood, an assistant psychology professor. Most surprising, Wood says, was how little those perceptions changed a year later. “The stability of these tendencies means that they may consistently act as a lens that darkens your experience of other people or brightens it,” he says. And therefore, Wood says, your perception of others “may be hard to change.”

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