Post No.: 0410
Everybody’s got a personality or character unless they’re dead! So what most people (narrow-mindedly) mean when they think someone ‘lacks personality’ is that they lack an ‘outgoing’ character. It’s like everybody has a drive in life, but it just depends for what (e.g. to be famous, to eradicate an injustice, to do as little as possible)? So we mustn’t hold myopic conceptions, otherwise this’ll speak about our own character!
We’re all also essentially being psychologically assessed whenever we socially interact with anyone – particularly when we meet new people – not just whenever we meet professional psychologists or complete formal psychology tests; although laypeople and poorly-written tests tend to be less reliable.
People are frequently bad judges of character because they tend to jump to conclusions too soon when judging character – if we simply ask questions instead of assume then we might find out that someone is the way they are because they suffer from a mental health issue like depression or have some other important background information? Someone might appear uptight or grumpy because they’re constantly fighting some kind of chronic pain or sleep deprivation? Their behaviour isn’t always personal either. Also, if we assume that someone has an antisocial and aloof character, when they’re just shy, and so we stay away from them – they might read our aloof behaviour and see us as being antisocial and so stay away from us. This may make it appear like we were correct in judging their character to be antisocial, but we actually self-fulfillingly affected their behaviour towards us. Therefore we often have to look at ourselves when we wonder why others behave in certain ways towards us. Genetics and environment together determine behaviours, and other people are logically a part of your environmental factors and you’re a part of theirs i.e. we affect each other’s behaviours.
The personalities (beyond temperaments) of babies are classically judged too soon. A lot of judgements about other people’s characters are down to assumptions based on stereotypes, but we don’t usually recognise that we’re making assumptions and just assume we’re correct. Stereotypes can be generally accurate but they aren’t always. People who tend to jump to conclusions tend to think they’re sharp because they have an answer for everything and they’re confident of them – well if you can only think of one plausible answer to a problem then you’ll likely be highly confident that it must be the right answer. But more astute people will hold back and wait for more corroborating information because they understand the effects of errors and circumstances. They can recognise ambiguity because they can work out some other possible explanations for a person’s behaviours and therefore will not judge too soon. Rather than jump to conclusions based on intuitions, we should await for consistency of behaviours and seek causal explanations before making a (strong) judgement.
So we shouldn’t be too quick to judge people’s characters because another person might have a disorder, such as judging someone as rude when they might be suffering from face blindness or even merely poor hearing or eyesight. Or something might be contextual, such as they’ve just had a particularly bad day or didn’t sleep much the previous night, hence they’re not always like that. We can hypocritically expect others to allow for our own contextual behaviours yet we seldom allow for other people’s (e.g. if others shout at us, we don’t tend to consider their current circumstances enough, yet if we snap at someone else, we kind of expect them to understand and mind-read that we’re just currently stressed-out and not normally like that).
The context isn’t always obvious, such as someone not wanting to reveal what’s up with them because they’ve decided to suffer in silence, or hormonal changes due to puberty or pregnancy. Of course, if someone has always been and is always a certain way, then one can more reliably attribute that trait to their intrinsic character. But we should again note that, although someone’s personality is mostly down to his/her genetics, it’s partially down to his/her upbringing and life events too (e.g. brain trauma/damage can radically change a person’s personality). Personality is therefore technically changeable and not fixed because, after all, the brain is a physical system and physical systems can physically change.
Changes to personalities or cognitive abilities due to trauma/damage are far easier in the disorder direction than order direction too. It’s like one will more likely smash some clay into a messy pile rather than into a usable vessel. There are almost always exceptions to the rule in psychology because the brain is an incredibly complex organ and many questions remain, yet we must bear in mind the general outcomes that fit most people versus the rare that fit only a relative few (e.g. some extremely rare cases of acquired savant syndrome).
If we cherry-pick a snapshot of, say, someone laughing on a day of tragedy and mourning, then understand that even on such days, people are allowed at least a minute or two of light relief – thus seeing this mere snapshot, taking it out of context (the context of a long day with possibly lots of other things happening too, not just a tragedy) and jumping to the conclusion that they must’ve been laughing all day, would be fallacious. We cannot expect a grieving person to be sad and teary 24/7 and not allow them to have a couple of laughs in the appropriate contexts throughout a day or week of mourning. Yet the gutter press is particularly bad for presenting cherry-picked snapshots or taking things out of context (e.g. photos of celebrities taking their bins out/in when looking tired and unglamorous, or pulling weird faces in the middle of chewing some food – like we all do hence there’s nothing to judge!)
Therefore one mustn’t judge a person’s character based on thin-slice information. You can sometimes detect that someone has made an impulsive judgement about you – as if they think they’ve suddenly worked out something about you. But they haven’t because they’ve only seen a narrow moment with you (e.g. someone has borrowed your tin opener then offers to wash it but you tell them to leave it; thus they assume you never have it cleaned, but the reason why you told them to leave it was because you’ll wash it yourself to ensure it’ll be clean but you were just busy right then i.e. your fastidiousness can be mistaken for the complete opposite). One moment doesn’t reveal a character trait – consistent moments do. A snapshot, like a photo, message, piece of gossip (even if true) or headline, can make people focus on a particular tree whilst ignoring the whole furry forest because of confirmation bias too, because they’ve already settled on a conclusion and are now trying to find evidence to confirm it.
The whole forest holds the true overall picture whilst a tree only holds a moment in time and place. This tree may be more interesting and memorable because it stands out, either in uniqueness and/or affective intensity, but it’s still just one tree amongst a forest. One must examine lots of trees before making a character judgement. And one must purposely hunt for other trees even if one doesn’t know whether they might or mightn’t exist. In practice, this means reserving judgement until we’ve spent more time with a person in a wide variety of situations. A person can be seen helping an elderly person cross the road one day and then shouting like a lout the next – it can just depend on which moment you caught them hence jumping to conclusions and over-generalising the entire character of a person one way or another from a thin-slice moment is fraught with risk. (Experiments show that ‘thin-slicing’ can lead to accurate judgements but this is only true with certain expressive behaviours/traits like shyness and dominance.)
And really, like ourselves, other individuals are complex and multidimensional too – we’re virtuous sometimes and not so much at others, we’re conscientious sometimes and can’t be bothered at others, etc. – and so don’t always fit into neat personality boxes. Post No.: 0038 investigated personality tests.
We probably cannot ever realistically fully know another person – for a start, we don’t even fully know ourselves, such as what we’re capable of doing in the right/wrong circumstances when a cocktail of hormones are coursing through us in the heat of a moment, compared to when predicting our behaviours in such scenarios whilst in a calm and un-pressured state. Everyone naturally has multiple public and private sides to them too, and treat different people differently in different contexts, such as how they are in front of their boss and how they are in front of their peers, partner or children, or how they might be in front of their friends in the pub compared to stuck in a caravan with them for a week, in a hospital or in a competitive context. It actually wouldn’t be apposite or it’d be bizarre to treat everyone in the same way all of the time (e.g. treating one’s teacher like a toddler!)
We definitely cannot reliably determine someone’s character through their handwriting, zodiac sign, palms or the like! And although their possessions can reveal some clues, it can depend on whether the person could afford what they really wanted rather than what they needed (e.g. their dream car versus what they need for their family according to their budget), and there’s the danger of over-generalising too much from too little again (e.g. they prefer colourful decor over muted-coloured decor but they have lots of muted-coloured things because they’re ultimately easygoing about their style; so rather than having conservative tastes, they’re just tolerant and open-minded about any style, and this includes what seems like a conservative style).
Some research suggests that we might be able to read people’s characters via their pets? Different pets or breeds suit different personalities, and the similarity in the character of a pet and owner can increase over time too – suggesting that pets may slowly come to adopt their owner’s character, or vice-versa. So people’s pets can be (or become) a reflection of themselves, thus if someone has a dog – you might be able to gain an insight into them by asking them to describe the personality of their canine pal?.. Or why not directly have a chat with their dog over a nice cup of gravy – woof woof(!)
When people rationalise someone’s (including their own) attitudes or behaviours by saying that ‘it’s the Italian/French/English/whatever in him/her’ – it’s not really because of their blood but their cultural upbringing.
People tend to value religion more as they age, possibly because of being more aware of their own mortality. People tend to become more politically conservative too, perhaps due to being more resistant to change as they age (decreased neuroplasticity leading to a greater inertia to change). But this might alternatively be down to the years this data relates to (e.g. people born in a certain decade and growing old in certain other decades, hence it could be something about what’s happened or happening during these decades rather than these people’s ages per se). So more longitudinal data studies are required.
All of these findings are only general findings – and each of us is indeed individual and not necessarily ‘averages’. So just because something applies to a population generally, it doesn’t necessarily mean it applies to each person in that population individually. Unless something applies to 100% or 0% of a group, there’ll always be exceptions to the rules.
Woof! Many people fall for scams, fall out of love with someone once thought of as ‘the one’, and we’ll never know how many good friends we could’ve made if only we gave them a proper chance. It’s not easy, but to become a better judge of character – we should try not to jump to strong conclusions too soon.