How People Judge Your Personality, According To Research
First impressions are everything. People will use many different things to judge your personality before they even get to know you. Although it's not nice to judge a book by its cover, experts say there is a psychology behind why we do it.
"The main reason we judge others (and even ourselves!) is because our brain is wired to keep us safe," Kellie Zeigler, certified applied positive psychology practitioner, tells Bustle. "It wants stability and certainty, so it makes quick judgments to help us do that." For example, when your brain judges someone and labels them "rude," you'll know to stay away from them in the future so you don't get hurt.
According to psychotherapist Jacob Brown, humans are also wired to understand our status in our social hierarchy as a means to survive. "If you think of pack animals, a member of the pack doesn’t want to start acting too dominant or the leader may attack him," Brown says. "At the same time, they don't want to act too submissive or they may not get all the food they're entitled to. Accurately assessing your position in your social group enhances your chances of survival."
People may unconsciously do this when they judge others on things like their clothes, physical appearance, education level, and job. We use those cues to determine whether we're above or below them in the social hierarchy so we know how to act moving forward.
Here are small things people use to judge your personality, according to science.
1. The Temperature Of Your Hands
"If you're one of those people with cold hands, chances are that others are unfortunately judging your personality by your hand temperature when you shake hands," Elizabeth Irias, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. A 2008 study published in the journal Science found that people perceive others as more generous and caring when they held a cup of hot coffee in their hands over iced coffee. "People assume that individuals with warm hands are warm and kind, and that people with cold hands are cold and unemotional," Irias says. So if you want people to perceive you as warm, hold a cup of warm liquid or keep a small hand-warmer around to use before you meet someone new.
2. Your First Name
This is one you can either thank or blame your parents for. A 2018 study found that your first name can influence how others judge your personality, age, and competency. Researchers from Syracuse University conducted a study of 500 college students and asked them to rate popular names. As they found, female names were more associated with warmth than competence. Male names were found to be the opposite. Names like Dolores or Donald were also considered to be "older" than names like Danielle or Devon. Names that were found to be both highly competent and warm included Anna, Caroline, Elizabeth, John, and Matthew. Of course if people had negative experiences with a certain name, they were more likely to rate them more negatively.
3. How You React To Eye Contact
A 2015 study from the Academy of Finland found that the way you respond to eye contact can say a lot about your personality. People who tend to avoid eye contact are more likely to be anxious and self-conscious. "Usually, introverts or shy people have issues holding eye contact for a prolonged period of time, especially when they meet someone for the first time or when they are nervous," Diana Venckunaite, certified life and relationship coach, tells Bustle. "Whereas, extroverts or confident people don't have issues with eye contact, and can carry on conversations without the need to look away."
4. What You Say About Others
"You can tell a lot by observing someone's interaction with people around them, especially with people that have lower status or smaller job titles," Venckunaite says. How someone treats others or what they say about them can tell a lot about the size of their ego, and the amount of respect and compassion they have in them. There's a really good reason to watch what you say about other people. A 2010 study published in the the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people might judge you based on how you judge other people. If you have a tendency to describe others in positive ways, it shows that you're likely a happy, kind-hearted, and emotionally stable person.
5. Your Facial Features
A person's past experience, environment, and what they've learned can influence how they judge others. As Tzlil Hertzberg, mental health counselor at MyTherapist New York, tells Bustle, "Often, those judgements are untrue, biased and based on very little information, but it is still inherent to how we understand our world." A 2018 New York University study found that people make snap judgments on facial appearances based on their pre-existing beliefs about others' personalities. For example, you're likely to judge people with babyish features as agreeable or harmless because that's what you've been exposed to or learned. It may not be accurate, but it's instinct. "This instinct ends up constructing and informing our reality and gives us a skewed view of how things are," Hertzberg says.
6. Your Voice
In a 2019 study, researchers from the Université Aix-Marseille and the University of Glasgow, found that people can easily judge your personality based on your voice alone. In the study, participants were told to judge other people for trustworthiness, dominance, and competence, after hearing them say "Hola" or "Hello." Regardless of the language spoken, participants were able to say that certain voices sounded more aggressive or confident just by hearing one word. They also judged other voices as being more trustworthy and warm.
7. Your Physical Appearance
Someone's physical appearance really shouldn't matter overall. But a 2009 study found that people do judge personality based on appearance alone. Participants in the study were shown over 100 photographs of people they didn't know. Some photographs showed people in a controlled pose with a neutral expression, while others were in a naturally expressive pose like smiling. Even when the photographs had someone in a controlled pose, participants were able to accurately judge them for some major personality traits. But when the person in the photo was in a natural pose, participants were able to accurately judge them for nine out of 10 major traits including extraversion, openness, likability, and loneliness.
The important thing to remember here is that people will judge you regardless of what you do. You can't really control how they perceive you. The only thing you can control is yourself. These are just some small things consider — it's totally up to you whether you choose to make changes or stay exactly as you are.
Williams, E. and Bargh, A. (2008) Experiencing Physical Warmth Promotes Interpersonal Warmth. Science. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/suppl/2008/10/23/322.5901.606.DC1/Williams.SOM.pdf
Newman, L.S., Mingxuan, Tan, & Caldwell, T.L. (2018) Name Norms: A Guide to Casting Your Next Experiment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167218769858?journalCode=pspc
Uusberg, H., Allik, J., & Hietanen, J.K. (2015). Eye contact reveals a relationship between Neuroticism and anterior EEG asymmetry. Neuropsychologia. 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.05.008
Wood, D., Harms, P., & Vazire, S. (2010) What you say about others says a lot about you. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100802165441.htm
Ryan M. Stolier, R.M, Hehman, E., Keller, M.D., Walker, M, & Freeman, J.B. (2018) The conceptual structure of face impressions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 10.1073/pnas.1807222115
Cristina Baus, C., McAleer, P., Marcoux, K., Belin, P., and Costa, A. (2019) Forming social impressions from voices in native and foreign languages. Scientific Reports 10.1038/s41598-018-36518-6
Naumann, L. and Gosling, S. (2009) First Impressions Count When Making Personality Judgments. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091103112253.htm
Kellie Zeigler, certified applied positive psychology practitioner
Jacob Brown, psychotherapist
Elizabeth Irias, LMFT, president and founder of Clearly Clinical
Diana Venckunaite, certified life and relationship coach
Tzlil Hertzberg, mental health counselor at MyTherapist New York