A new study suggests our friends may know us better than we know ourselves, a finding that may seem counterintuitive.
“It’s a natural tendency to think we know ourselves better than others do,” said Washington University psychologist Dr. Simine Vazire.
A new article by Vazire and doctoral student Erika N. Carlson suggest getting another opinion is actually a wise option. “There are aspects of personality that others know about us that we don’t know ourselves, and vice-versa,” Vazire said.
“To get a complete picture of a personality, you need both perspectives.”
The paper is published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The researchers said that while we are generally well-informed on ourselves, there may be blind spots where our wishes, fears and unconscious desires may obscure reality.
Often the blinders result from trying to maintain a better self-image. Even watching ourselves on videotape does not substantially alter our perceptions—whereas others observing the same tape easily point out traits we’re unaware of.
Not surprisingly, our significant others and those who spend the most time with us know us best.
But even strangers have myriad cues to who we are: clothes, musical preferences, or Facebook postings. At the same time, our nearest and dearest have reasons to distort their views.
“We used to collect ratings from parents – and we’ve mostly stopped, because they’re useless,” notes Vazire. Such data tends to show that everyone’s own child is brilliant, beautiful, and charming.
Interestingly, people don’t see the same things about themselves as others see. Anxiety-related traits, such as stage fright, are obvious to us, but not always to others.
On the other hand, creativity, intelligence, or rudeness is often best perceived by others. That’s not just because they manifest themselves publicly, but also because they carry a value judgment—something that tends to affect self-judgment.
Often, outside souces tend to give us higher marks for our strengths than we credit ourselves with. Nevertheless, people are complex, social cues are many, and perceptions of others are clouded by our own needs and biases.
Plus, the information isn’t easy to access. “It’s amazing how hard it is to get direct feedback,” Vazire noted, adding that she isn’t advocating brutal frankness at any cost. There are good reasons for reticence.
The challenge, then, is to use such knowledge for the good. “How can we give people feedback, and how can that be used to improve self-knowledge?” Vazire asked. “And how do we use self-knowledge to help people be happier and have better relationships?”
Bottom line, listen to others. They may know more than you do—even about yourself.