Personality psychology article discussion

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Compose 2 discussion questions based on provided articles.

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Provide your opinions, thoughts and answers to the question you proposed with an explanation of the logic behind it (1-3 sentences)
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Others Sometimes Know Us Better
Than We Know Ourselves
Current Directions in Psychological
Science
20(2) 104-108
ª The Author(s) 2011
Reprints and permission:
sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav
DOI: 10.1177/0963721411402478

Simine Vazire and Erika N. Carlson
Washington University in St. Louis
Abstract
Most people believe that they know themselves better than anyone else knows them. However, a complete picture of what a person
is like requires both the person’s own perspective and the perspective of others who know him or her well. People’s perceptions of
their own personalities, while largely accurate, contain important omissions. Some of these blind spots are likely due to a simple lack
of information, whereas others are due to motivated distortions in our self-perceptions. Perhaps for these reasons, others can
perceive some aspects of personality better than the self can. This is especially true for traits that are very desirable or undesirable, when motivational factors are most likely to distort self-perceptions. Therefore, much can be learned about a person’s
personality from how he or she is seen by others. Future research should examine how people can tap into others’ knowledge
to improve self-knowledge.
Keywords
self-knowledge, accuracy, peer reports, personality, meta-perception, self-insight
‘‘Do we understand each other?’’ Gracie wants to know. . . .
‘‘Better than we understand ourselves,’’ I tell her.
—Straight Man, Richard Russo, p. 106
Who knows you best? Most of us have the powerful intuition
that we know ourselves better than others know us (Pronin,
Kruger, Savitsky, & Ross, 2001). Indeed, there are several good
reasons to think that we are the best judge of ourselves: We have
privileged knowledge about our own histories, our thoughts and
feelings, and our private behaviors. Yet, we all know people who
seem to be deluded about themselves—which raises the uncomfortable possibility that we, too, might be so deluded.
When it comes to our own personalities, there is increasing
evidence that our blind spots are substantial. Moreover, others
can sometimes see things about our personalities that we cannot.
The aim of this paper is to review the latest evidence concerning
the accuracy of self- and other-perceptions of personality and
show that a complete picture of what a person is like requires
both the person’s own perspective and the perspective of others
who know him or her well. This conclusion has implications for
researchers and practitioners who rely on self-reports and for
people who want to get to know others—or themselves.
How Could We Not Know?
The first step in establishing that others know things about our
personality that we do not is to show that there are gaps in our
self-knowledge. Why do we sometimes misperceive our own
personality? Some blind spots may be due to a simple lack of
information. We have all experienced the supervisor who,
unbeknownst to him, has a persistent frown when listening
intently and, as a result, is a lot more intimidating than he realizes. A simple dose of feedback could bring his self-perception
in line with his behavior (or even better, bring his behavior in
line with his self-perception). Blind spots can also be due to
having too much information—we have access to so many of
our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that we often have a hard
time mentally aggregating this evidence and noticing patterns
(Sande, Goethals, & Radloff, 1988). For example, most of us
can probably think of many times when we have acted friendly
or unfriendly, making it difficult to know how friendly we are
in general. In other words, it is difficult for us to see the forest
for the trees.
In many cases, however, blind spots are not so innocent—
they are the result of motivated cognitive processes. One
motive that has a strong influence on self-perception is the
motive to maintain and enhance our self-worth (Sedikides &
Gregg, 2008). There is a great deal of research documenting
Corresponding Author:
Simine Vazire, Department of Psychology, Washington University in St. Louis,
One Brookings Dr., Campus Box 1125, St. Louis, MO 63130
E-mail: svazire@artsci.wustl.edu
Others Sometimes Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves
the lengths people will go to in order to maintain a positive
view of themselves, leading to flawed self-assessment
(Dunning, 2005). While our desire to protect our sense of
self-worth influences our self-perception, it is not clear that
these biases are always in the positive direction. Indeed, there
are important individual differences in self-enhancement
(Paulhus, 1998) and some people seek to confirm their overly
negative self-views (Swann, 1997). What is beyond doubt is that
self-perception is not simply an objective, neutral process. Motivated cognition influences and distorts self-perception in a multitude of ways that help to create and maintain blind spots in selfknowledge. As a result, we cannot judge our own personality as
dispassionately as we might a stranger’s.
One vivid example of blind spots in self-knowledge comes
from research on the discrepancies between people’s explicit
and implicit perceptions of their own personality. Implicit personality is typically measured by tapping into people’s automatic associations between themselves and specific traits or
behaviors. The logic behind these measures is that people form
automatic or implicit associations (e.g., between the concepts
‘‘me’’ and ‘‘assertive’’) based on their previous patterns of
behavior. Thus, the traits that people automatically associate
with themselves in implicit tests may predict behavior above
and beyond the traits they consciously endorse in explicit measures of personality. Indeed, this is exactly what has been
found. In one study, people’s implicit self-views of their personality predicted their behavior even after controlling for what
could be predicted from their explicit self-views (Back,
Schmukle, & Egloff, 2009). This pattern was strongest for
extraversion and neuroticism, traits that are non-evaluative and
that people are typically willing to report honestly, which suggests that people have implicit knowledge about their pattern of
behaviors that they cannot report on explicitly.
Are these implicit blind spots merely an efficient way to
process information—it may be easier to form implicit associations than to constantly update our explicit self-views—or are
they the result of motivated cognition? If processing selfknowledge implicitly were merely a matter of efficiency, we
should be able to increase the congruence between our explicit
and implicit self-views simply by focusing our attention on the
behavioral manifestations of our implicit personality. Contrary
to this prediction, participants who watched themselves on
video did not bring their explicit self-views more in line with
their implicit personality, despite the fact that strangers who
watched the same videos were able to detect the implicit
aspects of the targets’ personalities (Hofmann, Gschwendner,
& Schmitt, 2009). Thus, it seems that our motives sometimes
lead us to ignore aspects of our personality that others can
detect. As a result, our conscious self-perceptions provide a
valuable but incomplete perspective on our personality.
How Do They Know?
The second step in establishing that others may know things
about our personality that we do not is to show that others are
adept at detecting personality. As it turns out, many aspects of
105
personality are remarkably transparent to others, even when we
are not intentionally broadcasting them. For example, many
traits can be judged accurately from people’s physical appearance, their Facebook profiles, or a brief interaction (Kenny &
West, 2008). This evidence suggests that our day-to-day behavior is infused with traces of our personality and that others
make good use of these cues when inferring our personality
(Mehl, Gosling, & Pennebaker, 2006). In addition, we (intentionally and unintentionally) broadcast our personality in our
living spaces, music collections, and online habitats (Gosling,
2008). In other words, others have plenty of fodder for detecting our personality, while we see ourselves through the distorted lens of our own motives, biases, wishes, and fears.
Of course, not all others are created equal—the relationship
between the judge and the target matters. While too much intimacy can lead to the same biases that distort self-perceptions
(e.g., one’s self-worth can be threatened as much by the knowledge that one’s spouse is incompetent as it is by the thought of
one’s own incompetence), closeness is usually associated with
greater accuracy (see Biesanz, West, & Millevoi, 2007, for a
thorough review). Moreover, the better we get along with others, the more accurately they can infer our thoughts and feelings (Thomas & Fletcher, 2003). Overall, across all types and
levels of acquaintance that have been examined, people form
remarkably accurate impressions of one another.
These findings show that we are astute judges of each
others’ personalities, likely due to the importance of interpersonal perception for our social species. As a result, other people—
especially those who spend a lot of time around us and who we
open up to—almost inevitably become experts on our personality. This conclusion should cast serious doubt on the longstanding assumption among researchers that we necessarily know our
own personality better than others know us. It seems likely that,
at least for some aspects of personality, others might be in a better position to see us clearly than we are.
Who Knows What?
The goal of this article is not to bring readers to despair of
self-perceptions. Rather, the goal is to make the case that
others sometimes see aspects of our personality that we are blind
to. Perhaps the most important evidence is the body of
research that directly compares the accuracy of self- and
other-perceptions of personality. Here we focus on studies that
measure accuracy using a correlational approach—that is, by
comparing judgments by the self and others to a criterion. The
available evidence suggests that self- and other-perceptions are
roughly equally good at predicting behavior in a laboratory
(e.g., behavior in a group discussion; Kolar, Funder, & Colvin,
1996; Vazire, 2010), predicting real-world behavior (e.g., behavior when out with friends; Vazire & Mehl, 2008), and predicting outcomes (e.g., discharge from the military; Fiedler,
Oltmanns, & Turkheimer, 2004). However, the overall equality
in levels of accuracy obscures a more interesting pattern: Selfand other-ratings of a person’s personality do not simply provide
redundant information. Instead, they capture different aspects.
106
Vazire, Carlson
Accuracy of Self- and Friend-Ratings for Different
Traits
0.4
Accuracy (Fisher’s z)
Self
Friends
0.3
0.2
0.1
0
Low observability, low
evaluativeness (e.g.,
anxious)
High observability, low
evaluativeness (e.g.,
talkative)
Low observability, high
evaluativeness (e.g,
intelligent)
Type of Trait
Fig. 1. Average accuracy scores (transformed to Fisher’s z-scores for purposes of comparison) for self- and friend-ratings of personality traits
that are less observable and less evaluative (left), more observable and less evaluative (middle), and less observable and more evaluative (right).
Adapted from Vazire (2010).
Vazire (2010) recently proposed the self–other knowledge
asymmetry (SOKA) model to map out the aspects of personality that are known uniquely to the self or uniquely to others.
According to this model, the differences between what we
know about ourselves and what others know about us are not
random but are driven by differences between the information
available to the self and others and motivational biases that differentially affect perceptions of the self and others (Andersen,
Glassman, & Gold, 1998).
Specifically, Vazire (2010) proposed that the self has better
information than others do for judging internal traits—traits
defined primarily by thoughts and feelings, such as being anxious or optimistic—but that others have better information than
the self for judging external traits—traits defined primarily by
overt behavior, such as being boisterous or charming. In addition, Vazire argued that self-perception on highly evaluative
traits (e.g., being rude, being intelligent) is severely distorted
by biases. As a result, self-ratings on evaluative traits often
do not track our actual standing on those traits (but instead
might track individual differences in self-esteem or narcissism). In contrast, when perceiving others on highly evaluative
traits, we are able to form impressions that are mostly accurate
(assuming we have enough information). This is not to say that
others see us more harshly than we see ourselves. In fact, there
is evidence that close others may in fact have more positive
impressions of us than we do, but that their perceptions are nevertheless more accurate. This can happen if people who have
the most positive ratings from their friends also tend to actually
have the most positive personalities (even if nobody’s
personality is quite as delightful as their friends portray it).
In this case, friends’ ratings would be overly positive in an
absolute sense, but more accurate in their rank order, and thus
friends’ ratings would be a very good predictor of actual behavior (e.g., those whose friends say they are the most friendly are
likely to behave the friendliest).
To test these hypotheses, Vazire (2010) compared selfand friend-ratings of personality to how people behaved in
videotaped laboratory exercises and how they performed on
intelligence and creativity tests. Consistent with Vazire’s first
hypothesis, self-ratings of internal, neutral traits (e.g., anxiety,
self-esteem) were better than friends’ ratings at predicting behavior (Fig. 1). Consistent with her second hypothesis, friends’ ratings of evaluative traits (e.g., intelligence, creativity) were better
than self-ratings at predicting performance in these domains.
Consistent with the SOKA model, other research has shown
that close others are often better than the self at predicting very
desirable or undesirable outcomes, such as college GPA, relationship dissolution, and coronary disease. Together, these
findings suggest that those who know us well sometimes see
things that we do not see in ourselves, particularly when it
comes to aspects of our personality that are observable to others
and that we care a lot about (and thus cannot see objectively).
What Do We Do Now?
The appropriate conclusion from the empirical literatures
seems to be that to know people’s personalities, we need to
know both how they see themselves and how they are seen
Others Sometimes Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves
by others who know them well. The fact that self-perception
is an important part of personality is not new; the novel finding
is that others also know a lot about us that we don’t know.
How can we tap into others’ knowledge to improve our selfknowledge? Direct, honest feedback might be very useful, but
it is rare, and probably for good reason. A more realistic strategy is to take the perspective of others when perceiving our
own personality (i.e., meta-perception). Research suggests that
although we overestimate the degree to which others share our
perception of ourselves, we are able to detect the impression we
make on others, even when meeting someone for the first time
(Carlson, Furr, & Vazire, 2010). We also seem to know how we
are seen differently by people who know us in different contexts (e.g., parents vs. friends; Carlson & Furr, 2009). In short,
it seems that we have some awareness of how others see us,
but we do not always make use of this information when judging our own personality. Thus, we may be able to improve our
self-knowledge by placing more weight on our impressions of
how others see us—particularly, as Vazire’s (2010) research
suggests, when it comes to observable, evaluative traits (e.g.,
funny, charming).
Finally, introspection has historically attracted a great deal
of attention as a route to self-knowledge. Unfortunately, recent
research shows that many aspects of ourselves are hidden from
conscious awareness, limiting the effectiveness of introspection in the pursuit of self-knowledge (Wilson, 2009). Perhaps
a more promising avenue for increasing self-knowledge is to
reduce the self-protective motives (e.g., defensiveness) that
prevent us from seeing ourselves objectively. Recent work
suggests that self-affirmation reduces defensive responding
and makes us more open to negative information about
ourselves (Critcher, Dunning, & Armor, 2010). Along the same
lines, training in mindfulness meditation (i.e., nonjudgmental
attention to one’s current experience) improves people’s
emotion-regulation skills, memory, and attention and can
improve their ability to differentiate between their transient emotional experiences and their global dispositions (Williams, 2010).
Thus, these techniques may reduce the two major obstacles to
self-knowledge: lack of information and motivational biases.
In short, little is known about successful routes to improving
self-knowledge. Clearly, much remains to be learned about how
we can know ourselves better. What is now evident, however, is
that, as a fortune cookie admonishes, ‘‘There are lessons to be
learned by listening to others.’’
Acknowledgments
We thank Krystle Disney, John Doris, Sam Gosling, Sanjay Srivastava,
and Tim Wilson for their helpful suggestions concerning this article.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with respect
to their authorship or the publication of this article.
Recommended Reading
Dunning, D., Heath, C., & Suls, J.M. (2004). Flawed self-assessment:
Implications for health, education, and the workplace. Psychological
107
Science in the Public Interest, 5, 69–106. A comprehensive, highly
accessible review of the practical implications of biases in selfassessment.
Oltmanns, T.F., Gleason, M.E.J., Klonsky, E.D., & Turkheimer, E.
(2005). Meta-perception for pathological personality traits: Do we
know when others think that we are difficult? Consciousness and
Cognition: An International Journal, 14, 739–751. A study that illustrates the importance of self-knowledge for personality disorders.
Vazire, S., & Carlson, E.N. (2010). Self-knowledge of personality: Do
people know themselves? Social and Personality Psychology
Compass. An accessible review of the latest evidence regarding the
accuracy of self-perceptions of personality, with a more thorough
reference list than is provided in the current paper.
Wilson, T.D., & Dunn, E.W. (2004). Self-knowledge: Its limits, value,
and potential for improvement. Annual Review of Psychology, 55,
493–518. A comprehensive and thorough review of research and
theory on self-knowledge.
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