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Psychologists dispel thought we know ourselves better than others

May 6, 2011 - Washington

A team of psychologists has suggested that the thought that we know ourselves better is not completely true, as there are some aspects in our lives that people who know us will know better.

Washington University in St. Louis assistant professor Simine Vazire and her colleague Erika N. Carlson suggest asking a friend.

"It's a natural tendency to think we know ourselves better than others do," Vazire said.

"There are aspects of personality that others know about us that we don't know ourselves, and vice-versa.

"To get a complete picture of a personality, you need both perspectives," Vazire explained.

The research showed that our understanding is obstructed by blind spots, created by our wishes, fears, and unconscious motives, the greatest of which is the need to maintain a high (or if we're neurotic, low) self-image.

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.

But all the information does not add up to better personal and mutual understanding, as people are complex, social cues are many, perceptions of others are clouded by our own needs and biases.

"It's amazing how hard it is to get direct feedback," Vazire noted, while adding that she isn't advocating brutal frankness at any cost.

"How can we give people feedback, and how can that be used to improve self-knowledge? And how do we use self-knowledge to help people be happier and have better relationships?" Vazire asked.

The first answer to these questions may be the most obvious, but not the easiest to practice: Listen to others. They may know more than you do, even about yourself.

The paper has been published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.


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