Judging People: A Scientific Approach Part 1 – Our Stupid Way Of Judging People

We all judge people. We can’t help it. Our brains are wired to observe, reason, and conclude. However, we do a very poor job of judging people accurately; and so I propose a new, scientific approach that will help us see people as they actually are and less as we mistakenly presume.

Judging people inaccurately limits our thinking and creates barriers in relationships. We hinder our progress through life when we pass false judgments. Thus, it is important to evaluate how and why we judge people in order to get a clearer understanding of our thought process and create a better life for ourselves and those around us.

Our discussion is a three-part series. In this article, we examine our current method for judging people and reflect on the repercussions of this method. The subsequent articles uncover the fundamental flaw in our current method and propose a new approach. A link to Part 2 is provided at the end of this article.

Our Stupid Way of Judging People

Judgment happens so quickly in our minds that it seems like an automatic response. It seems more like a reflex than something we can control or choose to do.

However, judgment is not simply an innate reflex when it comes to daily social interactions; rather, it is a learned pattern of thinking that we can access in our minds and alter.

It’s easy to say, “Oh, this is just how things are. Everybody judges everybody. It’s how it’s always been.” Perhaps judgment is a skill that humans learned in order to adapt and survive when competing with other species. It is obvious, though, that the consequences of inaccurate judgement can easily divide people and turn survival into a competition among fellow humans. Competition is not inherently bad, but the purpose for which we compare other people to ourselves creates unnecessary stress and anxiety in our lives.

In today’s society, we pass judgment as a mechanism for emotional survival. We tend to seek approval from other people in order to develop self-confidence instead of deriving confidence from valuing ourselves. We also tend to categorize people and compare people to ourselves in order to validate our self-worth.

Each one of us has a narcissistic bully leashed-up inside that wants us to judge other people in order to make us feel better about ourselves. That pesky bugger is difficult to contain sometimes. Judging people is so deliciously tempting because it is easy to do and seems harmless.

If we pass a judgment in our minds, who is to know? If we do not speak about this judgment, it can cause no harm to anyone, right?

Big, fat wrong.

Judging people is not inherently evil, but neglecting to manage the extent to which we judge others is self-destructive. Our method for judging people affects every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships (even if other people do not know that we are judging them). It behooves us to monitor our thinking so that we can create and maintain better relationships with other people.

Although our judgments arise so quickly, we can break down our system of thought into a sequence so that we can clearly see what we need to improve. Our current system of thought goes something like this:

1. Observation

2. Interpretation

3. Conclusion

4. Generalization

Below is an overview of what happens in our minds during each step of the sequence. Note that this sequence is not necessarily linear. It actually seems like each step happens at the same time or that our minds go back and forth between steps until a final decision is made. However, the purpose of establishing a sequence and listing it in a particular order is simply to obtain better understanding of how judgment occurs.

We begin our discussion with the origin of our judgments – observation.

1. Observation

Judgments arise when we observe something. We notice someone’s hair color, clothing, or smell. We notice the way a person walks, the pitch of their voice, or their energy. We hear a person speak, see a person’s body language, or notice how a person handles a frustrating situation.

When we observe another human being, our brains almost automatically have something to say about the observation. We make an instant conclusion about who that person is, what is right and wrong about the person, and how valuable the person is. We also almost automatically compare ourselves to that person based on the observation.

Once we make an observation, we interpret that observation relative to how we feel about ourselves.

2. Interpretation

Our reactions to our observations vary. We may feel appreciative, jealous, resentful, insecure, happy, or motivated. We may feel hatred if we do not have what that person has, or we may feel inspired to attain what that person has attained.

When we observe, we use ourselves as a basis for comparison to interpret our observation. We try to classify the observation as good or bad, acceptable or unacceptable, normal or weird, and so on. We also simultaneously reclassify ourselves relative to what we observe. Essentially, we tend to classify people based on how we feel about ourselves.

For example, if we believe ourselves to be highly intelligent and informed, and we notice that the person we observe is also highly intelligent and informed, we may interpret the person to be acceptable (on our level) or unacceptable (a threat to our ego).

Likewise, if we feel we are unattractive according to mainstream media, and we notice that the person we observe is also unattractive, we may feel happy that we are not alone in this world (the person is acceptable) or we may feel superior by comparison (the person is unacceptable).

However we choose to interpret what we observe, we very quickly form a conclusion about the person.

3. Conclusion

Based on our initial observations and interpretations, we make definitive statements about a person. We might conclude that a person is acceptable, or we might conclude that a person is sub-par.

Either way, we make a final conclusion about the person we observe, and we etch that conclusion in stone. The conclusion is now fact. The conclusion is irrefutable Truth.

We then categorize the person we observe, and we use our new Truth to form generalizations about other people who fall in the same category. Essentially, our self-discovered Truth becomes part of who we are and how we view the world.

4. Generalization

Once we have uncovered the Truth about someone we observe, we now have a mechanism to quickly and easily judge all those who fall into the same category. This allows us to bypass the interpretation stage in the future and get straight to the conclusion part. We no longer have to ponder whether someone acceptable or not – we have already done all that grunt work.

Now when we observe someone, we can simply identify the category that person belongs to and identify the associated Truth. It’s like a matching game.

This applies to people we already know and people we do not know. We create generalizations about our friends and passersby alike; and these generalizations are what we use to make decisions in our lives.

REFLECT

Do you see any flaws in this method? Are there any conditions that might prove this method ineffective? Think about how you judge people personally. You might not even realize that you do.

The next time you are out and about in the world, pay attention to your thoughts. When you see someone attractive, observe the initial thoughts that you have about the person. Same goes for when you see someone who is obese, in a wheelchair, talking to themselves, screaming into a cell phone, arguing with a grocery store clerk, helping an old lady across the street, picking up a piece of trash, picking a wedgie, making out with someone, and so on.

Observe your thoughts when you see a well-manicured man wearing a bright pink blazer over an orange polka-dotted button-down. Observe your thoughts when you see an aged woman with saggy knees wearing a mini-skirt and 4-inch red pumps. Observe your thoughts when you see a dad carrying a baby while the mom walks around hands-free. Observe your thoughts when you see two people laughing and hugging.

Let’s really take some time to understand how we observe and interpret the people we encounter.

In Part 2, we continue our discussion and uncover a fundamental flaw in our current method that limits our thinking and creates barriers in relationships. I encourage you to first mentally digest this article before continuing on to Part 2. When you have fully reflected and are ready to continue, click here: Judging People: A Scientific Approach Part 2 – Why Our Way Is Stupid.

4 comments

  1. RMC says:

    Yikes! I’m human and definitely am highly susceptible to judgment. I have to be honest when I say I would brush judgement off as an immediate reaction to some person, thing, or situation. Your three-part series can definitely help women, especially, since our competitiveness always seems to get in the way of making meaningful relationships. Which brings me to share this:

    I once worked in a non-profit organization where I was head of operations and staff at just the tender age of 19. Since I was the youngest amongst the women in our organization, I insisted we all call one another “sisters” to ensure that every woman knew she was appreciated and valued by myself and the founder. However, one of my sisters had a judgmental, cynical and competitive air to her. I continued to treat her the best as I was able to. Although I had high-hopes of furthering my relationship with her in the community because of our similar interests in combating human trafficking, involvement in leadership for children and women, and more, she was overly sarcastic, snarky and downright mean to me. Though she was this way, I didn’t over-do reaching out to her or try to be a kiss-ass as I highly valued her and did not want her to get used to the fact that people will bend over backwards just for her to acknowledge or be nice to them (or at the very least smile).

    No matter how hard I wanted to treat her fairly and in respect to her capacity in the organization, I found myself wanting to figure out why her “narcissistic bully leashed-up inside” was always up in arms around me.

    The organization’s founder, my former boss and now mentor, explained to me that it all came down to her being highly judgmental. Judgmental about the fact that I am four year younger than her and “telling her what to do,” the fact that I have so much pride in my own cultural identity, the same identity that I didn’t realize that she was trying so hard to suppress, and the fact that her judgement put up those barriers so high she could not even fathom of working with me.

    She treated all the sisters well, but with me, and with her observation of my leadership, she interpreted my enthusiasm for service to our community and my then lack of knowledge of notable persons as “fake,” or “pitiful.” Upon leaving our organization, the founder spoke with her in regards to her cynicism and judgment issues. She concluded that I was feeble and cried and ran to our boss, though I did no such thing. Her vengeful attitude toward me was visible than I think she could ever know. From then on, she concluded that she does not want to associate her past experience in the organization with me and that is completely fine. We are often at similar community events, workshops or seminars and I will always go up to her and acknowledge her. It is incredible, though, how much she commits to her conclusion that she pretends she didn’t see me or doesn’t know who I am.

    In the end… What scares me is that she is a “young community leader” and I do not want other fine women or young leaders to feel her judgmental wrath. I have witnessed it with others and I hope that this blog post of yours gets to her so she can read it and take the time to evaluate herself.

    I can’t wait for part 2.

    All the best,
    – Radiant

    • Rachael says:

      Hi Radiant! Wow – that is quite a story. Thank you so much for sharing your experience! It’s always a shame when we let our pride and insecurities get in the way of our relationships and personal growth. Since I know you personally, I know what an amazing individual you are. You are so kind, motivated, helpful, and (insert approximately 1,000 more adjectives that describe how awesome you are here). Anyone who has a problem with someone like you is clearly experiencing an internal battle of self-worth. It is so sad to witness this because such battles are a waste of precious time on this Earth.

      You are so right – it is scary to think that young community leaders are behaving this way and dealing with such self-worth issues. It is obvious that we want our leaders to be confident, respectful, mature, and mindful; and it is discouraging when they are not.

      But that’s why people like you exist – to keep the balance. My hope is that the person you wrote about grows and evolves in her thinking. That is what life is all about after all. We aren’t born perfect, so our mission should be to evolve and work hard to be better versions of ourselves each and everyday, not only for our own benefit, but for the benefit of society.

      Thanks again for sharing your personal experience! You are so awesome! We can all learn a lot from you, Radiant!

  2. Hannah says:

    Wow! That is so true how a person judges and accepts an individual based on how they feel about themselves.. I have come across so many situations where there is an intelligent individual and they accept people who are equally intelligent and reject, judge, criticize people who are not on their educational level… On the flip side I have seen people with great intelligence judge people who are equally intelligent because they feel threatened & accept people “beneath” them because they are no threat in their eyes. Very interesting!

    • Rachael says:

      I hear you, Hannah. I’ve definitely been on the brunt end of both sides and have seen it happen to others often. It’s so sad to witness people putting others down in order to satisfy their need to feel superior. We all do it from time to time, but the goal is definitely to limit our judgments so as to not limit our relationships with others! Thanks for contributing your thoughts!

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