Friends tend to agree on their best — but not their worst — personality traits

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You may think you know what your best and worst traits are — but would your friends agree with you? A study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that individuals and their friends tend to identify the same positive traits but may differ on the negative ones.

Different personality traits can be either advantageous or detrimental depending on the setting, including jobs or social situations. While personality traits are generally thought of as descriptive rather than evaluative, people assign value to certain traits and believe that they are more or less desirable. Assessing peoples’ opinions on their own and their friends best and worst traits can serve to better understand which personality traits are most socially desirable, as well as if having low or high levels of different traits is seen as favorable or unfavorable.

Study author Jessie Sun and colleagues used 463 college students from three different universities in the United States to serve as participants in this study. Participants identified their best and worst traits and nominated up to 4 friends, who would complete a survey on the participants best and worst traits. Questions were open-ended and researchers coded the responses into the Big Six personality domains: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, neuroticism, and honesty-humility.

Results showed that people had more descriptors for negative traits than they did for positive traits. Most descriptors were not used often, but a small number came up extremely often, such as “friendly” “funny” “lazy” or “insecure”. Best traits frequently reflected high agreeableness and extraversion, while worst traits involved high neuroticism or low emotional stability.

People generally reported similar best traits as their friends did for them but differed in negative traits. Participants reported worst traits as low emotional stability for themselves, while their friends were more likely to report high extraversion or low honesty-humility as worst traits for them.

This study took interesting steps into understanding if our friends see us the way we see ourselves. Despite this, it has limitations. Firstly, it is difficult to know if people were being honest about their opinions on their own or friends’ worst traits. Additionally, the sample was predominantly female; future research could try to recruit a more equal sample and further study sex differences.

“Building on the lexical hypothesis that natural person descriptors provide a path to discovering important personality characteristics, we gave college students free rein to describe their best and worst traits in their own words and compared their responses to what their friends said about them. Across three samples, friends agreed with targets to a surprising extent on what their specific best traits were,” the researchers concluded.

“At the same time, targets and friends also showed theoretically notable self–other asymmetries in which worst traits they emphasized (low emotional stability vs. low prosociality, respectively). More broadly, our results show that the desirability of a trait may be partially in the eye of the beholder and that people intuitively recognize the mixed blessings of many traits.”

The study, “Personality Evaluated: What Do People Most Like and Dislike About Themselves and Their Friends?” was authored by Jessie Sun, Becky Neufeld, Paige Snelgrove, and Simine Vazire.



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