Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


We See in Others What We Fear in Ourselves

Devaluing Others Makes us Feel Better

When we perceive ourselves negatively, are we more or less likely to see other people negatively? Research by Jeff Schimel (University of Alberta professor of psychology) and colleagues tested this very question.

In Study 1, participants were given feedback that they had scored high or low on an anger test. They then were asked to assess another person as angry or not. Participants who were told that they were high in anger were more likely to view the other person as angry.

In Study 2, these results were replicated using dishonesty. That is, when participants were told they were dishonest, they rated other people as more dishonest. In this study, further, participants who rated other people as dishonest were least likely to rate themselves as dishonest (compared to people who were told they were dishonest who were not given a chance to rate others' honesty).

Put differently, when people were lead to believe they had a negative trait, they were more likely to see this negative trait in others. And further, in doing so, they were less likely to think they had the trait themselves.

That is, by seeing the other person negatively on a trait, people came to have higher regard for themselves on that trait.

In everyday life, this would suggest that if you felt angry at your boss, that you would be more likely to think your other co-workers were also angry. In doing so, you would actually think you were less angry.

This is consistent with research showing that when our self-esteem is threatened (like when we are told we are unattractive) we are more likely to degrade others.

More from Nathan A Heflick Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Nathan A Heflick Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today