Judging others and being afraid to be judged by others seems to be somewhat natural, right?

But it’s not totally clear why we are prone to judging others…until now. 

A Harvard psychologist, Amy Cuddy, an expert in first impressions, after researching the split-second reaction we have to others, has clarified the phenomenon.

Cuddy points out that what seems to be a split-second judgement of someone is actually you asking yourself two things:

  1. Can I trust this person?

This question is deeply based on survival. If we don’t feel we can trust someone, we instinctively feel the need to protect ourselves and our interests. We respond to the warmth of a person, their openness and authenticity. The more of this we feel, the more likely we are to trust a person straight away.

When we don’t feel these things or feel that someone is hiding something, we are quick to judge them as a protective instinct. This may be protecting ourselves or others we care about.

  1. Should I respect this person?

This question revolves around how competent we deem a person to be. This comes from the qualifications or specific expertise and experience. If they have a solid reputation, we may have answered this question before we’ve even met them. This question, however, only has secondary importance because our first and more important instinct is survival.

If we have answered yes to both questions, it’s likely we will judge an individual positively. If there is any doubt in either of these answers, we will likely be more judgmental about unrelated traits in order to distance ourselves.

There are many ways in which we are guilty of judging others, however, not just on first impressions.

Judging others on Appearance

We form beliefs based on the repetition of certain stimuli. This means that there are a number of factors which influence how and why we judge people on their appearance. The media is a huge contributor to this.

We are lead to believe that arrogant or untrustworthy people look a certain way. Those who play evil roles in television and films always seem to have similar traits and usually aren’t portrayed as particularly handsome. This has created stereotypes in that we deem beautiful people to be more trustworthy and, therefore, valuable.

This also has an opposite effect along the same way in that we deem those who spend too much time on their appearance to be fake and superficial. We feel as though these people are hiding something or that they don’t want to be who they really are.

This sparks anxiety within us because we feel they are disingenuous or untrustworthy. This, however, also makes it difficult to make ourselves more beautiful if we do not feel as though we are attractive.

It would seem that to be truly trustworthy and valuable, we must be naturally beautiful.

Judging others on Sociability

We also tend to judge people based on how social they are and how they treat others. This is something which comes through time and experience as opposed to an initial judgement but is important nonetheless.

When we see people being kind and respectful of others, we tend to trust them more ourselves. However, when we notice manipulative and spiteful behaviour, again, we quickly protect ourselves by behaving judgmentally.

The difficulty with this is, there may be times when we judge someone who is shy or introverted as being unsociable and untrustworthy. We may not know them well enough to see how trustworthy they actually are. This leaves us open to incorrect judgements and being judgmental about people who truly don’t deserve it.

Judging others on Morality

One of the most important, and influential, judgements we make about others is on their morals. We tend to keep track of the poor moral judgements people make and can hold these for longer than necessary.

The saying that it is easier to lose trust than gain it holds true here. A person may have a bad reputation for years even though they have done plenty to try to rectify the situation.

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Judging others is a natural instinct, and we are all a little judgmental at times. For the most part, we are doing so for survival. We want to surround ourselves with people whom we can trust because it makes us feel safe and secure. We push away those we deem untrustworthy because we fear they may harm us.

However, we cannot let our judgements control us. It is easy to misconstrue information and deem someone as less trustworthy than they really are. To really get to know someone, we have to give them a fair chance and get to know someone before we decide. We may find that their personality only comes out once they reach a certain level of trust in you.

The instincts we have on judging others served us well in our efforts for survival, but we have evolved past the point where survival is life or death. Now, we are protecting emotions and status. We should be careful who we judge and why, as we may not be judging the wrong people for the wrong reasons.


  1. https://curiosity.com/
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. bob

    i well remember my grandmother when i was 4 or 5 telling me to always go on my first impressions and i must say it was sound advice seeings as whenever i told my self i was being judgemental and to go against my instinct i was almost always sorry afterwards,, on several occasions when i did go against my usual judgemental self and my natural reticence towards those i deemed not worthy of my trust i was soon proved right in my first impressions,, i will give just one example although i could give several, here goes then -> on losing my mother some years ago my judgement and just about everything else in my life then was upside down and even though there were very little outward signs of me being bereaved i guess the loss was not without causing me other problems such as me going against my BETTER judgement, somehow i always knew the loss of my mother would be unbearable even as a child at school when my parents were still young and healthy so somehow i built a kind of barrier so that one day when i had to face the inevitable (the passing) it was like i was kind of numb for some weeks/ months as if it hadn’t sunk in, however because i did not greive in the usual way i kind of carried it over and found that when i did start to grieve it lasted much longer (years in fact) and to be honest i still grieve now on a daily basis, its almost as if i in my preparing my self for the inevitable loss i somehow put a time fuse on my grieving and as such the grieving started much later, anyhow to the point then, when i lost my mother my judgement was turned upside down probably along with many things and during this time i let someone cultivate my friendship who under normal circumstances would never have been given an hello let alone anything else, however this piece of rubbish we will call (IT) was accepted as a friend and very soon afterwards proved to be the piece of crap that IT was by not only taking many advantages of me but also stealing and even threats mainly of a psychological nature, this person was also able to bring on crocodile tears at will — i had never seen that before– water just oozing from the eyes as if a tap/fawcet had been turned on,, some people really think they can take you for stupid as some years later IT had the nearve to show up again where IT was given the elbow instantly,, i guess the moral for all this (at least in my case) is never go against your first impressions or at least your better judgement, better judgement being possibly the prior one to go with, other occasions i could mention but i think i made my point and yes our better judgement is a kind of survival instinct and if we have it then i think its there for a good reason so we should go with it because in the end its for our own good and like most things about us humans our mental or bodily functions do adapt over time to be still of use in our time and not just to exist as some left over relic from previous darker times in mans history, i think these self preservation instincts are just as important now as at any time in the past.

  2. Scott

    it is easy to fall into the trap of judging someone based on their actions. But this is the slippery slope. When we judge a person, we are putting ourselves in God’s role, which is not our place. We can, however, judge a person’s actions. If someone murders someone, we should not say that that person is evil, because we do not know what is in their heart. But we CAN judge their act of murder as evil. Judging an action is not the same as judging the person who performed it. I personally find homosexuality to be repugnant and both sexually deviant and morally depraved. I do not judge the people who engage in such immoral behavior because I too do not want to be judged because of my behaviors but I can judge the lifestyle that they live.

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