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.

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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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