A new Canadian study shows that how we view ourselves is usually how others perceive us as well.

“It’s widely assumed that people have rose-colored glasses on when they consider their own personality,” said Dr. Brian Connelly, an associate professor in the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Department of Management.

“We found that isn’t necessarily the case, that on average people don’t show any trend in rating themselves more favourably than they’re rated by their peers.”

Self-reporting questionnaires are the most widely used personality assessments, but there are longstanding concerns that the results are biased, particularly that people may rate themselves more favorably, a practice known as self-enhancement.

For the study, the research team conducted a large-scale meta-analysis of 160 independent experiments to see whether self-enhancement exists in these self-reported personality assessments.

The findings strongly support that self-reporting is indeed accurate, and this held true across the big five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. One trait that did show some evidence of self-enhancement was a specific aspect of openness, but Connelly noted the effect was small.

In other words, a good majority of the time our perception of our own personality matches that of our peers.

“We make personality judgments of ourselves and others all the time, and a popular notion is that self-reports are more positively biased … but we find little support for that in the literature,” Connelly said.

As for why people generally don’t self-enhance, he suggested it may come down to there being strong incentives to be tuned in to what other people think of us. This is especially true given that personality has been shown to be a strong predictor of success in life.

“People are generally attuned to the impressions they convey,” said Connelly, pointing to previous research revealing how distressing it can be when someone close to you sees you differently than you see yourself.

“Some people may stray toward self-enhancement, or in the opposite direction with self-effacement, but there are social costs associated with both that makes the general trend for people to be accurate.”

Having a strong grasp of self- and peer-perception of personality is important to understanding how people function, said Connelly, an expert on how organizations can best use personality measures to address workplace challenges. While much of his research deals with how people function at work and in school, he says these perceptions can help us better navigate all social situations.

The one important exception in their findings involves self-perception versus the perception of strangers.

“There’s only a small pool of studies that look at this effect,” said Connelly. “It suggests that people are much more critical of those they’re unacquainted with,” he said, adding that the effect didn’t hold with co-workers, only those who are complete strangers.

Connelly said self-enhancement does occasionally happen in self-reporting, but that it can usually be explained by individual differences. In other words, it’s the exception rather than the rule. The same can be said for those who are self-effacing, which is to rate themselves more modestly.

Source: University of Toronto