Fictional stories are replete with villains and heroes with an almost magical ability to discern other people’s characters – think Hannibal Lecter or Sherlock Holmes. In real life, too, many people (including certain world leaders) seem to think they have this skill. Question-and-answer sites like Quora are filled with posts like: “I can read people’s personalities and emotions like a book. Is this normal?
But do any of us really have an exceptional skill for judging other people’s personalities?
Psychologists call such people – or the idea of them – “good judges”. And for more than a century, they have been trying to answer the question of whether these good judges really exist.
Until recently, the conclusion was that the concept is essentially a myth. Most of us are pretty gifted at determining each other’s characters, the evidence suggested. But there is barely any variation in the skill from one person to another.
However, an intriguing new paper has forced a rethink by providing new, compelling evidence that good judges do exist after all. But their skill only becomes apparent when they are reading expressive people who reveal honest cues to their characters. “Simply put,” write Katherine Rogers at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Jeremy Biesanz at the University of British Columbia, “reports highlighting the demise or irrelevance of the good judge may have been greatly exaggerated.”
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