Almost no one is immune from being negatively judgmental. We seem to be more ready to judge others based on negative information than on positive information. This is called the positive-negative asymmetry effect. Guido Peeters and Janusz Czapinski reviewed accumulating research about this phenomenon and concluded that “evaluatively negative information is weighted more heavily than evaluatively positive information in the formation of overall evaluations.” For example, in research by Anderson, when a person was described with both a favorable trait and an unfavorable trait, test participants would rate the person as slightly unfavorable rather than neutral.Judgmentalism is so prevalent that Jesus already warned us two thousand years ago, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” We all know how detrimental this annoying habit — or, to be fair, instinct — can be in our lives. We unduly distrust each others’ words, decry each others’ efforts, and dismiss each others’ characters. When our opinions come to the ears of the person we unfairly judged, being called judgmental will be the least serious consequence.
Powerful and instinctual as it is, negative judgmentalism is not inevitable. In essence it is a form of the negativity bias, the natural tendency of humans to give negative stimuli more weight than good ones, as described by Baumeister and colleagues. As I mentioned in my last article in PositivePsychologyNews.com, Appreciative Reading, we can battle the negativity bias successfully. As David Cooperrider and colleagues do with Appreciative Inquiry, we can consciously give more attention to the positive side of other people when we judge them. I call this Positive Judgmentalism.How can positive judgmentalism contribute to our well-being? Martin Seligman argues in his book, Flourish coming out on April 5 that well-being has five elements: Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement (PERMA). Positive judgmentalism can help in four of them:
- Positive emotion: We have more positive emotions when we focus on the good sides of people. Barbara Fredrickson, the leading researcher on positive emotions, listed ten forms of positive emotions. Inspiration, Love, Gratitude, and Hope can be directly induced by positive judgmentalism. The others may not seem as directly related, but they can also be assisted. For example, you can feel more Serenity when you realize people around you are better than you thought. You can have more Joy when you interact with people in whom you find more favorable traits. You can even experience more Awe when you become more aware of the strengths of others.
- Relationships: This is the element that most fits positive judgmentalism. There’s no better way improving interpersonal relationships than paying attention to other people’s strengths. As Dale Carnegie best summarized, “You can make more friends in two weeks by showing interest in others than you can in two years trying to get others interested in you.” Other people will be attracted to you naturally. Furthermore, when you acknowledge other people’s strengths, the positive judgmentalism is bi-directional. Just as Jesus said, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” When you judge others positively, it often happens that you will be judged positively too.
- Achievement: With more positive emotions and better interpersonal relationships, you are set for success. Positive judgmentalism doesn’t mean ignoring other people’s shortcomings. Instead, we pay more attention to their strengths to cancel the distorted perception brought by negativity bias, so that we can have a more accurate evaluation. With a better understanding of the people around you, achievement is more likely.
- Meaning according to Seligman, is the feeling of “belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self.” We are more likely to search for the sense of belongings and serve a higher purpose in life if we take an appreciative view toward the world.
Indeed, appreciating others can make us happier, have more friends, achieve more, and possibly find the meaning of lives. That’s the power of positive judgmentalism.
Anderson, N. H. (1965). Averaging versus adding as a stimulus-combination rule in impression formation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2, 1-9.
Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323–370.
Cooperrider, D., Whitney, D. and Stavros,J. (2008). Appreciative Inquiry Handbook, 2nd Edition (Book & CD) . Brunswick, OH: Crown Publishing, Inc.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Peeters, G., & Czapinski, J. (1990). Positive-negative asymmetry in evaluations: The distinction between affective and informational negativity effects. In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European review of social psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 33-60). New York: Wiley.
Seligman, M.E.P. (in press). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.
Urban Dictionary (2011). Definition of judgmental