I’m Alright, Jack

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

A very common finding in psychological research is that we tend to like other people who are like us. But is this true even when the other person in question has some rather unlikeable personality traits? And, more importantly, what do your answers say about your own personality?

How much do you like people who show each of the following traits on a scale of 1 (Extremely Unlikeable) to 5 (Extremely Likeable):

(a) antagonism (hostility to others), (b) manipulativeness, (c) grandiosity (having an unrealistic sense of being superior to others), (d) a tendency for attention-seeking

Find your average score by adding up and dividing by four.

If your average came out somewhere between 1 and 2 then you are, unsurprisingly, fairly typical: Most people find hostile, manipulative attention-seekers with an exaggerated opinion of themselves pretty insufferable.

If your score came out at 2 or higher then – sorry, there is no easy way to say this, but – you might have something of a tendency towards one or more of these disagreeable traits yourself. A recent study conducted in Houston, Texas found that people who rate themselves as possessing some of these negative traits rate these traits as less undesirable than do the population at large. It’s important to keep this in perspective: they don’t rate antagonism, manipulativeness and so on as positive traits (i.e., they don’t give them scores of above 3 on the 5 point scale). They do rate these traits as undesirable (around 2 points on the 5 point scale), just not as undesirable as most people rate them (an average of between 1 and 2). Interestingly, the same study found that people who possess these negative traits rate positive traits such as conscientiousness as less desirable than does the general population. So, yes, we like others more if they’re like us, even if they’re pretty unlikeable.

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Are You Smarter Than A Chimpanzee? by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £12.99) for £11.04 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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