Psychologists call it the “spotlight effect“: People generally don’t pay nearly as much attention to you as you think they do.
But when they are motivated to pay attention, they really pay attention. Not just to your outfit and your haircut, but to seemingly trivial things, like your handwriting and how fast you walk.
That’s according to the dozens of people who posted responses to a question on Quora, “What are the really small things that tell a lot about a person’s psychology and personality?“
We checked out the thread and highlighted some of the most surprising ways people may judge you, whether you’re on a first date or a job interview.
Our goal here isn’t to make you feel self-conscious — rather, we hope to empower you by giving you insight into what behaviours people are really looking at. And of course, it’s up to you to determine whether their conclusions about what those behaviours mean are bogus.
1. Your handshake
Several Quora users admitted they judge people based on their handshake.
“Strong handshakes usually reflect a strong and confident character, whereas weak handshakes usually indicate a lack of confidence and are almost always a characteristic of people who would look for an easy way to do things,” writes Julian Parge.
Research backs up the idea that your handshake can reveal certain aspects of your personality, but doesn’t quite agree with Parge. One study found that people with firm handshakes were more likely to be extroverted and emotionally expressive and less likely to be shy and neurotic.
2. Whether you show up on time
Late for a very important date? The person who’s waiting may be forming a negative impression of your personality.
“A proactive person will be there on time, because he is self-motivated, mentally organised, and values time whereas a procrastinator will be running here and there at the last hour,” says Humaira Siddiqui.
According to science, those who are chronically late aren’t necessarily inconsiderate people — but they’re probably more laid-back, “Type B” individuals.
3. How you treat restaurant staff
Multiple users said they pay close attention to how other people interact with waiters.
“I will never, EVER date a man who is rude to restaurant staff,” says Sati Marie Frost.
Even top execs say you can learn a lot about someone based on the way he or she treats waiters, hotel maids, and security guards. Ron Shaich, CEO of Panera Bread, told USA Today he once declined to give someone a job partly because she was nice to him but rude to someone cleaning the tables nearby.
4. Where you look when you drink out of a cup
Writes David Junto: “A person that looks into the cup when drinking tends to be more introspective, self-aware, idealistic, and focused. A person who looks over the rim of the cup when drinking tends to be more influenced by others, more environmentally aware, carefree, extroverted, and trusting. A person who closes their eyes when they drink is in some sort of pain or discomfort and is preoccupied with pleasure and relief.”
And let’s not even get started on what people think your drink choice signifies.
5. Whether you bite your nails
Sushrut Munje has strong views on people with bitten nails, saying that it’s a sign “the person eats away at himself.”
Meanwhile, research suggests that those who bite their nails (or pull their hair, or pick their skin) tend to be perfectionists, unable to fully relax.
6. Your handwriting
Whether you’re writing a to-do list or a love note, your handwriting can say a lot about you.
Ramesh Nagaraj believes that “people who put a lot of pressure on pen and paper to write something are usually stubborn in attitude. They have a lot of confidence.”
Professional graphologist Kathi McKnight says large letters indicate that you’re people-oriented, while small letters suggest you’re introverted. Letters that slant to the right can mean you’re friendly and sentimental; those that don’t slant at all might mean you’re pragmatic; letters that slant to the left suggest you’re introspective.
7. How often you check your phone
An anonymous Quora user writes about noticing “where and when [people] pull their phones out (waiting in a short line, talking to their parents, being out with friends, when they’re alone in public).”
As for what it might mean if you’re constantly refreshing your email or Facebook feed, one study found you may be less emotionally stable and trying to boost your mood.
8. Whether you make eye contact
Munje says a limp handshake and a lack of steady eye contact “shows lack of self-control, required drive to follow through, and a weak will.”
Alternatively, psychologist Adrian Furnham, Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today that extroverts tend to look more often and for longer at their conversation partners than introverts do. And in general, people who look at their partners more often are more confident and socially dominant.
9. How you drive
Michael Price pays special attention to people’s driving styles, in particular “how courteous they are towards other drivers.”
Interestingly, one study found that men who engaged in risky driving behaviours tended to be impulsive sensation-seekers and relatively aggressive and hostile; women in this category were more neurotic and anxious.
On the other hand, careful drivers of both genders tended to score low on measures of impulsive sensation-seeking and aggression and hostility.
10. How quickly or slowly you walk
“People who patter by quickly are usually more high strung,” writes Leena Pathma.
Research has found that people generally agree with this assumption, associating looser walks with extroversion and adventurousness and clipped gaits with neuroticism. Yet these perceptions don’t usually line up with how the walkers see themselves.
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