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Know Thyself, Then Ask a Friend

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Socrates was onto something when in 400 BC he coined the phrase “Know Thyself.” Thousands of years ago, however, the man couldn’t have gotten it wholly correct, and for that we’ll cut him some slack.

Modern psychologists will tell you that Socrates only had it half right. It was Socrates’ message that “an unexamined life is not worth living,” but researchers today said that the examining needs to come from a variety of sources.

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis said that an accurate and insightful depiction of oneself cannot come from oneself – that individuals are not the best interpreters of their own selves.

Assistant professor Simine Vazire and her colleague Erika N. Carlson suggested an addendum to Socrates’ thinking: Ask a friend.

“There are aspects of personality that others know about us that we don’t know ourselves, and vice-versa,” said Vazire. “To get a complete picture of a personality, you need both perspectives.”

The team from Washington University in St. Louis said it’s not that we know nothing about ourselves, rather, our understanding is obstructed by blind spots – created by our wishes, fears, and unconscious motives – used to maintain a high self-image of oneself.

The paper, which was published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, tells us that those closest to us – friends and family – can add crucial pieces to the puzzle that we otherwise would be oblivious to.

Oddly enough, however, even strangers have myriad cues to who we are by observing our clothes, musical preferences or Facebook postings, for example, that can also add to the bigger picture puzzle of piecing us together as humans.

Researchers reported that people don’t always see the same things about themselves as others see and vice versa.

For example, “Anxiety-related traits, such as stage fright, are obvious to us, but not always to others. On the other hand, creativity, intelligence, or rudeness is often best perceived by others,” according to a release by the Association for Psychological Science.

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