Self-Critical People Have Different Emotion Recognition Skills

Some people are much harder on themselves than they would ever be on other people. This tendency toward self-criticism can interfere with people’s ability to enjoy the many benefits of self-compassion.

The reasons why some people are more self-critical are complex and not very well understood by psychology researchers. One question that might be worth asking is whether self-critical people interpret the emotional signals they receive from other people differently, perhaps making them more likely to internalize criticism.

A recent study by researchers in Slovakia explored this theme by looking specifically at people’s ability to read emotions in faces. The researchers had 134 participants do an emotional recognition test, then looked at whether more self-critical people performed differently on the test.

Of course, the self-critical people would probably expect that they did worse! But that wasn’t actually the case. In fact, the researchers found that participants with higher feelings of inadequacy were better at recognizing emotions.

That said, there was a second, more extreme type of self-criticism that did seem to get in the way of emotion recognition. People with higher feelings of self-hatred performed below average on the test overall.

There are a few takeaways from this study. One is that there are different types of self-criticism. No doubt they can all cause problems, but some of the effects of these different types of self-criticism might be subtly different – as demonstrated by the opposite effects of inadequacy and self-hatred on the emotion recognition test. The authors of the study even suggest that tests like this might be helpful in distinguishing between different types of self-critical tendencies in the future.

Another interesting point is that self-criticism seems to be tied up with our ability to pick up on other people’s emotions. It’s unclear which causes which – do different emotion recognition abilities predispose people to self-criticism, or does being self-critical change how attuned people are to other’s emotions? In any case, though, how we feel about ourselves seems to be related to how we interpret the feelings of others.