What is... psychology series

What Is… Judgementality?

Judgementality: It's human nature to be judgmental - image of inspecting people through a magnifying glass

In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychological terms.  This week’s term is judgementality.

Shortly after I scheduled this post in my queue, I saw a post on the same topic on Scarlett’s BPD Corner.  I figure a topic must be a pretty good one if it’s on multiple people’s minds at the same time.  

[As a quick spelling geek comment, judgementality is spelled with an e after the g, while judgmental is more commonly spelled without an e.  I also had to look up what the noun version of the adjective judgmental would be, because I really didn’t know.]

According to Psychology Today, being judgmental involves getting satisfaction out of making negative moral assessments of other people.  This serves to increase the judgmental person’s sense of self-worth by establishing that they are better than others.  The judgmental person may quickly leap to conclusions, and move from an assessment that actions are wrong to a view that the person as a whole is flawed.  Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers recognized the negative impact of judgementality, which was why he believed therapists should demonstrate unconditional positive regard.

Evaluating judgments

We all consider the world through an evaluative lens. Psychology Today suggests several factors come into play in determining whether this is being done in a constructive or destructive way:

  • the use of empathy: to understand where the other person is coming from
  • the values-frame dynamic: whose values are being used to frame the judgment and why?
  • the power dynamic: how much influence do your judgments potentially carry?
  • the person vs situation dynamic: is this a selfish person or a person being selfish in this particular situation?
  • the person vs act dynamic: distinguishing between the person and their actions
  • the open vs closed dynamic: are we open to changing our evaluation if new information arises?
  • the shallow vs expert knowledge dynamic: a strong evaluation shouldn’t be based on limited knowledge

Another Psychology Today article points out the distinction between making an observation such as “he talks very slowly” and adding a judgmental conclusion to the observation “he talks very slowly, therefore he must be stupid.”

The inevitability of some judgementality

Being judgmental isn’t something that’s generally seen as desirable, but we all do it to a greater or lesser extent.  I think mental illness makes us particularly likely to pass judgment on ourselves, but perhaps it makes us less likely to be judgmental about the challenges that others are facing.

I see a difference between judgment that is kept internal and judgment that is acted on externally.  A lot of the judgments I make remain with the inside-my-head voice and don’t spill over into my interactions with people.  I also try separate general observations of broad groups from specific individuals (e.g. in the case of racial stereotypes about bad driving).

Contexts for judgment

If I think someone is batshit-crazy (in very much a non-psychiatric sense) for their religious or political beliefs, I try to keep in mind that it is only part of who they are and don’t extrapolate to them being batshit-crazy full stop.

I struggle with passing judgment on others’ intelligence (or more specifically, lack thereof).  I’m a fairly intelligent person, and there are a lot of stupid people out there in the world.  I sometimes feel kind of guilty about this, since it seems so snobbish, and I’m not always sure where the line lies between making a realistic observation and being critical.

In my work as a mental health nurse, I probably struggle the most with judgementality when it comes to people with antisocial personality disorder.  My clinical approach is to give a very controlled, matter-of-fact non-reaction when they talk about their criminal and other assorted nasty behaviour, but on the inside, I’m thinking damn, this dude is a scumbag.  So much for empathy.

I think it’s not a bad idea for all of us to give some thought to our own particular flavour of judgementality and whether it’s helping or hindering us.  What are some of the contexts in which you find yourself passing judgment on others?

You may also be interested in the post Are you judgmental?


Psychology resources: What Is insights into psychology series and psychological tests

You can find a directory of the terms covered in the what is… series here.

There’s also a collection of psychological tests here.

30 thoughts on “What Is… Judgementality?”

  1. I would struggle to give a mugger, let alone a rapist or a murderer, unconditional positive regard.

    I think being judgmental about intelligence is tricky as intelligence can change or appear to change based on other factors. Someone might be hungry or tired and do something stupid that they wouldn’t normally do. I’m quite intelligent, but I’m sure my social anxiety makes me seem much less intelligent when I interact with strangers.

  2. Wow, this is a great post!! It really resonated with me.

    I struggle with being judgmental all the time, because the main flaw of my ego is self-righteousness. With me, it’s like, “If I’m not doing that [running stop signs, for example], then you shouldn’t be doing it.” (That’s become a thing in my neighborhood. The local police couldn’t care less.)

    I was just reading an article last night about how tolerant people (people who accept others’ alternative lifestyles, for example) are intolerant of intolerant people (i.e., “How dare you judge that person for being transgendered! [Or whatever]”), which seems hypocritical, but it’s just hard to be exposed to if you’re open-minded and around someone who’s spouting off hate.

    Thanks for sharing your judgment of people who lack intelligence! Here’s what I do to counter that (although it might not apply to you): I remind myself that I wouldnt’ be nearly as smart as I am if my parents hadn’t spent hours doing exercises with me from Highlights magazine when I was a toddler. They bent over backward to teach me how to read way before school started, and I truly believe that if they hadn’t done so, I would have struggled way more academically than I actually did. It all goes back to parents, in my opinion, and what they do with you when you’re very young. My little sister didn’t get that benefit quite so much (being the baby) and she struggled in school more than my brother and I did.

    Anyway, I could write a book, but I’ve got to get going. Great post!!

    1. I think I’m one of those intolerant of intolerance people. I guess I figure be as intolerant as you want with inside-the-head voice, but don’t throw it around in other people’s face.
      I try to differentiate between lack of educational opportunities, which I realize a lot of people don’t have a choice about, and actively choosing to live in ignorance and not seek out new information. I particularly get annoyed with people who start throwing around judgmental views without having bothered to learn the basic facts about the issue.

      1. Ohh, yeah, that makes sense! I see what you’re saying. Like, closed-mindedness!! Like, “I’m going to judge you because I enjoy being judgey rather than trying to understand where you’re coming from!!” Yeah.

        I totally agree about the inside-the-head voice. Mine often says things that I’d be ashamed to share with anyone, so I lock it up in my membrane!!

  3. In your line of work, I can see where the judgemental side would kick into gear. I would be the same way. I used to get so angry at truck drivers calling in for directions to where I used to work… I didn’t have time to pee let alone, give out directions because I was always so very busy. I would always think to myself… “Why don’t these assholes have a GPS System in their trucks if this is their livelihood?” Great post, Ashley!
    By the way… I just selected you to participate in the “3.2.1 Quote Me – Greetings” Ain’t that a hoot? LOL!

  4. Oooh well now I am NOT very intelligent as in I left school with about 5 O levels and that is exactly where my education stopped. So, no, not awfully clever. I am however fairly observant and probably quite worldly wise. Probably because of my lack of education I don’t tend to judge people that much on that subject, but I DO judge on bad manners, rudeness and cruelty. Unacceptable. Katie x

    1. I think education and intelligence are very different things. I’m more inclined to think of bad manners and rudeness as indicators of stupidity than limited education.

      1. I watched a woman outside Asda yesterday choose a trolley, pick out the empty chocolate milkshake carton which had been left in it, and just throw it on the ground … and off she walked, straight past the bin. Now, that annoyed me. a) that someone couldn’t be bothered to dispose of their own rubbish or even take it home with them and b) that she thought it was ok to just chuck it on the floor. If she hadn’t of looked quite so scary, I’d have had a bit of a chat with her. She was twice the size of me though.

        1. Yes I suppose when it comes down to a choice between accepting socially/environmentally inappropriate behaviour and taking on a large scary woman, I think you made the right decision!

  5. GGrrr…. My inside head is downright mean and it bothers the shit out of me. I’ve tried without success to change it but it seems I have to have the judgemental thought before I can counter-act it with a non-judgemental thought, does that make any sense?
    I totally get your intelligence versus education views because I am intolerant of stupidity. In my opinion, 😉 stupidity always traces back to an opinion and if anyone has ever read ROE, they’d know my thoughts on opinions. Shew, I had to read my comment multiple times. After reading this post and then the comments I had to make sure I was wording everything correctly! lmao This was a great post Ash…

    1. Thanks! There have definitely been times when my illness has gotten me in trouble by lowering that barrier between inside my head and out of mouth. There’s a lot of judgmental thoughts usually hiding in there that should never see the light of day!

  6. Great post.
    I hadn’t considered all the factors in what makes an observation judgmental or not. Sometimes a person may not be being judgmental but is perceived as such by the person being judged (or not). So the judgementality is a combination of the interaction.
    In mental illness, we can be very judgmental about ourselves, but also perceive criticism where there is none.

    I am now judging my response as being a rambling mess of nonsense, so feel free to reciprocate with your own judgement, oh and the word “judge” just looks wrong to me now I’ve written it so many times!

  7. This post popped up for me to read. It’s a little late, but there are a lot of stupid people in the world… to this I would agree. That’s where I struggle the most with my judging. It’s very difficult to overcome, so if you have any tips… I’m all ears. Thanks!

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