Psychology Explains Why Humans Are So Quick To Judge One Another

Psychology Explains Why Humans Are So Quick To Judge One Another

There’s a fine line between having a meaningful opinion and being unfairly judgmental, and we humans don’t often know how to stay on one side long enough. We all have those moments where we can’t help but entertain less than courteous thoughts about other people, and we sometimes cross the line by verbally expressing these ideas. Habitually judgmental people are often described as toxic and malicious, mostly because their actions tend to cause other people emotional distress.

The real question is, why are we always so quick to conceive unreasonably critical thoughts about others? Why is it a lot easier to assume that a tantrum-throwing toddler has been spoiled by the parents, rather than thinking of all the other reasons why a child could be upset? The child might be unwell, scared, uncomfortable, or she could just be dealing with normal baby behavior. However, we humans tend to gravitate faster toward negative trains of thoughts.

Judging others is such an effortless act that it seems almost normal, and most people don’t realize it’s wrong and offensive. A colleague who had months to prepare fails a promotion exam at work, and your first line of thought is, “They didn’t try hard enough.” Most people won’t ever consider a scenario where this person suffered a life-altering situation that recently got them distracted or demoralized. 

Psychologists say that judging others is a defense mechanism used by humans to keep themselves from getting hurt. [1]When we are in the position of ‘judge,’ we cannot be in the position of ‘judged.’” We are all built with powerful survival instincts. The moment you get a hunch that someone might be trying to show you up or tear you down, no matter how misplaced this feeling is, we tend to fall into defensive mode and lash out with unfair criticism. 

While not everyone can be described as judgmental, we all judge others more frequently than we could imagine, and here are five major reasons why.

We judge others to feel better about ourselves

Judging people gives you a feeling of being on a higher pedestal and as twisted as that is, it can feel good sometimes. However, harboring this behavior and turning it into a habit can make you a fully toxic character, one worth avoiding. It also makes you close-minded and unable to see anything from a positive light.

As a parent, you could be visiting the hospital with your child and while waiting, you overhear a nurse talking about a child who’d been cutting himself. He was brought straight from school and they were waiting for his mother to arrive. 

If you immediately start thinking about how irresponsible the parents could be for their child to be self-harming, then you’re fostering a dangerously judgmental nature. The parents could be doing their best to care for the child, but some things are not always black-or-white simple. Also, the child could be going through bullying at school or dealing with situations affecting their mental wellbeing, such as grief and disappointment. While children going through stressful situations should always be closely monitored, it sometimes slips out of anyone’s control.

However, thinking of the parents as deadbeats makes you feel like you’re such a great parent yourself. You are raising a well-adjusted child who could never resort to self-harming, and you feel accomplished. You brought yourself up only after tearing someone else down.

You are just negatively programmed

Most people subconsciously treat others the way they treat themselves.  We are not always in control of our thoughts when we assume negatively about other people. Sometimes, being negative is the only way some people can process anything. [2]

For example, a person who has low self-esteem and a poor self-image would often project these attitude shifts onto other people. If you are constantly hating yourself in the mirror because you think being plus-size is a bad thing, or that you’re not good-looking enough, you’d most likely never see the beauty in other people.

Always love yourself and never allow your thought process to turn into a network of negativity. Teach yourself to always look on the bright side and ignore these dangerous feelings. Imagine what the world would look like if we all looked a certain way or had one body type — boring and meaningless. You are special because there’s only ONE YOU.

Making positive affirmations to yourself helps you to project the same feelings to other people.

Judging others is a way to express hidden feelings

This is often the case when envy comes into play. Envy is like carrying a heavy, prickly burden and expecting someone else to feel the pain. It drains you, dries you, and leaves you feeling empty, angry, and vengeful. 

Pent-up feelings driven by envy could drive us to judge other people as a means to blow off steam. It’s truly awful and a terrible way to deal with unwanted emotions. What do you think motivates social media trolls to behave the way they do? They see purported signs of a glamorous life they do not have, and typing hurtful and shameful words on someone’s comment section makes them feel good about themselves in a messed up way. 

It shifts focus away from you

This usually happens when a person feels inadequate or is dealing with a lot of insecurities. You may try to shift away attention from your own perceived shortcomings by pointing fingers at someone else.

An incompetent worker would be highly judgmental of another person’s work to draw attention away from their own failings. Kids at school who don’t feel up to the “popular level” may end bullying other kids to stay out of the negative spotlight. 

You are poorly informed

Every time you hurriedly conclude someone you barely know or a situation you don’t understand, you’ve judged someone unfairly because you were poorly informed. That crying child could be desperately ill. That man sleeping at the train station may not really be drunk or wasted. He could have been dealing with very stressful days and sleepless nights, and he just lost the will to move on. [3] That plus-size woman at the beach is allowed to wear a bikini because everyone else is wearing one, and she’s perfect, too.

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to keep an open mind about other people and mind our businesses. Offer your honest opinion only when it is solicited.

Judging people to feel good about yourself brings a false sense of security that fades after a short while. How about channeling all that energy into telling yourself how precious, strong, and awesome you are, or could be?

Judging people leaves them broken, hurt, and emotionally distressed, and it’s unfair to subject people to such mental torture because we want to have opinions. The best way to avoid judging others is to try to understand, rather than conclude. If you always keep an open mind, you’d join the elite gang of wonderful, non-judgmental people who make the world go round.


  1. 7 Psychological Defenses That Aren’t Protecting You, But Making You Weaker.” Forbes. Brianna Wiest. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  2. Why Is It Impossible to Not Judge People?Psychology Today. Marwa Azab Ph.D. Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  3. Why We Judge Others.Psychology Today. Elizabeth Dorrance Hall Ph.D.