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A Social Experiment in Self Perception VS External Perception

January 26, 2009

Throughout 2008 I conducted a social experiment with the purpose of discerning whether the way in which my external world perceived me was congruent with the way I perceived myself.

The idea was inspired by Steve Pavlina’s branding exercise. It was an interesting year to conduct the experiment, as I was in the process of implementing drastic changes to my personality by making the transition from an introvert to an extrovert.


The people I surveyed during this experiment ranged from people who have known me my whole life, to people I’d been friends with for years, recent friends, work colleagues, to people I had only just met, so it was quite a cross section. I asked each person to give me either the first three adjectives they thought of when they thought of me, or the three adjectives they felt best described me.



The three words I used to describe myself were compassionate, individual, and honest.

External Perception

Outgoing 6
Attractive 5
Confident 5
Bubbly 4
Friendly 4
Creative 3
Fun 3
Intense 3
Quirky 3
Self-assured 3
Tall 3
Beautiful 2
Blonde 2
Capable 2
Cautious 2
Courageous 2
Crazy hair 2
Energetic 2
Focused 2
Happy 2
Hot 2
Individual 2
Interesting 2
Positive 2
Pretty 2
Rebellious 2
Sensual 2
Adventurous 1
Alternate 1
Always smiling 1
Autonomous 1
Boisterous 1
Brave 1
Charismatic 1
Clever 1
Compassionate 1
Conscientious 1
Cool 1
Crazy 1
Dedicated 1
Demanding 1
Earrings 1
Eccentric 1
Extravagant 1
Extroverted 1
Flayer 1
Fresh 1
Full 1
Full of life 1
Funky 1
Funny 1
Genuine 1
Goal-oriented 1
Gorgeous 1
Independent 1
Inquisitive 1
Intimidating 1
Joyful 1
Kind 1
Leader 1
Loud 1
Loving 1
Loyal 1
Methodical 1
Nice eyes 1
Noticeable 1
Open 1
Opinionated 1
Passionate 1
Perfectionist 1
Picky 1
Playful 1
Powerful 1
Prim 1
Proper 1
Prude 1
Random 1
Respectable 1
Sassy single 1
Sensitive 1
Sexy 1
Sharp 1
Shy 1
Single minded 1
Slim 1
Smart 1
Smiles 1
Social 1
Spontaneous 1
Spunky 1
Stands up for herself 1
Straightforward 1
Straight to the point 1
Strong 1
Strong sense of self 1
Strong-minded 1
Stubborn 1
Supportive 1
Thoughtful 1
Triple J 1
Uneasy 1
Unique 1
Unsure 1
Uplifting 1
Weird 1
Wicked 1
Witty 1

Adjective Explanations

Some people felt obliged to explain their adjective choices. It made the experiment much more interesting to me when I was given an insight as to why particular people perceived me the way they did. I’ve included the comments people made below.

  1. You know what you want and you know how to get it.
  2. When you go for something, it’s either all or nothing.
  3. It’s hard to explain. You’re not like anyone else I know. You’re a really good person in everything. You don’t want to sell your birds because you don’t want them to go to a bad home. That kind of wraps up what you are.
  4. Oh! I can add another word to add to the three! PERFECTIONIST! You use grammar on MSN!
  5. You’re dedicated…sometimes, I’d even say too dedicated.
  6. We learned a lot from you…especially how to stand up for ourselves in the work place. Before you came we didn’t have the guts to say no, but when you arrived we could see that you can choose what you want and what you don’t.
  7. You are the most obsessive compulsive person I know!
  8. You’re not afraid to stand out from the crowd.
  9. You consider things a lot more extensively than most people do.
  10. The first time we met you lifted me up.
  11. You get a task in your head and you’re focused on it.
  12. You’re always smiling, but you’re a bit shy, like you’re not sure what you’re saying.
  13. You are the biggest socialite I know!
  14. I see you as a strong-minded person. It is good in most cases but sometimes you have your opinion and you don’t want to change it.


In general the results were positive, and in many cases, surprising.

I was expecting answers along the lines of quirky, creative, individual, determined, and words related to academia, so I wasn’t surprised to see them on the list.

Words such as “confident” and “extroverted” appeared much more frequently than I would have expected. Until 2008 I had been shy and introverted, so it was interesting to see myself described as the opposite, especially early in the experiment. It was good feedback for me as I was making the introvert-to-extrovert transition.

Most men described me as some synonym of “attractive”. In fact, the only ones who didn’t were my brother and the men who were either interested in me or dating me at the time. Perhaps that means I tend to date men who look below the superficial layer.

Some of the results I found plain funny. Last time I checked, Triple J and earrings weren’t adjectives.

There were a couple of inherent problems with this experiment. One was I didn’t introduce the experiment in exactly the same way to everyone I asked; I refined the question over time. The other problem was some people may have felt uncomfortable about giving me negative feedback due to the lack of anonymity. Not everyone, of course. One friend’s initial description was “fat, ugly, and hairy.” 😉

Other than individuality, there wasn’t a strong correlation between how I described myself and how other people saw me. That actually doesn’t surprise me at all because I described myself based on my personality throughout my life, whereas many of the people I surveyed were recent connections and had only met me after I had decided to become an extrovert. They saw the person I was becoming, not the shy personality I identified with.

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