Terri Apter reveals how everyday judgments impact our relationships and how praise, blame and shame shape our sense of self.

Passing Judgement

Passing Judgement

Judgment begins early on in our lives.

By the age of one year, a child judges others, preferring, for example, those who are cooperative to those who are selfish to others – that’s important because it shows that’s not just a response about how someone is treating them.

Positive judgments from others help the baby’s brain grow.

Being praised (admired) releases chemicals that facilitate new neural connections in the infant’s brain.  Blame – which encompasses disapproval and neglect – releases the chemical cortisol.  Persistent and prolonged exposure to cortisol is toxic to the developing brain.

Yet some compliments undermine our motivation.

Our need for praise is not just for random or routine compliments.  We need praise that reflects us - our own values and goals.  Sometimes praise is used to control others and remind them of what is expected of them.

Myth: Women care more than men about pleasing other people.

Fact: This isn’t an essential or fixed feature of female psychology; this is a feature of who has more power.  Those who have less power tend to monitor the judgments of those who have more power, and those who have less power try harder to please those with power.

Myth: Women take criticism more personally than men, and hence are more difficult to work with.

Fact: In my research into praise and blame in the workplace, I found that women were more accustomed to neutral or critical feedback, and managed it better than men, who were likely to be defensive, blaming the critical appraiser rather than learning from him/her.

Myth: Women are more likely to shy away from interpersonal conflict than men.

Fact: In close interpersonal relationships (particularly couples) women are more robust than men.  Men experience higher levels of physiological stress such increased blood pressure and heart rate. This explains why men often shut down (or “stonewall”) in arguments. 

Myth: Women have a rougher time than men on social media.

Fact: To address the crucial question of gender on social media we have to look at context.  The most careful studies show that on a site such as the dating site Tindr women post negative views as often as men, though on other sites between 60 and 75% of abusive comments come from men).  More male public figures receive social media abuse, and during the last election, male candidates got more social media abuse than women candidates. 

Myth:  “This can’t be right!  Misogyny is everywhere on social media.”

Fact: When a woman is trolled on social media the abuser usually does use misogyny.  This is such an insidious, disrespectful and intimidating device that it makes a huge, lingering negative impact; but that does not mean there is more abuse directed towards women than towards men.

Myth:  We would be better off if we weren’t judgmental.

Fact: We often think this because we confuse being judgmental with making negative judgments; but our judgment meter navigates both positive and negative judgment. Our brains are the brains of social animals, and we need to judge others and monitor their judgments of us. 

Reflecting on our judgments is a lifelong task.

Awareness of how our judgments work, learning when to trust them and when to challenge them will help us manage praise and blame in our own relationships, both personal and professional.