12 Small Habits That Actually Reveal a Lot About Your Personality
You can read volumes into an innocent hair pull, a handshake, or a seemingly insignificant fashion choice. Here's what the behavior experts say.
Show, don’t tell
People show who they really are in very subtle ways—including their habits. In fact, your choices and preferences are almost as telling as your Myers-Briggs personality type or the career personality test you take for work. These tests can shock us with how accurate they are sometimes, as results can even show you could have the rarest personality type! Read on to learn more about the habits that speak volumes and that reveal more about your personality than you think.
The way you roll toilet paper
The debate about the “right way” to hang your TP has raged nearly since the roller’s invention. However, therapist Gilda Carle, PhD, claims that she can learn about your personality through your preference on this matter. She surveyed 2,000 men and women about whether they hang their toilet paper in the overhand or underhand position. She also asked her volunteers to fill out questionnaires that would probe how assertive they were—on a scale of 1 to 10—in their relationships. Dr. Carle’s results suggest that those who prefer the overhand method are more dominant, while the underhanders tend to be more submissive. (Some extremely dominant types even admitted to switching the paper direction in other bathrooms they visited.) “What first began as a fun exercise actually turned into an accurate assessment tool. While it adds humor to the conversation, it also provides insight on your compatibility with a prospective partner,” Carle tells the Independent.
Your shoe choices
A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that you can read someone’s personality through their choice of footwear. Volunteers submitted photos of their shoes and then completed a questionnaire on their personality traits. Another group gazed upon the photos and then described the personality of the wearer—and they were remarkably accurate. They gauged the age, income, and attachment anxiety of someone based solely on the shoes. Their results indicate that people who wear comfortable shoes tend to be relatively agreeable. Ankle boots are generally worn by those who are more aggressive. Wearing uncomfortable shoes implies that you’re more of a calm person, while those with new and well-maintained footwear have a more anxious or clingy persona.
The way you walk
Body language expert Patti Wood tells Men’s Health that your stroll reveals your personality. If your weight is usually forward and your stride is quick, you are extremely productive and highly logical. People admire you for that, but you may come off a bit cold and competitive. If you walk with your chest forward, shoulders back, and your head held high (common in a lot of politicians and celebrities), you are fun, charismatic, and socially adept, though you may tend to hog the spotlight. If your weight is over your legs, not forward or back, you’re more interested in people than in tasks and more focused on your personal life than your career. You’re great when part of a group, but tend to get distracted. Lastly, if you’re light on your toes when you walk and your eyes are glued to the floor, you’re most likely introverted and polite. A study published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence suggests that jail inmates with psychopathic tendencies were able to judge vulnerability and pick potential victims simply by viewing the way people walk; you might want to adopt some of those more assertive styles.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found your handshake can alter people’s impressions of you. In the experiment, judges were trained to assess eight characteristics of a handshake: completeness of grip, temperature, dryness, strength, duration, vigor, texture, and eye contact. The results indicate that participants with firmer handshakes described themselves as more emotionally expressive, extroverted, and positive than others. Those with looser grips were more shy and neurotic. The judges’ first impressions correlated with this—they agreed that the participants with firmer handshakes were more confident and less socially anxious.
Your email etiquette
If you’re trying to pick up cues from your coworker, the answer may lie in your inbox and how you handle your emails. Psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, PhD, writes in Fast Company that there is a strong connection between our email persona and our real-life character. Text mining studies have found associations between certain keywords and major traits. Narcissists will generally use words such as “I,” “me,” and “mine” frequently. Extroverts tend to be more casual and talk about fun-related things, like music and parties. And it’s not only what you say—it’s how you say it. An absence of typos is a sign of someone’s conscientiousness, perfectionism, and potential obsessions, whereas poor grammar indicates lower levels of IQ and academic intelligence. Interestingly, long emails reflect energy and thoroughness, but also some degree of neediness.
Are you a nail biter or skin picker? Scientists call these “body-focused repetitive behaviors” (BFRB). In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, researchers analyzed people’s personalities and then filmed while they were in a situation that was extremely frustrating, relaxing, or boring, looking for ticks that might emerge. People who compulsively tugged on their hair or bit their nails tended toward perfectionism, and their actions are a result of trying to soothe boredom, irritation, and dissatisfaction. Because it feels better to do something instead of nothing, repetitive behavior proves comforting.
A study published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that timeliness is an accurate assessment of positive character traits. In the study, researchers asked participants to complete a personality assessment at home and come to the laboratory for a group experiment. By analyzing the participants time of arrival, they found punctual people were more conscientious and agreeable; being early was connected to neuroticism. And those who are chronically late tended to be more laid-back. Are you often tardy?
Your eating habits
You are what you eat—but science suggests you also are how you eat. Julia Hormes, PhD, a psychologist specializing in food behavior, and Juliet Boghossian, a Los Angeles-based behavioral food expert, told HuffPost that food-related behaviors can tell us a lot about personality. Slow eaters are usually people who like to be in control and know how to appreciate life, but fast eaters tend to be ambitious and impatient. The adventurous eater is a thrill-seeker and risk-taker, while picky eaters are likely to exhibit anxiety and neuroticism. Lastly, if you’re someone who likes to separate different foods on their plate, you’re very cautious and detail-oriented in your everyday life.
Your shopping habits
Want to get to know someone better? Take them to the mall. A series of experiments, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that there are two types of consumers: the explanation fiend and the explanation foe. A fiend is the type to meticulously scrutinize every single shampoo bottle in the aisle before settling for something. On the other hand, a foe will quickly decide and be done. According to the researchers, the fiends score high on measures of cognitive reflection, meaning they analyze information to death and are detail-oriented. Explanation foes don’t do well with details and prefer more general information.
Your selfie style
Your Instagram or Facebook feed may reveal more about your personality than you realize. In a 2015 study from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, researchers analyzed 123 selfies taken from a popular Chinese social media site. Each person then completed a personality questionnaire. The researchers found that more agreeable people tended to take pictures from below; conscientious types were less likely to reveal a private space in the background. People who displayed positive expressions (smiling, laughing) were more open to new experiences, while the duck face revealed a more neurotic personality. Who knew selfies are a window into your personality?
Graphology is the analysis of handwriting and how it relates to personality, and it has been a science since the days of Aristotle. Master graphologist Kathi McKnight tells Business Insider that handwriting experts can detect more than 5,000 personality traits from your scrawl. People who write large, for example, are people-oriented and attention-seeking, whereas those with small handwriting are introverted and are capable of acute concentration. Writing with a slight right slant means you’re friendly and impulsive; a left slant means you’re reserved and individualistic. No slant suggests you’re logical and pragmatic. Lastly, handwriting with heavy pressure indicates you have strong emotions and are quick to react, but a light pressure implies an easiness and ability to move from place to place.
The way you carry a bag
You might spend days or weeks picking out a handbag, but how much thought do you give to how you carry it? Here’s what that mindless choice reveals, according to body language expert Patti Wood: Wearing a purse in the crook of your arm shows you are high-maintenance and place a lot of emphasis on social status. Wearing the strap across your body with the bag in front means you prioritize protection and accessibility; toting your bag behind you demonstrates a cool, calm, and collected personality. People who sport a backpack are more independent and want to take care of themselves and the people around them, while those who carry their bag in their hands tend to be assertive, well-organized, and efficient.
- Independent: “What the way you hang your toilet paper says about you”
- Journal of Research in Personality: “Shoes as a source of first impressions”
- Men’s Health: “What Your Walk Says About You”
- Journal of Interpersonal Violence: “Psychopathy and Victim Selection: The Use of Gait as a Cue to Vulnerability”
- Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Handshaking, Gender, Personality, and First Impressions”
- Fast Company: “What Your Email Style Reveals About Your Personality”
- Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry: “The impact of emotions on body-Focused repetitive behaviors: Evidence from a non-treatment-seeking sample”
- Journal of Research in Personality: “Who is late and who is early? Big Five personality factors and punctuality in attending psychological experiments”
- HuffPost: “What Your Eating Habits Reveal About Your Personality”
- Journal of Consumer Research: “Explanation Fiends and Foes: How Mechanistic Detail Determines Understanding and Preference“
- Nanyang Technological University: “What does your selfie say about you?”
- Business Insider: “What your handwriting says about you”