The Pedantic Critic: New study looks at the motive behind nitpicking other people’s mistakes

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A recent study by reveals that people who make it a point to call attention to others’ mistakes tend to struggle with major insecurities.

Finding fault in others is often an attempt to hide one’s own faults.

A tendency to point out people’s mistakes and find fault in others is typically a defense mechanism.

We mask our aversion for our own shortcomings by pointing out other people’s, if only to make us feel a bit better about ourselves.

Having one’s mistakes pointed out can be quite the ego-deflator, but imagine having every microscopic gaffe you make exposed under a glaring spotlight. This is what it’s like to deal with nitpickers: people who take an almost sadistic joy in pointing out everyone else’s blunders. However, there’s more to these pedantic critics than a severe case of Schadenfreude. According to a study conducted by, individuals who nitpick others’ mistakes are more likely to have major self-esteem issues, with leanings towards narcissism.

Analyzing data collected from 13,999 people who took the Self-Esteem Test, PsychTests’ researchers examined the personality profile of folks who frequently point out other people’s errors, no matter how minor. Here’s what their study revealed:

> Nitpicking Critics tend to have extremely fragile egos - which they will fiercely protect.

> 38% only listen to positive appraisals of themselves and ignore negative feedback (compared to 10% of Non-Nitpickers).

> When their weaknesses are pointed out, 32% of Nitpicking Critics will respond by listing all of their good qualities (compared to 9% of Non-Nitpickers).

> 43% of Nitpicking Critics bring up their accomplishments in regular conversations (compared to 11% of Non-Nitpickers), and 42% get upset when their accomplishments are not praised (compared to 10% of Non-Nitpickers).

Nitpicking Critics tend to have very shaky self-esteem and self-confidence.

> 56% seek reassurance before making decisions (compared to 37% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 43% admit that they often feel worthless and useless (compared to 23% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 37% believe that they will never amount to anything (compared to 20% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 47% believe that they will never be as skilled or as intelligent as they should be (compared to 29% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 55% believe that they will only be respected if they are successful or attractive (compared to 29% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 29% believe that trying their best is not good enough - only success matters (compared to 19% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 39% see themselves as failures (compared to 20% of Non-Nitpickers).

Nitpicking Critics are terrified of appearing weak, so they fabricate a false sense of superiority.

> 35% actually consider themselves superior to most people (compared to 11% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 41% believe that if a person criticizes them, it’s only because he or she is jealous or envious (compared to 15% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 74% said that their biggest aspiration is to be extremely successful and admired (compared to 50% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 27% refuse to fess up when they have made a mistake (compared to 14% of Non-Nitpickers), while 48% find it difficult to admit when they are wrong (compared to 17% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 36% prefer to only associate with successful and/or popular people (compared to 16% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 23% will only form a friendship with someone who benefits their status in some way (compared to 4% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 27% get upset when they are not the center of attention (compared to 4% of Non-Nitpickers).

Nitpicking Critics deflect in order to hide their deep-seated fears from others…and perhaps even themselves.

> 54% have a severe fear of rejection (compared to 35% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 51% desperately want to be liked by everyone (compared to 30% of Non-Nitpickers).

Nitpicking Critics are terrified of having their own mistakes pointed out.

> 44% believe that if they make a mistake, they will lose people’s respect (compared to 22% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 30% believe that failing at any one thing makes them a failure as a person (compared to 12% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 50% feel degraded when people point out their mistakes (compared to 23% of Non-Nitpickers).
> 48% feel devastated when criticized (compared to 25% of Non-Nitpickers).

“Highly critical people often think they are doing someone a courtesy by pointing out their errors, and in some situations, that may very well be the case,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “If you notice that a person is about to make a costly, catastrophic error, then by all means, bring it to his or her attention. However, if you’re the type of person who points out every little mistake a person makes and who tends to find fault in everyone, ask yourself what your motive is. At the basis of high criticalness is almost always a fragile self-regard. We mask our aversion for our own shortcomings by pointing out other people’s, if only to make us feel a bit better about ourselves. In reality, however, the only way to feel better about yourself is to actually work on your self-development. In the end, bringing someone down in order to lift yourself up will actually make you feel worse - and cause you to lose friends and partners in the process.”

“If a person specifically asks for your feedback, then offer it if you wish - tactfully, of course. Otherwise, it’s best to keep your opinion to yourself. If you have a tendency to offer unsolicited feedback, try to understand the situation from the other person’s perspective. You might think you’re being helpful, but what you’re really doing is telling someone that you know better than they do, and that your opinion carries more weight. So before speaking up, ask yourself whether what you are about to say is worth saying, and whether it is truly to the other person’s benefit or to your own.”

Want to assess your self-esteem? Check out the Self-Esteem Test by visiting

Professional users, such as HR managers, coaches, and therapists, can request a free demo for this or other assessments from ARCH Profile’s extensive battery:

To learn more about psychological testing, download this free eBook:

About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists and coaches, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see

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Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D
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