I'm wondering if there is a specific word describing this trait. For example if I tend to think that 'If I pass this exam I am a genius, if I fail I am an utter imbecile'?

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    A person who changes his/her opinion easily is often a politician. Sep 25 '12 at 13:55
  • A politician can change his/her expressed opinion without changing his/her underlying opinion just like a politician can change his/her accent without changing his/her identity.
    – emory
    Sep 25 '12 at 15:10
  • @emory you have a gleaming career ahead, helping politicians remain doppelganging liars. Sep 25 '12 at 15:20
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    I wonder if you're looking for something else? Your example as given isn't necessarily a contradictory opinion. A person could truly believe both that they are a genius if they pass a test, and an imbecile if they don't. Those aren't two changed opinions, but rather two evaluations of different outcomes.
    – ghoppe
    Sep 25 '12 at 15:47
  • I suspect you're looking for the word for a worldview in which one define's one's self by the judgment of others or one's outcomes, rather than a word (like fickle, below) for one who easily changes one's opinions ... Sep 25 '12 at 17:14

A Flip-flopper (U-turn in the UK) is used to describe someone who frequently changes their opinions. It's often used to describe politicians who change their stances to go with the current popular sentiment.

Someone who wavers on their opinions and can't make up their mind is said to be vacillating or indecisive.

A person who changes loyalty based on whether or not something is succeeding is referred to as fair-weather - particularly the fair-weather fan when speaking about a sports team supporter.

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    Note that "flip-flopper" is mostly used for politicians, rarely for someone who changes his opinion about his favorite kind of shoes or some such. A "fair-weather friend" is more specific. It says he's only on your side when you're succesful.
    – Jay
    Sep 25 '12 at 14:06
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    I always thought vacillating meant flip-flopping back and forth between alternatives, choosing different ones at different times, while indecisive meant someone who was dithering and wasn't choosing at all between alternatives. Sep 25 '12 at 14:26
  • @DilipSarwate According to the online dictionaries I have access to, indecisive is a synonym for vacillating. My first thought was the same as yours.
    – Marcus_33
    Sep 25 '12 at 14:51
  • Not even. Flip flopper suggests a change of opinion on an issue that has an opinion, as in politics. The example in the question is about self determination.
    – chad
    Sep 25 '12 at 16:11
  • The phenomen described doesn't seem to be one of changing a position or opinion, but rather one of not holding a belief in a middle ground. As these words describe changing beliefs, I think it misses the mark by implying action already performed as opposed to views on actions yet unperformed.
    – Edwin Buck
    Sep 25 '12 at 16:37

Fickle (“Quick to change one’s opinion or allegiance; insincere; not loyal or reliable”) and compliant (“Willing to comply; yielding; bending; pliant; submissive; willing to do what someone wants”) are possibilities. Mercurial (“Volatile; erratic; unstable; flighty; fickle or changeable in temperament”) and capricious (“Impulsive and unpredictable; determined by chance, impulse, or whim”) also are nice.

Also see:
Word describing the reversal of emotions,
What word should I use for something that fails intermittently?,
What do you call someone who likes variety?,
Word to describe “fleeting, wandering and prone to drifting off” of thought

  • 1
    "Fickle" is an excellent answer. "Compliant" not necessarily: a person who is compliant is giving in to someone else, but if that person is consistent, then the first person will be too. "Mercurial", okay, though I don't think that's much used anymore. "Capricious" maybe, though that's no so much that they change their opinions as that they do things on the spur of the moment. It's more their actions that are constantly changing than their opinions.
    – Jay
    Sep 25 '12 at 14:04

Well, you might call that low self-esteem if you base your self-worth on one exam. :)

But if you want a cool word, there is tergiversate, which means "to change repeatedly one's attitude or opinions with respect to a cause, subject, etc." And one who practices tergiversation is called a tergiversator.

  • Great word! I would like to point out it also means to be evasive or ambiguous. I can't speak to which meaning is more common; this is the first time I've encountered the word. But the examples I've seen (such as at Merriam-Webster) tend toward evasiveness rather than abandonment of (previously established) principles.
    – John Y
    Sep 25 '12 at 17:07
  • Excellent word. I would love to see it come up during a political election or campaign, especially since the second definition is "to turn renegade", renegade is a synonym for "maverick", and many politicians have used "maverick" in a positive light.
    – Patrick M
    Jun 28 '13 at 18:59

jwpat7's fickle is a good word for someone who changes his opinion easily - but it's invariably derogatory, and implies changing one's opinion without good cause.

There's also open-minded, with positive associations implying that one is able and willing to accept new information which justifies changing one's opinion.

Those are answers to the question in OP's title. But they don't fit the example context, of someone basing his entire self-assessment on a single test score. That's a type of cognitive distortion often called Polarized (or “Black and White”) thinking.


As I mentioned in my comment, I believe your example doesn't match your question. The example as given isn't an example of indecision, or a fickle opinion, but rather it's insecurity.

If you don't know before you take a test whether you are a genius or an imbecile, you are insecure about the level of your intelligence. Other possible descriptions of such a person could be anxious, apprehensive or unconfident.

  • I disagree. OP's example doesn't necessarily reflect insecurity. Anyone who thinks passing some particular exam axiomatically identifies him as a "genius" is probably conceited, [over-]confident, arrogant, bumptious. Sep 25 '12 at 17:32

Consider: labile, mercurial, inconstant; but irresolute may be best here. Words I know all too well. [CF 'Oh Ted, I'm so indecisive. -- Or am I?' Dougal, in Father Ted]

  • perhaps "weak-willed"?
    – chad
    Sep 25 '12 at 16:12

Malleable or tractable suggest someone whose sense of self is not solid enough to even slightly resist outside determination. A young student in the presence of overly esteemed professors . . .

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    Perhaps you mean tractable (“Capable of being easily led, taught, or managed; docile; manageable; governable”), rather than tractile (“Capable of being drawn out in length; ductile”) Sep 25 '12 at 16:42
  • This is a nice answer that has hints of @ghoppe's point. I'd like to mention that malleable is probably the one that captures this quality best. I agree with jwpat7 that tractable is a better synonym for malleable than tractile is, though tractable is usually used to describe manageable or solvable problems, rather than "shapeable" people. Finally, though ductile is often used in the definition of tractile, ductile can also be a synonym for malleable or tractable.
    – John Y
    Sep 25 '12 at 16:47
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    yes, tractable . . . precision is not my strong suit.
    – chad
    Sep 25 '12 at 17:43

Polarized Thinking

It is a technical term describing a type of Cognitive Distortion, where the experiences of life get flattened out into excluding a middle ground. There are no "shades of grey" or complexity, it's either all or none, good or bad, black or white.

As for just using an adjective to fit within the constraints of grammar, I would use polarized.


I have to say it, because no-one else has: Devil's Advocate

In my own words: Someone who will opt for the less popular side of an argument in order to draw out a more critical approach to the argument. A good devil's advocate could quite happily change their allegiance mid-argument if they've managed to convince you one way.

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