The False Consensus Effect
Episode #10 of the course “Brilliant Social Psychology Experiments”
Most people think it is easy to predict the behaviors of others by using all the information we have kept over the years to make assumptions about others. But we are usually incorrect. When evaluating others, people are one-sided. And bias proves the need for psychological experiments. Relying on intuition to judge behavior is a mistake.
The false consensus effect is one such bias. Dr. Lee Ross, a social psychologist at Stanford University, conducted two studies to show how the effect works.
For the first study, people read about a conflict and two ways to respond. They were then asked to choose an option, say which option others would pick, and give characteristics of others who chose either option. Interestingly, most thought that others would pick their option irrespective of their choice. Here, the researchers proved the “false consensus” effect, which appears when people think others think the same as them, even when they don’t. However, participants tended to believe that something was wrong with others who didn’t think like them.
Despite the findings of the first study, are we certain that people behave this way? In fact, studies have shown a minimal connection between attitude and behavior.
In a second study, Ross and colleagues changed their tactics. University student participants were asked to walk around campus for 30 minutes wearing a sandwich board reading “Eat at Joe’s.” Researchers told participants that they did not have to participate but if they did they would learn something useful.
Findings from the second study confirm the first. 62% percent of students who wore the sandwich board thought others would agree to wear the board. But only 33% of students who refused thought that others would agree. And just as before, participants had extreme thoughts about persons who made decisions different than their own.
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