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False Consensus Effect

 

Explanations > Theories > False Consensus Effect

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

We tend to overestimate how the degree to which our own behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and so on are shared by other people.

This may be because our friends and people we spend time with are indeed like us, and we use the Availability Heuristic to deduce that many other people are similar (our own beliefs, etc. are also very available). When there is limited information on which to base a good estimate, then what we believe is a fair alternative to a wild guess. We will use false consensus more when we attribute our own behavior to external factors as these are the same factors which presumed to affect others. False consensus also helps reinforce my own motivations.

False consensus is stronger when:

  • The behavior is seen to come from strong situational factors.
  • The matter at hand is seen as being important to the person.
  • When we are largely sure we are correct.

Research

Ross and colleagues asked students to walk around campus with a sign saying ‘Eat at Joe’s’. Those who agreed said that 62% of other people would agree to carry the sign. Those who disagreed said that 67% would not carry the sign.

Example

Romantic relationships between people often start off with a glow as hormones and False Consensus overshadow real differences. However, the cloud-9 effect eventually wears off as the loving couple eventually discover that they are not, after all, that similar (and in fact often are amazingly incompatible!).

So what?

Using it

Build rapport by assuming their behavior, attitudes and beliefs. Other people are very often taken in by such false empathy as they see it as normal that you are like them.

Defending

See other as they are, not as you want them to be.

See also

Attribution Theory, Availability Heuristic

http://www.apa.org/journals/psp/psp7761121.html

References

Ross, Amabile, and Steinmetz (1977), Marks and Miller (1987), Dawes and Mulford (1996)

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