People often overestimate the extent to which other people agree with what we say or do, something known as the false consensus effect. People believe that their values and ideas are normal because others also share those ideas or opinions … although the reality is not really like that .
The effect of false consensus
One of the causes that causes the false consensus effect to occur is the availability heuristic. When we try to estimate how common or probable something is, we often see examples of that with greater probability. If you want to determine if other people share your ideas, you might think of the people who are most similar to you, such as your family or friends, and they likely share a lot in common with you.
There are three main reasons why a false consensus occurs, these can be:
- Family and friends are more likely to resemble us, share the same beliefs and behaviors.
- Believing that other people think and act in the same way so that it is beneficial for our self-esteem . To feel good about ourselves we think that others think with us.
- By having specific thoughts we are more attentive to see these types of thoughts in others than different ones.
False consensus tends to be stronger in certain situations. If you consider something to be important or feel confident in your own point of view, the false consensus is strengthened and you are more likely to assume that other people agree with you. If you are concerned about the environment , you may be more likely to overestimate the number of people who also care about the same values as you.
This effect is also stronger in cases where you are sure your beliefs, opinions or ideas are correct. If you are 100% convinced that passing a law will reduce crime in your city, other people may also support passing the law.
It is also possible to experience false consensus when certain situations exist. For example, imagine you are going to see a movie, but you think the movie is terrible because the special effects are so poor. Since you already assume that everyone else who watches the movie shares the same experience and forms the same opinions, you might mistakenly believe that all the other viewers will also share your belief that the movie is terrible … when perhaps what they think is that the movie is not that bad or they may even think they are liking it.
What else should you know
The false consensus effect began to be used in the late 1970s by researcher Lee Ross and his colleagues. In one experiment, researchers had study participantsread about a conflict situation, as well as two different ways of responding to it.
The participants were then asked to say which of the two options they would choose, guess which option other people would likely choose, and describe the type of people who would choose each of the two options. The researchers found that no matter which option the participants selected, they also tended to believe that most people would select that option as well. The researchers also found that people tended to give more extreme descriptions of the characteristics of people who would choose the alternative options.
In this sense and as can be seen in this experiment, people tend to think that what others think they will also think … Although if later the reality is different, it is difficult for them to understand why this is so.