False consensus effect
The false consensus effect is a theory that explains how individuals overestimate the degree to which their own behaviour, attitudes and beliefs are shared by other people. We tend to overestimate the degree to which others around us agree with us. For example a male and a female who are romantically attracted to one another tend to assume that the other person totally or to a high degree bears the exact similar feelings and that they are similar. Later on the may discover that they actually have nothing in common and that they were simply blinded by hormones and the false consensus effect.
The false consensus effect was bore from two parallel theories of social perception: social comparisons theory and projection. The social comparison theory was suggested by Leon Festinger in 1954. The study involved understanding how individuals form impressions and how they make inferences about others.
The false consensus effect is largely a product of people having the need to fit in and appear ‘normal’. Therefore individuals in a given social setting will subscribe to certain ideas with the assumption that that is the acceptable norm by everyone else. Regardless of how strong this effect has on a majority of people, personality psychologists believe that it bears no serious negative effects.
The false consensus effect is also evidenced when an individual over estimates the number of people who hold similar beliefs as themselves. For example, most fundamentalists will assume that their ideologies are shared by a large mass of people this is rarely the case.
A small group of people who belong to a larger group will assume that whatever they have has consensus on is the feeling of the whole of the larger group. They assume that if most or all of the people in the smaller group agreed to a certain ideas, chances are that everyone else will bear the same biases or prejudices. This is never truly the case.
Most of these scenarios are identified when research is conducted using questionnaires. Individuals are likely to express their true biases and prejudices when they have not been influenced by others around. However, when you ask for a vote by show of hands, people will be greatly influenced by their environment. This concept is referred to as pluralistic ignorance where people privately hold their beliefs but display totally different ones in public.
The outward behaviour of people may be the same but there are two separate concepts that can be used to explain it. For example, a smoker may assume that times have changed and that most of those around them approve of smoking and so they continue to practice the habit. The smoker assumes that the society holds similar beliefs to his own. This is a case of false consensus effect. However, if the smokers feel the pressure to smoke just so they fit in, even when in private they do not really like the habit that’s a case of pluralistic ignorance.
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