Why we fail to understand how others perceive us

Abstract (Via UC & UF)

People have more information about themselves than others do, and this fundamental asymmetry can help to explain why individuals have difficulty accurately intuiting how they appear to other people. Determining how one appears to observers requires one to utilize public information that is available to observers, but to disregard private information that they do not possess. We report a series of experiments, however, showing that people utilize privately known information about their own past performance (Experiments 1 and 2), the performance of other people (Experiment 3), and imaginary performance (Experiment 4) when intuiting how they are viewed by others. This tendency can help explain why people’s beliefs about how they are judged by others often diverge from how they are actually judged.

Additional Excerpt (Via UC & UF)

The research we report in this article explored the inverse notion: that difficulties intuiting how one is viewed by observers are produced not only by failing to consider information considered by observers, but also by actively utilizing information that observers fail to consider (indeed, have no access to). Beliefs about how one is perceived can be biased by a tendency to evaluate one’s own performance in light of contextual information that is unavailable to observers, and then to use this self valuation as a guide for intuiting their impressions. A woman may know, for example, that she is less fit than she used to be, more attractive than most of her friends, and less productive than she might wish. Acquaintances who know nothing of her past, her friends, or her wishes, however, can hardly use such comparisons when forming their impressions, and instead can base their impressions only on information that is currently available to them. And yet, like jurors who find it difficult to disregard inadmissible evidence once it has been provided, people may find it difficult to disregard what they know is private information when intuiting how others view them. Private knowledge, like inadmissible testimony in court, can influence how people encode and evaluate an event so profoundly that correcting for the private nature of this information can prove difficult, if not impossible. This difficulty can help explain why people err in estimating how they appear in the eyes of others.

The influence of private information may be a particularly powerful determinant of error in daily life because of a basic asymmetry in the amount of information people possess about themselves versus the amount that others possess about them (Nisbett, Caputo, Legant, & Marecek, 1973). People have privileged access to their own internal thoughts and feelings, and observe themselves across time, continuously from onemoment to the next, but they are viewed by others in isolated episodes. An individual therefore experiences events in his or her own life within a rich situational context that allows each event to be understood in light of information that is often unavailable to others.

Findings (Via UC &UF)

We believe that there are two major reasons why people use private-context information in this way. First, private-context information appears to influence perceptions at the time of encoding, influencing self-evaluations in a way that makes it difficult for people to recognize the extent to which their selfassessments have been contaminated (Ross & Ward, 1996; Wilson & Brekke, 1994).

Our analysis does not imply that people will always utilize private-context information when they attempt to determine how others view them.After all, alternative sources of information exist (e.g., stereotypes; Ames, 2004). Notably, our participants were asked to predict the judgments of strangers. In everyday life, however, how one expects to be judged by others undoubtedly depends on who those others are, and people’s accuracy improves when they are predicting the judgments of close friends (Kenny&DePaulo, 1993)—perhaps because their friends share access to similar context information. Exploring factors that improve or diminish the accuracy of such judgments is a promising avenue for future research.

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21. December 2009 by Miguel Barbosa
Categories: Curated Readings, Psychology & Sociology | Leave a comment

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