False Consensus Effect

What is it?

This is a cognitive bias where individuals overestimate how much their own beliefs, opinions, and habits are shared by others. This leads to the assumption that their views are more common and representative of the general population than they might actually be. This effect influences social perception, causing people to project their beliefs and preferences onto others and mistakenly believe these views are widely accepted. In group settings, it can lead to misunderstandings about the diversity of opinions and contribute to groupthink, as dissenting perspectives are undervalued. Rooted in self-justification, this bias reinforces the notion that one's own choices and beliefs are correct. Recognizing this bias is important for fostering effective communication, empathy, and inclusive decision-making in various social and professional environments.

youtube-video-thumbnail

Video by Sprouts Learning Co. | Used under Creative Commons license

How it relates to disinformation?

Reinforcement of Disinformation: Individuals who are influenced by the False Consensus Effect may overestimate the extent to which their beliefs (including those based on disinformation) are shared by others. This can lead to a stronger conviction in the validity of false information if they believe it is widely accepted.

Echo Chambers and Confirmation Bias: The False Consensus Effect contributes to the formation of echo chambers, where individuals are exposed primarily to information that confirms their existing beliefs. In such environments, disinformation that aligns with group beliefs is more likely to be accepted and spread, as people assume their views are the norm.

Resistance to Correcting Misinformation: If individuals believe that their views (influenced by disinformation) are widely held, they may be less open to accepting corrections or alternative viewpoints. This can make efforts to counteract disinformation more challenging.

Spread of Disinformation in Social Networks: People affected by the False Consensus Effect might share disinformation within their social networks, thinking that others share their beliefs. This can facilitate the wider spread of disinformation, as the false information is endorsed and disseminated within groups.

Polarization and Misunderstanding: This bias can lead to increased polarization, as people may not realize the true diversity of opinions and beliefs in the wider community. It can exacerbate misunderstandings and conflicts, especially when disinformation is involved.

172-02-1024x699
Kristal Tereziu | https://www.pexels.com/photo/shadow-of-woman-with-crown-on-head-4385809/
Kristal Tereziu | https://www.pexels.com/photo/shadow-of-woman-with-crown-on-head-4385809/
172-01
Ruba Abdulaziz | https://www.pexels.com/search/False%20harmony/
Ruba Abdulaziz | https://www.pexels.com/search/False%20harmony/

What can I do about False Consensus Effect?

  1. Seek Diverse Opinions: Actively seek out and listen to viewpoints different from your own. Engaging with a variety of perspectives can help you understand the true diversity of opinions and beliefs that exist outside your immediate circle.
  2. Encourage Open Discussion: In group settings, create an environment where all members feel comfortable expressing their opinions. This can help reveal the range of perspectives and prevent the assumption that everyone is in agreement.
  3. Use Statistical and Factual Data: Rely on actual data and statistics rather than assumptions to understand what most people think or believe. This approach can provide a more accurate picture of the consensus on various issues.
  4. Practice Empathy and Perspective-Taking: Try to put yourself in others' shoes and consider how their experiences and backgrounds might shape their viewpoints. This can reduce the tendency to assume that others share your beliefs.
  5. Foster a Culture of Humility: In group and organizational settings, cultivate a culture where it’s understood that no one has all the answers, and differing opinions are valued.
  6. Feedback and Perspective Sharing: Regularly seek feedback from others about your viewpoints and be open to considering it. Sharing perspectives in a non-confrontational way can also be enlightening for others.

Suggested use in training

Start with a survey or questionnaire that includes various statements on common topics. Ask participants to guess how many people in the group will agree with each statement. Then reveal the actual numbers. Follow this with a discussion on why people's guesses might have been off, focusing on the False Consensus Effect.
Outcome: This activity makes participants aware of the diversity of opinions within their own group and helps them understand the tendency to overestimate the prevalence of their own beliefs.

Create scenarios where participants must argue a viewpoint opposite to their own on various topics. After the role-play, participants share how it felt to represent a view different from their own and discuss the challenges they faced in understanding and advocating for this perspective.
Outcome: This exercise encourages participants to step outside their own belief systems and consider how different experiences and backgrounds can lead to different viewpoints. It can also reveal how easy it is to assume others share our own views.