Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Seeing ourselves / Seeing others - built in errors

Emily Pronin writes a review article in Science Magazine to which my first reaction was "Duh... so what else is new?" But as I looked at it a second time my "who needs to write this down, it is just common sense" reaction began to yield to realizing that the sort of systematic list she offers is useful - way in which intrinsic differences in 1st person (introspective, immersed in our own sensations, emotions, and cognitions) and 3rd person perspectives (extrospective, dominated by what behavior can be observed externally) are guaranteed to lead conflicts in judgements of our own and others behavior. Here are a few clips:
Positive illusions. People tend to have inflated views of themselves and their futures. For example, they think that they are more likely to become wealthy, and less likely to contract contagious diseases, than those around them. This unrealistic optimism partially stems from people's attentional focus on their own (but not others') internal desires and intentions .

Interpersonal knowledge. People overestimate how much they can learn about others from brief encounters such as job interviews (10). At the same time, they think others can get only a glimpse of them from such encounters. As a result, people generally feel they know others better than others know them

Pluralistic ignorance. People often misconstrue the thoughts and motives of others. In cases of "pluralistic ignorance," those misconstruals occur even though others share one's own motives and beliefs and act in the same way as oneself . An example... occurs when an audience of people all succeed in concealing their distraction and boredom during a long lecture and they then assume that they are the only ones not interested and engaged. In another example, college students often forgo trying to make friends with students of other races (even though they would like to be friends) because they interpret those others' lack of trying as indicating lack of interest. Both these examples involve people judging others based on overt behavior (e.g., failing to make social overtures) but themselves based on internal states (e.g., wanting friendship but fearing rejection)

Miscommunications. People often fail miserably in their efforts to communicate. These communication breakdowns (whether they involve negotiating peace agreements, giving driving directions, or navigating romantic relationships) often reflect the fact that people know what they intend or mean to communicate, while others focus on what they actually say. For example, negotiators can fail to outwardly express their interest in cooperating, because their internal awareness of that interest (gained through introspection) blinds them to the fact that the other side sees only their behavior, which often lacks clear signs of that motive

Conformity. People are influenced by those around them (and by the mass media) in everything from fashion tastes to political views; but, they generally deny that and see themselves as alone in a crowd of sheep.

Conclusions. It is almost axiomatic that as long as people are in a position to perceive themselves and to perceive others, differences in those perceptions will exist and will engender disagreement, misunderstanding, and conflict. When people judge themselves based on their good intentions but others based on their less-good behavior (or based on cynical assumptions about human nature), they are likely to feel resentful and disappointed over others' failure to meet them halfway. When people view their own perceptions and beliefs as objective reflections of reality but others' as distorted by bias, they are likely to feel frustrated and angry over others' unwillingness to be fair and reasonable. And, such feelings are likely to breed aggression and conflict.

This picture may sound dismal, but there is hope. Misunderstandings can be averted by those aware of the psychological processes involved in self and social perception. Those individuals can be mindful that it is not only their own behavior that is sensitive to the constraints of the situation, but others' as well. Perhaps this could prompt them to show more charity when others fail to meet expectations. Those individuals also can recognize that others' mistakes and errors may not be the result of conscious malice but rather of unintended influences that those others would themselves decry. And, those individuals might remind themselves that there often is a wide gulf between intention and action, but that it is only reasonable and fair to apply the same standard of judgment to others as to oneself. Following these guidelines would not just be socially charitable— it would also be scientifically informed.

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