“But I thought you thought what I thought!” The False-Consensus Effect cognitive bias

Written by John Kuder

Table Of Contents

We over-estimate how much other people are like us. We assume that our personal qualities, beliefs, and actions are common among the general population. This gives us a little boost in self-esteem, which satisfies our desire to be liked.

This bias is more noticeable in groups who spend time with each other. The group shares many beliefs and opinions and they think that many more people outside the group also share their beliefs and opinions. Because, why wouldn’t they? This is called selective exposure.

When they find out that others don’t agree with them, they tend to view those people as defective. This is another bias at work, fundamental attribution error.

This cognitive bias falls in the grouping under Not Enough Meaning, so we make up stories. In this case, if we don’t have much data to draw on, we project ourselves onto the situation.

It was first named in the 1970’s by psychologist Lee Ross and his colleagues. It has been widely observed and many studies have confirmed it.

There is also an opposite pattern, called the false-uniqueness effect, where someone knows very few people who share their outlook and assume that they are unique in that. This can happen when we are feeling hurt and alone. “Nobody else has ever felt like this.”

Common examples are political candidate preferences, dog lovers vs cat lovers, assumptions about someone we’re dating, and assuming our friends think like us.

How does it apply in a small business?

It is easy to assume that our customers are like us and will like what we like, so we build products that we would buy. When designing a product or service, we need to collect as much actual data as possible from existing and potential customers, so that we don’t project our own values and preferences on our market.

In leadership, it is easy to assume that we know what our team thinks. Some examples are:

  • Assuming that everyone wants to work the way we do
  • Assuming team members have the same career goals as me
  • Assuming team members feel the same way about changes or event in the workplace

How is it connected to Emotional Intelligence?

The third domain of EQ is social awareness or recognizing the feelings of others. The fourth is relationship management. This bias overlaps those areas, especially in the group setting we talked about. With this bias, we take the shortcut of assuming that the others within our group share our beliefs and feelings, rather than asking and confirming.

How can Mindfulness help?

Mindfulness is completely focused in the present and noticing what is. We can easily extend that to noticing what we are feeling and thinking, what we are assuming, and what evidence is available to both confirm and disprove our assumptions.

In summary, the False-Consensus Effect cognitive bias is very common, very well documented, and is closely connected to several other biases. It shows up in different degrees depending on a variety of personal and situational factors. It is not inherently dangerous, but can lead to misunderstanding and misjudgment. Avoiding it requires awareness that it exists and intentional effort to recognize other points of view.








Video transcript:

Hi there. So Connie’s here dancing to Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo. That’s right. Means… has nothing to do with what we’re talking about. Doesn’t? Well, no, actually it does. Maybe it does because maybe you think that, I thought that that was gonna be just a song for this. So we’re talking about the False-Consensus Effect today.

It’s a cognitive bias. It falls under that grouping. One of those three groupings. This is the group that is not enough meaning. So we make up stories. What do you mean? No, nobody, everybody else doesn’t believe the same way I do? Exactly. That is what this effect does. Damn. We overestimate, as people, and it’s very, very common.

We overestimate how much people are like us. We assume that our personal qualities, our beliefs, our actions, and yes, I’ve got a whole page of notes here. Our actions are common among the general population like everybody thinks like we do. This is this assumption. It’s, it’s a, but our kids, to us that, again, cognitive bias, , it’s a shortcut.

We, we assume that. Okay. And and what’s, what makes it a little. More attractive, I guess to us sub subconsciously is it gives us a little boost of self-esteem to think that everybody agrees with me because I’m right, because I’m smart. Yeah. Why wouldn’t they?, I’m pretty, and it solves, it’s, it satisfies that desire to be liked.

You know, we’re, we’re naturally kind of wired to be part of a group and part of a, a tribe or a a community, and, and we wanna be liked and, and accepted in that community and, and revered. So if we, if we agree, if we all agree on something and we’re, we all share the same beliefs and then that makes us, that tightens our community.

Right? Right. So there’s, there’s this kind of natural assumption. They didn’t, the, the sources, which I will list didn’t really talk about you know, an evolutionary thing. This was really discovered or named, not discovered, but named back in the 1970s. It had to be evolutionary because I mean, we’ve, we’ve lived tribal for.

For survival For how many thousand Exactly. Years. Exactly. So it’s, it’s kind of, I guess, obvious psychologist Lee Ross and his colleagues in the 1970s named it, and it’s been very widely studied and, and observed since then. So there’s lots of sci. I mean, you know, even the. I think an American Journal of Psychology, site had it, an article about this, which is not always the case with these cognitive biases.

So, oh, I found more references and sources about this than, than many of the, the wow things that we’ve done. Cool. So there, there’s, this is also more noticeable in groups because we, again, we talked about tribes and so groups that spend a lot of time with each other. So, it could be a club, it could be a church, it could be a.

A big family. It could be anything. Work a work, yeah. A work setting. Where, where you spend a lot of time together and, and they’re, so there’s, there’s a kind of a group think. Mm-hmm. And, and the members of the group as a whole will tend to think that their group is like, The general pop, the, the general population is like them.

Okay. They’ll assume that more. It’s not a, an all or nothing thing. Okay. It’s not everybody thinks this way because we know they don’t. But, but we tend to assume that there’s more, more. So, one example is, political candidates, right? We tend to assume that there’s more people in the general population that, that like the same candidate that we like, That’s, that’s been studied.

Dog lovers versus cat lovers. Oh, there were, I can get ’em behind that one. Okay. They tend, people like to be, that tend to assume that there’s more people like them. Right. You know, and, and why wouldn’t they? That’s right. So those cats are wonderful. Assumptions about, you know, when we’re dating someone, we feel close to them.

Aw. We assume. That they’ve, how many people have, how many couples in the early stages of dating have assumed that, that they had the same, uh, beliefs about values or values? About having children or, yeah. Or how long you wait to get married or what it’s gonna be like when you’re married and all those kind of things.

And we as, and. And then, oh my God. Big surprise. We don’t, what do you mean you don’t think that way? I do. Right. So that’s, I mean, that’s a very small group, right? It’s not, this is not expanding to the general population, but it’s still an example of it’s bias. Well, it is because, you know, When you’re working, you also think that everybody in the business should be along the same lines.

Perfect. And so before we the same way. Yes. And so in small business, which we focus on, how does this show up in business? Right. Well, it’s really easy for one thing to assume that our customers are like us. In fact, that, that’s kind of a marketing thing, is that, you know, that’s true in, in terms of defining your, your ideal customer.

Look in the mirror well, Yes and no. True. Okay. I mean, it’s, there’s a likelihood there in terms of what you’re going to attract. But at the same time, if you’re in a business and, and you, you’re gonna come out with a new product and, I don’t know, maybe it’s a new flavor of hot sauce. I this came to mind.

So, you know, if, if I tend, if I think. That, you know, 150,000 scoville units is the thing to have then, then I’m gonna make a really hot sauce and everybody’s gonna like it. And I’m assuming that more people like hot sauce, maybe not, you know, maybe they just want the flavor without the heat. There you go.

So that’s assuming that our customers are just gonna like what we like. Without testing, without proving it. So what do we do? How do we avoid that? We go, we do focus groups. We, we interview existing customers, potential customers, and we find out what they really want, right? There’s a, there’s a really famous saying, and I’m trying to, I wanna make sure.

I think it’s, Henry Ford said if we had asked the customers what they wanted, we’d have faster horses. They would’ve wanted faster horses. So there’s, you know, there’s the other side of that. Okay. I pretty funny actually. What, what, you know, when we’re trying to really innovate, really innovate you know, people are used to what they’re used to.

Right. True. And so they just, they, you know, they’re gonna tend to want an improvement rather than, you know, a, a big change. And so, right. Yeah. That, that whole thing about, I’m not sure my quote really fit what we’re talking about here, but it’s a great quote. Right. Yeah. So and since we’re talking about opposite, I’m gonna circle back to there’s an opposite cognitive bias to, to this one, and it’s called the false uniqueness effect.

This is what we’re talking about is false. Consensus. Everybody agrees with us or mm-hmm. More people agree with us than actually do the false uniqueness is the opposite. And that is the sense that if we’re, if, if we know of very few people who feel the same way we do or agree with us mm-hmm. Then we tend to feel.

We tend to project that out onto the general population. Okay. Even though we may be operating in a very small little circle. Right. Right. We may feel like an odd duck in a group. We could think of ourselves as an odd duck in the world when that’s not true at all. Ah. So we isolate ourselves. Bingo. And, and where I see this happening is, is when we get it’s, I think it’s more common when we, when we’re hurt.

When we’re hurt. Agreed. Great. When we’re upset, breathe. Okay. Because we can’t see the force for the trees at that point. And we feel alone right here. We feel alone and, and you know, nobody else has ever felt like this. That’s right. And nobody loves me. Everybody hates me. We talk about teenage ANGs, but you know, it seems to be I, I, I noticed it more in my teenage years that, that I, I felt more alone and more like nobody can understand me because of that in between stage of, in between child and adult and feeling like the adults in my little group didn’t understand me.

So nobody understands me. But we’ve also seen that in, in our parents. Yes. Very strongly that they felt isolated, felt ignored, felt they all, they’re aging, right? Yes. Yes. When everybody around them was kissing their mm-hmm. And, and, you know, bending over backwards, but they still felt like they were isolated.

Right. And they’re, and then nobody cared about. Again wow. That, now that, that just gets really interesting because, you know, is there societal, there is a societal trend tendency to, to displace the age, to push them aside, right. The, the elderly. And so I don’t know, maybe there’s some other stuff here.

And there are that’s one of the things about, this is a number of other cognitive biases that relate to this. For example, one of the false attribution just, where did I have it? Sorry. I just, I lost it. Okay. Well, anyway, going back to business. Okay. So designing a product or service, we wanna make sure that we’re, we’re actually meeting the needs, the, and desires of our customers.

The real needs. The real needs, and not the ones we assume. Yeah. Because we assume that we’re pretty, and that we know everything. And then leadership in leadership, if, if we’re leading a team mm-hmm. It’s easy to assume that everybody on the team’s, on, on board, that they’re, they all think like we do. So some examples of those would be assuming that everybody wants to work the way that we do, whether it’s seven days a week or late hours, or, you know, sending emails at 10 o’clock at night.

You know, that kind of devotion to the, to the, to the company, to the cause or, you know, it might be, you know, assuming that they want to have the same patterns, you know, well if I don’t like coming into the office and I’d really rather work remotely than everybody feels that way, you know, that kind of thing.

Assuming the team. You know, and you know, so a lot, lot to unpack there. Assuming team members have the same career goals as me, right? That’s a big one, right? That’s because I mean, how many times have we been in a corporate situation? Where, where everybody thought, you know, we were all on the same, going on the same route.

And yeah, everybody wants to be president and no, a lot of people don’t. They just want to, you know, they want to get right in the middle and, and provide a, provide a very stable, have a stable platform, and provide a stable service. Mm-hmm. And well going back to, you know, from a consulting point of view or from an outside point of view, Assuming that all small businesses want to grow an empire, right?

Not the case or a franchise. I mean, we know that. Yeah. Or or, yeah. Or franchise or whatever. Not everybody wants to grow a big business, right? Some people, there’s a, it’s called a lifestyle business. They want to, they want to have a business that supports them for their life and allows them to do the things they wanna do.

And when it’s done, it’s done. And that’s fine. Okay. Assuming team members feel the same way about changes or events in the workplace. Okay, well that’s another one. New policy, new new direction for the business. Oh, yeah. Everybody’s on board. No. And maybe some of ’em are quicken in their boots and afraid to speak up.

True. And then then they’re a little bit too, so, so then within taking this topic a little further, how does it connect to emotional intelligence? Because that’s a big. Factor in the workplace and, and in our work. And so emotional intelligence, the the two. The third and fourth quadrant of the emotional intelligence is social awareness being aware of other people’s feelings.

Mm-hmm. And then relationship management, how we interact and manage those relationships and other people’s feelings. And, and so this bias really overlaps in those areas. Right. Okay. I can see that we’ve got the, because we’ve got this group setting, so anytime we assume. That word keeps coming up.

Right. Assume that the others in our group share our feelings instead of confirming and asking. We are in danger of lowering our emotional intelligence in, in that situation. Oh, okay. Okay. And then mindfulness, that’s another tool that is very popular and, and you know, is closely related to our self care, but also in terms of our adaptability.

Our flexibility, mindfulness is a, is really focused in the present. It’s really about getting, being right here, right now and noticing, just noticing what there is to notice. And so when we start there, you know, so that’s kind of, kind of like a recent It’s yes. Yes, yes. Uhhuh. It, it starts with a, that mindfulness in, in applying it to this, I would say the mindfulness would be going to a quiet, that quiet place, you know, re kind of getting back to baseline and then beginning to ask questions, what are my assumptions?

You know, what do I, what do I feel? What am I noticing about what I feel and what I believe? And then what evidence do I have that others? That’s the key evidence. External evidence rather than just assuming. So there’s so much more to this than we had time to cover. Oh yeah. But the well we could get in this for quite a bit.

So the, this cognitive bias will be one for further explanation and we’ll put some links to some other videos. If you have any questions about it or, or have any comments, please leave. Need a comment. That’s right. And thanks for spending some time with us, and we will see you soon. Bye. Bye.

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