The previous post discussed the problem of thinking that people think and do the same things that we do, though this is not true about every kind of belief. Social support plays a role in how we justify ourselves and how we perceive reality, and it works to help bolster our feelings about ourselves and our decisions. But what do we know about what weakens or strengthens a False Consensus Bias?
In general, the False Consensus is stronger when the matter at hand is of great importance to a person, and if they are intimately linked to it somehow. (A person is less affected by false consensus if they are asked in what company they would invest than they were if asked to choose between names they liked for a new child.)
Matters of faith prove to be very powerful and enhance a False Consensus, and it affects all aspects of the process of thought. A person who is a political conservative, for example, will be selective about what material they consider, favoring sources that already support their own views. They are also more likely to recall examples from their memory because they are more closely attached to them while conveniently underestimating examples of opposing views. There is a sense of competition of sorts, so they are easily given to biases and fallacies which allow them to discount an opposing view. Even arguments which consider opposing views are processed as a ‘know thy enemy’ tactic instead of a fair hearing.
Conformity and Survival
In a previous post, we mentioned the idea that if we put more emphasis on external factors (an external locus of control), we are quick to make those external pressures responsible for our fate. Our false consensus tendency drops significantly if people actually do share our stance. But if some factor that is internal and individually unique to us falls into question, we tend to take more of a personal responsibility for our fate and choices.
A factor that is overlooked, especially in high demand situations, concerns the consistency of shared understanding. We may interpret information or situations very differently than others, contributing to ambiguity. When making quick estimates under such conditions, we tend not to notice that things aren’t terribly clear, so we overlook the disconnect. It has been describe as something of and instinctual reflex that happens so quickly, this ambiguity can weaken our biases, not all of which may be a bad thing. People tend to willingly trust that they’re sharing the same understanding as those around them which changes their affinity for false consensus. Imagine how potent this pressure becomes within a cult.
I suppose that it has something to do with a survival response wherein we wonder what others know that we don’t, and conformity overrides our false consensus tendency. The more unsure we feel about a situation and how others around us behave, we tend to cave into pressure. When we perceive that our beliefs are supported by a majority, we will stick to our convictions more strongly, but the opposite also proves to be true. This, of course, brings us to the Asch Experiment.
As the video describes, Solomon Asch studied the affects of social pressure on how a subject responded when identifying the lengths of line in an test example. The panel was stocked with confederates who deliberately gave the wrong responses which caused many of the subjects to report the wrong response to be consistent with the group. Such is an example of how false consensus can weaken behavior.
Strong Tendency to Avoid Giving Negative Feedback
Imagine that you are emerging from a closed society or social group, and you don’t understand much about the subtle nuances of everyday life. Well, things are going to be a bit tough. Research seems to indicate that we are not very skilled as humans to giving negative feedback. Though very close friends and family usually feel free to do so in a relationship of trust, we seem to pervasively avoid being honest about feedback when it is negative. We are less direct about it, we are slow to offer it, and we tend to avoid broaching disagreements. It doesn’t even need to be a situation that might cause negative repercussions for us in some way. Most people are polite and are just not good at offering feedback. How much more difficult does that make transition into a new society for someone exiting a cult? But we need feedback to help us avoid the False Consensus trap.
This topic is vast, and I’ll just defer to Thomas Gilovich in How We Know What Isn’t So in his summary statement at the end of the chapter discussing biases that arise from social influences:
Because so much disagreement remains hidden, our beliefs are not properly shaped by healthy scrutiny and debate. The absence of such argument also leads us to exaggerate the extent to which other people believe the way that we do. Bolstered by such a false sense of social support, our beliefs strike us as more warranted than is actually the case, and they become rather resistant to subsequent logical and empirical challenge.
Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.
Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.
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