Friday, June 12, 2009

Changing Minds - We're more like others than we think

Sometimes it's good to get a reminder that we are not as rational as we would like to believe.

We're more like others than we think

Quick: how would you feel if there was a change in local government where you live? How about if you won a holiday? Or if you had a car accident? Or you were infected with measles?

Whilst we can guess how we might feel in any situation, we are often poor at getting it right. In predicting our emotions we often over-estimate, particularly for traumatic events. We may also hopefully underestimate how we will free.

Professor Daniel Gilbert and his colleagues did a number of experiments around this with students that included getting them to share dating experiences and sharing personality data in story formats.

What they discovered was that how others feel about something is often more accurate a prediction than how we think we will feel about it ourselves. A reason for this is where we think we are unique and quite different from others and so take a polar position. This can be seen in conversations where we take exaggerated positions and stretch the truth to make ourselves more special. The reality is that we are more like others than we think.

D.T. Gilbert, M.A. Killingsworth, & R.N. Eyre (2009). The Surprising Power of Neighborly Advice. Science, 323, 1617-1619

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