July 17, 2024   3:14am

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Did you know there’s a “false consensus effect”?

All these political goings on made me remember an interesting phenomenon reported on earlier this year*. It’s called the “false consensus effect” and it’s based on a paper from The Journal of Consumer Research.

The study explores the often incorrect assumption people make that others share their opinions. It seems there are degrees to this …

This was determined in one study by using ice cream sundaes. 113 College students were individually given a description of a sundae with a random assortment of toppings and flavors. Each student was then asked whether she liked her sundae and what percentage of other people she thought would like it, dislike it or would be indifferent to it.

If a student liked her sundae, she guessed on average that 56.1% of others would also like it and that 22.4% would disagree. In other words, she if she liked it, she thought others would share her opinion.

However, if the student disliked the sundae description she was given, she was more cautious. Then she assumed that only 45.7% would agree with her and 31.6% would disagree.

There was a related phenomenon that also came out of the study. It seems that people who like something are bad at listing its negative qualities, while people who don’t like something have an easier time imagining the positive view.

You can think about all this the next time you’re having a political argument with somebody.


The New York Times, Monday, February 18, 2008, “Can’t We All Just Agree to Agree?”, by Alex Mindlin, pg C3

You might also want to see: Journal of Consumer Research, June 2008 : “What’s not to like? Preference Asymmetry in the False Consensus Effect” .

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