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The False Consensus Effect

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Research Demonstration: The False Consensus Effect

In science, we emphasize systematic, careful observation as a key to

overcoming the limits of other methods of acquiring knowledge. That is, we

trust systematic observation more than we trust our own intuition. We can

actually investigate this issue. The following description provides you with

the details necessary to conduct a simple study to investigate the accuracy of

human intuitions.

We often believe that others are more like ourselves than they really are. Thus, our

predictions about others' beliefs or behaviors, based on casual observation, are very likely

to err in the direction of our own beliefs or behavior. For example, college students who

preferred brown bread estimated that over 50% of all other college students preferred

brown bread, while white-bread eaters estimated more accurately that 37% showed brown

bread preference (Ross, Greene, & House, 1977). This is known as the false consensus

effect (Ross et al., 1977; Mullen, Atkins, Champion, Edwards, Hardy, Story, & Vanderlok,

1985). The false consensus effect provides the basis for the following demonstration, which

emphasizes the need for systematic rather than casual observation.

You can use the set of six questions, below, to investigate this. Before describing the false

consensus effect, have friends, roommates or classmates (other classes, not PSY250)

answer the questions listed below. Next, have students predict the UB undergraduate

mean for each question. Keep a record of the responses for each person who participates.

According to the false consensus effect, students' predictions about the UB mean should be

influenced by their own positions. Consequently, a student whose position is below the UB

mean is likely to make a prediction that will be below the UB mean as well.

There are ethical constraints on the use of human participants that you must follow if you

wish to try this with people.

1. Do not collect any identifying information on your participants. The answers to

these questions should be anonymous. Even though you may know the person, do NOT

record any identifying information.

2. When you ask someone to participate, explain the basic nature of the study. You

want to ask people how often they do certain things, like laundry, and how often they think

other UB undergrads do these same things. You are doing this as part of a class on learning

the scientific method. If they participate, they will be asked to answer six questions about

themselves and other UB undergraduates. They can choose not to answer any question.

Tell your prospective participant that all answers are anonymous and no information

identifying them is being recorded.

3. If they indicate that they



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