a simple “hello” or a case of false consensus effect?

A few days ago, I introduced myself to a young man with whom I share workspace. Given that I have worked two days a week at the same place for nearly two months, and have been pretty much stone-faced out by dozens of the other (considerably younger) employees there, his acknowledgement of my presence with a nod and a smile each time he came on shift in the morning was a welcome relief. 

To keep everything hush-hush so that his reputation and career not be harmed, let’s give him a different name, like Taylor. (Hey, Taylor!) So as Taylor walked to his post at the pharmacy and smiled a greeting in my direction, I introduced myself by saying, “Hey, we see each other all the time—I’m Neal.”

If someone dislikes you long enough and hard enough, you will come to dislike him in the same manner.

He enthusiastically shook my hand and said, “I’m Taylor, and it’s always good to meet someone new!”

And I did not add the emphasis there (as I just did here)—it was in his inflection.

And I remarked that it told me a lot about him that he believed that to be so and we found ourselves in a brief conversation about what I call positive projection: seeing positive facets of oneself in others. (It is the opposite of psychological projection, the projection of one’s negative qualities onto others.)


While researchers from Freud through today’s psychiatrists and psychologists have spent entire careers on the latter, few seem interested in the former.

•   Type “negative psychological projection” into Google and you will find more than 3,000,000 results.

•   Type in “positive psychological projection” and you will also find more than 3,000,000 results—except that they are essentially the same 3,000,000 sites concerning themselves with the former; the latter is included in the content only peripherally.

So, psychological projection as a negative experience is common and commonly understood. But the projection of one’s positive personality aspects onto (into?) another is not so commonly understood, or at least discussed.

Not being a psychiatrist or psychologist, I realize that I am grasping for terms to explain myself here, because obviously what I am talking about is technically not projection (or transference) as it is usually meant in those fields . . .

So, how often does your husband beat you up?

I have long noticed that when a reasonably happy person meets a new person, he/she simply and automatically assumes and acts as though the new person is also reasonably happy. Likewise miserable human beings. 

About twenty years ago, I was utterly enamored of a woman (who I will call Stevie because I have long forgotten her name and Stevie most certainly was NOT her name) who managed a store in the mall across the street from my apartment.

She was, to me, to die for: medium height with a lean but shapely build. Almost-black hair and eyes almost as dark. Very pretty with a mouth to disturb my dreams, day and night. Think Parker Posey when she’s not too thin for a given role:

As one of the other the mall managers and I were quite friendly, I asked her to introduce me to Stevie. She was appalled that I was attracted to her. I was astounded that she’d think that I wouldn’t be! (I was not the only male in that neck of the woods with his eyes on her.)

So I asked why.

She told me of a conversation among four women, all managers of a store in the mall. The topic was . . . men. When it was Stevie’s turn to talk, the other women were taken aback when she asked one of them, “So, how often does your husband beat you up?”

Despite the fact that each of the other three women—two long married and one single but “going steady” (never hear that term used anymore)—assured her that they had never been beat up by any man let alone their husbands, she didn’t believe them.

People project their own attitudes and beliefs onto others.

What she did believe was that all men beat up all women and that everyone lied about it all the time. Nothing anyone said would ever convince her otherwise. She didn’t understand that this told the other women more about her—she was either attracted to abusive men or brought the latent abuse out of otherwise non-abusive men—than it did about men.

Either way, my dreams ceased to be focused on her mouth and her thighs. (Did I mention her thighs? They were a part of her incredible legs. She had two of them, one on each side.) That is, I no longer felt any attraction toward this incredibly attractive woman!

I always understood this to be a form of projection: that is, she projected her experiences onto all the other women that she meant, assumed them to be so, and doubted the veracity of any woman of denied them. Again, apparently projection is not the term that I want here either.

People do project positive attitudes onto others!

I thought that ‘positive projection’ was a ‘real’ psychological concept. But the use of the term projection is understood to be primarily negative. I was at a loss for the correct term and really did not want to spend hours bopping around the Internet looking for I-know-not-what. So I turned to my loyal retainer Michael and queried him. 

Actually, Michael was my batman in our previous lives when I flew Camels for the RFC. Despite being deprived of the comic book experience in this lifetime’s childhood, he nonetheless thinks of himself as ‘my Alfred.’ Too many movies, y’see. He alerted me to the false-consensus effect, which I duly looked up:

“In psychology, the false-consensus effect is a cognitive bias whereby a person tends to overestimate the extent to which their beliefs or opinions are typical of those of others. There is a tendency for people to assume that their own opinions, beliefs, preferences, values, and habits are ‘normal’ and that others also think the same way that they do.This cognitive bias tends to lead to the perception of a consensus that does not exist, a ‘false consensus.’ (Wikipedia)

That definition certainly works for me in this instance, so I don’t need to dig any deeper to make my statements above understood. I will, however, point out that later on the Wiki page it states that projection is also understood to be “the idea that people project their own attitudes and beliefs onto others.” That applies to both negative and positive attitudes and beliefs and fits my previous understanding to the proverbial ‘t’.


Here I have to call the research and the writing quits here, as I volunteered to be an experimentee for Michael: he has been working on a new vaccine to cure ‘liberalism.’ Of course it is free of all mercury, egg protein, mad cow brain extract (popular for the past two decades as a panacea in some alarming circles in the DC area, especially among ‘fellows’ of such cults as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute), and green monkey jizzum. Wish me well! (If only in finding out if it’s a simple “hello” or a case of false consensus effect!)

I will close with a witticism. As much as I would like to attribute this quip to Mark Twain (my personal mentor in the same previous life in which Michael was my batman), it can’t be so. I must take credit for the coining of it . . .

“If someone dislikes you long enough and hard enough, you will come to dislike him in the same manner.”

Unless, of course, you’re Jesus.

Or Buddha . . .


4 thoughts on “a simple “hello” or a case of false consensus effect?

  1. It’s always been good to read your postings! You’re literally my hero.

    How do you like me now?

    BBnPB in CC OH ferAwhile

    Uh, but why doya call them RancidNations?

    1. BB Um, I thought I first became your “hero” at the Castro Valley Boys Club when you heard my exploits of the previous weekend at the Capitol parking lot swap where I confronted six punks who were terrorizing the ever-passive wheeler-dealers and threw them off the lot! Please please me and tell me that I haven’t been living with this illusion as a fact all these years!!! Bestfully, NU (PS: “CC”?)

  2. One of my former bosses told me that when he visited another company he kept track of how regular employees engaged him facially noting their eye contact and whether or not they had a smile. He believed that you could gain insight into how well a company was run and how engaged the workforce was via such encounters.

  3. BILL Bet your former boss paid attention to a lot of other details in consensual reality that most people remain oblivious of! There are certainly some (many?) friendly employees where I work but the overall impression is nearer to dourness than to the type of attitude one would expect from employees in a no-real-skills-required job who make more than $20 an hour with benefits in post-Reagan America. O well and hum hum. NEAL

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