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.)

Negative projection

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 . . .

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.

Projecting positive attitudes

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’.

Green monkey jizzum

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.

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 Replies to “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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