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:


Parker Posey talks ‘Price Check’ at Sun­dance 2012


Appalled that I was attracted to her

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.

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 …


Notify of
Rate this article:
Please rate this article with your comment.
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

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?

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.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x