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false consensus and pluralistic ignorance

from Everyone agrees with us on climate change—especially when we’re wrong by John Timmer:

The authors of the study have found evidence that two well-known behaviors—the “false consensus” and “pluralistic ignorance”—are helping to shape public opinion in Australia.

False consensus is the tendency of people to think that everyone else shares their opinions. This can arise from the fact that we tend to socialize with people who share our opinions, but the authors note that the effect is even stronger “when we hold opinions or beliefs that are unpopular, unpalatable, or that we are uncertain about.” In other words, our social habits tend to reinforce the belief that we’re part of a majority, and we have a tendency to cling to the sense that we’re not alone in our beliefs.

Pluralistic ignorance is similar, but it’s not focused on our own beliefs. Instead, sometimes the majority of people come to believe that most people think a certain way, even though the majority opinion actually resides elsewhere.

The false consensus effect became obvious when the researchers looked at what these people thought that everyone else believed. Here, the false consensus effect was obvious: every single group believed that their opinion represented the plurality view of the population.

In the end, the false consensus effect is swamped by this pluralistic ignorance. Even though everybody tends to think their own position is the plurality, those who accept climate change is real still underestimate how many people share their views. Meanwhile, everyone overestimates the self-labelled “skeptic” population.

The authors suggest that this could, in part, be a result of the media’s tendency to always offer two opposing opinions, even on issues where one is a fringe belief. They also point out that it would be good to perform a similar study in other nations where the dynamics of public belief are different.

hat tip to Technoccult for this one!

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