Post No.: 0338
Pluralistic ignorance was very briefly mentioned back in Post No.: 0237 as one of the reasons why the ‘bystander effect’ sometimes occurs when people are in crowd situations.
‘Pluralistic ignorance’ can be contrasted with the ‘false consensus effect’. Pluralistic ignorance is when we mistakenly think that no one else is thinking the same thing as us when in fact many other people are, such as our great and clever ‘original’ ideas or thinking that our levels of fairness are ‘exceptional’ compared to others – usually good or desirable traits or thoughts; although not always, such as when assuming that we’re the only one who doesn’t understand something being taught in a class so we don’t stick our own paws up to ask questions in case we’re singled out for appearing uniquely thick. Meanwhile, the false consensus effect is when we mistakenly think that everyone else is thinking the same thing as us when in fact many other people aren’t, such as that everyone is cheating, secretly plotting against each other or holding the same stereotypes and prejudices against other groups – usually bad or undesirable traits or thoughts; although sometimes good or neutral ones too.
The false consensus effect tends to be overall more prevalent than pluralistic ignorance – if we for instance find something easy or difficult, we expect others to find it easy or difficult too. Unless we discover evidence of the contrary, we tend to assume that everyone perceives, thinks and believes in the same things as us. And if someone else holds a different view to us, we wonder what made them respond the way they did, rather than wonder what made us respond the way we did i.e. we always biasedly assume that we have the correct way of seeing things thus any difference in view must be down to an error on the other person’s part! If we hold contrary views with someone else, it’s seldom ever, “I’m wrong and stupid for holding my views” but far more typically, “You’re wrong and stupid for holding your views”! Hence why opposing political groups frequently get nowhere, remain in an impasse and learn nothing because they entrench deeper within their current existing beliefs. Woof!
The bias of assuming ‘we’re all thinking the same things’ can give rise to what appears like ‘projection’, where someone defends their ego by denying or diminishing the existence of their own unconscious impulses or traits (either bad or good) whilst attributing them to other people. For instance, this happens when someone assumes that ‘everyone flirts with everyone who’s pretty, don’t they?’, or bullying someone for being an ethnic minority member when one feels insecure about being an ethnic minority member of another ethnicity, or displacing the blame from oneself as the perpetrator of a wrongful act by blaming the victim. This is where our judgements about others speak more about ourselves.
With pluralistic ignorance, everyone may keep quiet about their (assumed) disagreements with the rest of their group for the fear of being ostracised by this group – for instance, keeping private one’s opinion that jazz music is boring just in case the rest of one’s group disagrees and one will be judged as being ‘unsophisticated’ for it. This lack of publicly-voiced opposition then helps perpetuate a norm that may in fact be disliked by the majority of the group. So in the above example, most of that group may actually think that jazz music is boring too, but since everyone has kept quiet for assuming that the majority of this group wants to listen to jazz music, jazz music gets played in the room and everyone puts up with it! Not nice.
We therefore need to, with tact, speak out and say how we feel even if we think other people might disagree with us because we may find out that others actually do agree with us. (And therefore if you privately like someone then don’t automatically assume that this person won’t like you too – tell them!) Similarly with false consensus, we need to expressly check with others that we’re thinking the exact same things because our assumptions may again be wrong.
Children who are bystanders in a playground bullying situation may not intervene for thinking that they’ll be outnumbered by those who support the bullies – but actually if just one bystander bravely spoke out and intervened, they’d likely realise that many more in the crowd feel the same way as them (that the bullying should stop). So when a child witnesses someone being taunted and tormented, they might not stand up for the victim for thinking that they’re holding the lonely view that it’s not acceptable, when actually they could be holding a view held by many others in the (passive) crowd too, if only everyone, or at least someone, courageously spoke out to help the victim. Indeed, if they are found to be alone, it could be costly to stand up to the bullies, hence the adopted strategy of those amongst the crowd of bystanders might be to not draw attention onto themselves, as they would do if they tried to stand up to the bullies and those who support them. But chances are, if the crowd is large and diverse, there’ll be others who’d also rather see the bullying stop than be goaded on.
A child of course must not endanger him/herself though – if a situation is dangerous then a child should immediately report the incident to an adult. If it’s relatively safe and a child decides to intervene, the child should try to do so with others in a group – maybe this can be prearranged with a pact made between friends if they ever see anyone (whether a friend or not) get bullied? Something like this could combat the possible pluralistic ignorance that might arise during the heat of a present bullying incident. They should speak out against the bully or bullies to stop, speak in support for the bullied and/or try to take the victim out of the situation, such as by walking with them to class and then comforting them afterwards. The victim may feel that he/she deserves to be bullied or nobody cares, so the victim needs to know that he/she doesn’t deserve it and others do care. Intervening doesn’t mean bullying someone back though.
In summary, we can sometimes wrongly assume that other people aren’t thinking the same things as us (pluralistic ignorance), or are thinking the same things as us (the false consensus effect). This is why it’s best not to make such assumptions and to speak out or seek firm evidence.