Friday, November 11, 2005


Discover Magazine’s December issue (not yet up on the web) includes a social psychology article referring to the work of Lee Ross and others at Stanford on the “False Consensus Effect” - the tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.

Maybe I’m not as affected by this as most people are. I’m pretty sure most people disagree with me about a lot of things. That makes me rather more determined to change their minds. While I admire some people who boldly express extreme positions, I find I have more success influencing people when I start from a place where we share some common belief – however close to the edge that place may be.

Many bloggers are shrilly preaching to their own choirs. This may rally support among those who already agree, but it doesn’t change minds. Granted there’s no reasoning with some people (i.e. Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh) but most of us can be open minded if our own positions are respected and the people speaking are offering objective information.

The False Consensus Effect may have lulled Democrats into complacency in the recent past. It’s important to listen to people, to question them, to discover their opinions and the rationale underlying those opinions.

Changing Minds has a common sense, if cynical, take on false consensus: “Build rapport by assuming their behavior, attitudes and beliefs. Other people are very often taken in by such false empathy as they see it as normal that you are like them.” Take a look at this site for more ideas about creating change.

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