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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fun with fallacies: false consensus effect

On a recent episode of This American Life, famous person John Hodgman stated that he has spent the last several years posing a simple question to people he meets: flight or invisibility? If you could choose between the two, which would you pick? If you picked invisibility, you can disappear at will, though you can't turn other stuff invisible. If you pick flight, you can fly.
Hodgman invited several folks to share their choice on the air. One of these guests gave the following great example of the false consensus effect:
First of all, I think that a lot of people are going to tell you that they would choose flight, and I think they're lying to you. I think they're saying that because they're trying to sound all mythic and heroic...
 But I think actually... they all want to be invisible so that they can shoplift, get into movies for free, go to exotic places on airplanes without paying for airline tickets, and watch celebrities have sex.
The false consensus effect is a cognitive bias that leads people to assume that the majority of people share your beliefs and those who don't are defective. This lady figures that because she has no better use for a superpower than petty theft, everyone, given the chance, would use their power to avoid spending $10 on a movie.
The false consensus effect is what makes your uncle George to keep sending you OMG OBAMA IS MUSLIM ANTICRIST AND WANTS TO ENSLAVE WHITE PEOPLE!!!1!! emails.
The false consensus effect is why that guy in the bar that you just met thinks it's okay to tell you that alarmingly racist joke.

Side-note: This one time I'm in line at McDonald's and the guy behind me starts bitching to me about how slow they are and how it's because they have too many women working. Uh... did you really think I'd be with you on this, buddy? 

Another perfect illustration of the false consensus effect: on another episode of This American Life, they ran an interview in which the interviewee was chomping on mother freaking potato chips the entire interview. I literally threw my headphones and was livid. I immediately started composing an enraged letter about what horrible monsters these people were. I was projecting my own visceral hatred of chewing noises and concluding that anyone who would think it was okay to broadcast chewing must be a horrible person.
But seriously, who freaking doesn't tell the interview subject to put down the damn chips for five minutes? Savages.


jenny_o said...

But chewing noises ARE horrible! How could anyone disagree with that? :)

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Communists, that's who.