Originally published on Advisor Perspectives
My wife and I don’t argue much, but there’s one thing upon which we often disagree. She cranks the air conditioning up in our condo to a level I find uncomfortably cold. It’s obvious that my preferred temperature is the “right” one and hers isn’t. Why can’t she see that?
I have a lot of other opinions. I have strong views about politics. I know which cable news channel provides objective coverage and those that are obviously biased. In general, my perception of the world is accurate, unfettered by bias (conscious or otherwise).
There just one problem. It’s a big one. Others hold different opinions and believe they are unbiased.
Can we both be “right?”
We all suffer from naïve realism.
The impact of bias
Comedian Georg Carlin famously observed, “Anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster than you is a maniac.” This sage comment illustrates a concept known as “naïve realism.”
Our take on reality is just a perception we believe is accurate. Both my wife and I believe our preferred temperature is the “right” one. In the current political climate, fervent supporters of President Trump and his detractors are absolutely convinced their views are correct and they can’t understand how anyone can hold a contrary opinion.
Numerous studies, summarized in The Wisest One in the Room, by Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross, indicate the pervasiveness of naïve bias.
In one remarkable study, participants were shown a video of a political demonstration. Half the participants were told it showed demonstrators protesting abortion outside an abortion clinic. The other half were told the demonstrators were protesting the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy outside a recruitment center.
All participants had filled out questionnaires providing insight into their views on these subjects.
Those views dramatically affected their perception of what the protestors were doing. The majority of those who were pro-choice believed the protestors were blocking access to the clinic. Only one-quarter of those who were pro-life shared this perception.
Similar results were found in those who were told the video was taken in front of a military recruitment center. Their pre-existing political views significantly impacted their perception of the conduct of the protestors.
Ramifications of naïve realism
We like to think rational discourse is the key to agreement. But this premise ignores the influence of naïve realism
Since we perceive the world through a prism of our biases, efforts to persuade others that our opinion on a given subject is the “right” one ignores their perception of the same issue, which is influenced by their biases. As summarized by Gilovich and Ross, we must recognize that our view of the world is just that – a view that has been shaped by our own vantage point, history, and idiosyncratic knowledge.
You can save a lot of time, effort and frustration by accepting this reality.
I still think my wife is wrong about the temperature in our condo.