The Why #72: Why do people assume I agree with their ridiculous opinions?

By Dan Monheit 22nd September 2023

4 min readSep 21, 2023

Question submitted by Neil, Hawthorn

Ugh, you’re telling me Neil! Just this morning I got stuck listening to my Uber driver explain how the obvious solution to the current housing crisis is to turn all of the CBD’s underutilised office buildings into low cost luxury apartments. Also, our country is now apparently “full” and COVID was created by big pharma to sell more drugs. Yes, all of this in the one Uber ride and all delivered with unwavering confidence.

What’s the deal, Neil? Do you and I just have faces that scream ‘tell me your ideas because we’ll probably agree’? Or is it actually everybody else who’s seemingly lost the plot?

The False Consensus Effect

Also known as Consensus Bias, the False Consensus Effect refers to our tendency to assume that most people hold the same beliefs as we do, even though that may not be the reality.

In The 1970’s, Researcher Lee Ross and his colleagues undertook a series of studies to put the False Consensus Effect to the test. One study involved asking students at Stanford University to walk around campus for half an hour wearing a large sandwich board that read either “Eat at Joe’s” or “Repent,” counting the number of people who spoke with them while wearing the sign. To get participants on board this strange request, they were told that the data would become part of a study on ‘positive vs negative communication techniques’.

In reality, the researchers wanted to gauge the students’ willingness to become human billboards, and in turn, how likely they believed others would do the same. Ross and his colleagues observed something surprising; most students who agreed to partake believed that the majority of other students would too. On the other hand, those who refused were just as convinced that others would do the same. Put simply, most people believed that most other people would make the same choice that they did.

Like many biases, once you’re attuned to the False Consensus Effect, you start to see it everywhere (well at least I do, so you probably do too).

Oat milk devotees wondering aloud how anyone could drink coffee any other way.
Referendum voters of all persuasions.
Trump fans. Dan Andrews fans. Qantas fans. Golf fans.

For the marketers in the room, the False Consensus Effect reminds us that it’s tough to see the label when you’re inside the jar. The excitement we feel about the product, brand or recent innovation we’ve just spent months working on is unlikely to be matched by the humble consumer just going about their day. The same goes for new features we may consider vital and premiums we’d (hypothetically) be willing to pay. As is often the case, a little bit of empathy (and some early stage qual) could be the key that unlocks your next big campaign. Who knows, the world’s a big place filled with crazy people, some of whom may even have an opinion that’s different to yours.

Behaviourally Yours,

Dan Monheit

PS If you missed the last edition, you can still check out why we pay $18 for chutney at a Farmers Market here.

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