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How Well do You Really Know Your Acquaintances? The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight

April 16th, 2017 1 comment

Have you ever found yourself questioning the decisions of those around you, perhaps as if you had better insight into the thoughts and emotions of a person than they did themselves? Or do you ever catch yourself making internal judgments towards others in a way that pushes aside the legitimacy of one’s own self-understanding? “Why is she doing that? She should know herself better!” These are behaviors that can be understood through a phenomenon commonly referred to as the illusion of asymmetrical insight, a cognitive bias that describes our tendency to think we understand other people better than they understand themselves and us. To put it into other words, Kathy (person #1) would be experiencing the illusion of asymmetric insight if she thinks she knows Kathy (herself) better than Jake (person #2) knows Jake (himself) or Kathy (person #1).

The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight in Action

This bias can be seen in individuals throughout varying contexts, and is also very common among social, political, and religious groups. Multiple studies have explored the manifestations of the illusion of asymmetric insight, many of which attribute the bias to reasons outside our level of consciousness. In other words, we do not have full awareness of when this phenomenon is occurring due to the fact that it is an automatic processes (a process that is quick, easy, requires little cognitive resources, and has the ability to occur without full attention, as opposed to controlled processes, which are slow, difficult, and require cognitive resources and full attention).

So why do we experience this phenomenon so frequently without even realizing it?

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