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The illusion of asymmetric insight

January 26, 2012

You Are Not So Smart has a fascinating article on groups and how we perceive others:

The illusion of asymmetric insight makes it seem as though you know everyone else far better than they know you, and not only that, but you know them better than they know themselves. You believe the same thing about groups of which you are a member. As a whole, your group understands outsiders better than outsiders understand your group, and you understand the group better than its members know the group to which they belong.

The researchers explained this is how one eventually arrives at the illusion of naive realism, or believing your thoughts and perceptions are true, accurate and correct, therefore if someone sees things differently than you or disagrees with you in some way it is the result of a bias or an influence or a shortcoming. You feel like the other person must have been tainted in some way, otherwise they would see the world the way you do – the right way. The illusion of asymmetrical insight clouds your ability to see the people you disagree with as nuanced and complex. You tend to see your self and the groups you belong to in shades of gray, but others and their groups as solid and defined primary colors lacking nuance or complexity.

It is in out nature to form groups. As such we need to be aware of the dynamics and identities brought out by groups and how they affect how we view those inside the groups we belong to and those outside our groups. There will always be an Us and Them. That is just how groups work. Being aware of asymmetric insight helps us to better understand both ourselves and others. It also helps if we can step back and empathize with those different from us, allowing us to understand and see how they perceive both us and the world around them.

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