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The Spotlight Effect in Social Judgment: An Egocentric Bias in Estimates of the Salience of One's Own Actions and Appearance

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Abstract

This research provides evidence that people overestimate the extent to which their actions and appearance are noted by others, a phenomenon dubbed the spotlight effect. In Studies 1 and 2, participants who were asked to don a T-shirt depicting either a flattering or potentially embarrassing image overestimated the number of observers who would be able to recall what was pictured on the shirt. In Study 3, participants in a group discussion overestimated how prominent their positive and negative utterances were to their fellow discussants. Studies 4 and 5 provide evidence supporting an anchoring-and-adjustment interpretation of the spotlight effect. In particular, people appear to anchor on their own rich phenomenological experience and then adjust--insufficiently--to take into account the perspective of others. The discussion focuses on the manifestations and implications of the spotlight effect across a host of everyday social phenomena.
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... This idea is conceptually similar to the anchoring and adjustment heuristic proposed by Tversky and Kahneman, (1974), which posits that, when uncertain, people make decisions/responses using an initial estimation, an anchor that they then adjust to correct for errors. Interestingly, these anchors are often based on egocentric representations (Epley et al., 2004;Gilovich et al., 2000;Keysar et al., 2000). For example, people often use their own experience as an anchor when estimating how their actions affect others (Gilovich et al., 2000) and when making judgements about how others perceive ambiguous stimuli (Epley et al., 2004). ...
... Interestingly, these anchors are often based on egocentric representations (Epley et al., 2004;Gilovich et al., 2000;Keysar et al., 2000). For example, people often use their own experience as an anchor when estimating how their actions affect others (Gilovich et al., 2000) and when making judgements about how others perceive ambiguous stimuli (Epley et al., 2004). In the current task, participants may have used the original egocentric relation of self to the object as an anchor, which would result in dragging the object with them following a perspective shift. ...
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In the current study, we investigated whether the introduction of perspective shifts in a spatial memory task results in systematic biases in object location estimations. To do so, we asked participants to first encode the position of an object in a virtual room and then to report its position from memory or perception following a perspective shift. Overall, our results showed that participants made systematic errors in estimating object positions in the same direction as the perspective shift. Notably, this bias was present in both memory and perception conditions. We propose that the observed systematic bias was driven by difficulties in understanding the perspective shifts that led participants to use an egocentric representation of object positions as an anchor when estimating the object location following a perspective shift.
... Especially when our decisions and our behavior are publicly perceptible to others, we are inclined to adapt to others [4]. According to Gilovich, this phenomenon is called the "spotlight effect" [26] (p. 212). ...
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This research answers the question of which nudges can be created to subtly influence event attendees in such a way that they contribute to the implementation of a green event. Using the qualitative content analysis according to Mayring, three music festivals were analyzed in detail with regard to their measures for ecological sustainability. All available online resources—in particular, the websites of the music festivals, blog entries, online newspaper articles and, also, observations during several personal visits—were used as sources of the qualitative data. A key result was the development of a model for nudges that can generally be used and implemented for events. The goals, the nudges developed and the possible measures with regard to ecological sustainability are defined in the areas of transport, garbage, electricity, gastronomy, sanitation and compensation of emissions. The more music festival participants already behave in an ecologically sustainable manner, the more others will join them. This can be exploited by using social nudges that consciously inspire group social dynamics. In order to be able to use nudging sensibly, organizers have to internalize that they act as decision-makers, which entails a great ethical and moral responsibility. Even inconspicuous nudges can be very effective.
... It is possible that the group-based format of the CopE-Well program assisted ESB participants experiencing depressive issues by providing them a sense of community and companionship (Fisher et al., 2015;Hagerty & Williams, 1999). In contrast, participants experiencing PTSD or anxiety related symptoms might have found the group environment challenging and uncomfortable, meaning it was harder for them to trust others in the group or speak honestly about their feelings (Gilovich et al., 2000). ...
... Their research showed an egocentric bias in estimating remembered contributions to performance on a group task. This bias has been demonstrated in other social contexts using similar designs (e.g., Epley & Caruso, 2004;Schroeder, Caruso, & Epley, 2016;Tanaka, 1993), and in a variety of other domains (e.g., Gilovich, Medvec, & Savitsky, 2000;Ross, Greene, & House, 1977). Egocentric bias is also one of the "seven sins of memory" (Schacter, 2002). ...
... Some products facilitate online conversations, but for the consumer-packaged goods we study, most product-related conversations occur when the product is publicly visible (Berger and Schwartz, 2011). People think the products they bring into a social situation will be noticed (Gilovich et al., 2000) and indeed when a product is used in public, other people sometimes mention it (Wiener et al., 2015). As consumers want to avoid conversational lapses (McCroskey, 1984), we propose that when purchasing products to use in social situations, they will pay a premium for products they think will facilitate conversation. ...
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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to introduce a new strategic marketing tool: a peripheral product anecdote (PPA), or a brief, interesting story that is loosely connected to a product but not connected to its history, quality or usage. A PPA is contrasted with similar tools, such as product/brand heritage claims. This study investigates when PPAs are most effective at increasing willingness to pay. Design/methodology/approach Five experiments examine the effect of different PPAs on willingness to pay. This study examines product-use situation as a moderator (Studies 3 and 4) and conversational value as a mediator (Studies 2 and 4). Findings Customers will pay a premium for products with PPAs, but only when they intend to use the products in social situations where they could share the anecdote with others. Mediation analyses reveal these anecdotes are valuable because they provide purchasers with a conversation topic (a source of social currency). Practical implications In contrast to brand heritage stories, nearly any firm can associate a PPA with their product. These anecdotes are a low-cost way for firms to increase willingness to pay for products. PPAs are innovative and varied, unlike brand heritage stories which tend to be static. Originality/value This paper shows that customers sometimes want packaged goods, such as beer and snacks, to help them have conversations and will pay more for products that do so. It introduces the PPA as one way marketers can help customers achieve this goal of conversation.
... The most obvious contribution is to the small and growing literature that has already begun to explore how people estimate (and misestimate) thought frequency. For example, consider the "spotlight effect"-the finding that when asked to put on an embarrassing t-shirt and walk into a room full of people, participants overestimate how much others notice their shirt (Gilovich et al., 2000. This work is often interpreted as showing that people tend to think others' attention is on them even when it is not. ...
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After conversations, people continue to think about their conversation partners. They remember their stories, revisit their advice, and replay their criticisms. But do people realize that their conversation partners are doing the same? In eight studies, we explored the possibility that people would systematically underestimate how much their conversation partners think about them following interactions. We found evidence for this thought gap in a variety of contexts, including field conversations in a dining hall (Study 1), “getting acquainted” conversations in the lab (Study 2), intimate conversations among friends (Study 3), and arguments between romantic partners (Study 4). Several additional studies investigated a possible explanation for the thought gap: the asymmetric availability of one’s own thoughts compared with others' thoughts. Accordingly, the thought gap increased when conversations became more salient (Study 4) and as people’s thoughts had more time to accumulate after a conversation (Study 6); conversely, the thought gap decreased when people were prompted to reflect on their conversation partners’ thoughts (Study 5). Consistent with our proposed mechanism, we also found that the thought gap was moderated by trait rumination, or the extent to which people’s thoughts come easily and repetitively to mind (Study 7). In a final study, we explored the consequences of the thought gap by comparing the effects of thought frequency to thought valence on the likelihood of reconciliation after an argument (Study 8). Collectively, these studies demonstrate that people remain on their conversation partners’ minds more than they know.
... Instructors avoided touch because they did not want to injure an exerciser with the wrong type of physical touch or emotionally harm the exerciser (Öhman & Quennerstedt, 2017). Instructors also wanted to avoid the spotlight effect (Gilovich et al., 2000), thus drawing attention to the exerciser, potentially causing them embarrassment, which might lead to negative associations with exercise, thereby undermining exercisers' intentions to return to the physical activity. ...
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... However, there is a lack of research examining identity development (and work) among genderdiverse adolescents, despite the fact that adolescence is a time when individuals may be not only developing their identities, but also experiencing a heightened 'spotlight effect' (Gilovich et al., 2000). Indeed, attending secondary school may, for many adolescents, mean "daily attendance at a school where binary gender and other norms are fiercely policed" (Roen, 2019, p. 52). ...
Thesis
Individuals who are trans and/or non-binary (TNB) – especially those in the life stages of adolescence and parenthood – occupy a marginalised social position and are often the focus of political and public debate. Each of these life stages involves interactions between individuals and institutions: adolescents must attend school daily, and parents must engage with institutions both on the journey to parenthood (e.g. fertility, pregnancy and adoption services) and after becoming a parent (e.g. play groups, nursery and their child(ren)’s school). These experiences are therefore worthy of study from sociological and social psychological perspectives, but such research is limited. This thesis aims to address these gaps by qualitatively exploring the experiences and identities of TNB individuals during adolescence and parenthood. Underpinned by the theoretical framework of structural symbolic interactionism, it is composed of two studies; one that examines the experiences of gender-diverse adolescents (Study 1), and the other that focuses on the experiences of trans and/or non-binary parents (Study 2). The thesis aims to increase understanding of the experiences of adolescents and parents, to explore the way in which inequalities are manifested at individual, interactional and institutional levels for TNB individuals at these two life stages, and to develop recommendations for policy and practice. Study 1 examines the school experiences and identity processes of gender-diverse adolescents (i.e. adolescents whose gender identity does not correspond with the sex category they were assigned at birth), examining the experiences of binary-trans, non-binary and gender-questioning adolescents separately. The data come from a large survey of LGBTQ + young people’s social experiences within the UK. A subsample of 74 adolescents’ (25 binary-trans, 25 non-binary, and 24 gender-questioning) open-ended responses were selected for reflexive thematic analysis. The findings demonstrate gender-diverse adolescents experience discrimination at school from a number of sources, and that a range of strategies, including disclosure negotiation, cognitive structuring and proactive protection, are used to navigate this environment. The findings shed light on the school experiences of gender-diverse adolescents, and suggest that the British school system is not fit for purpose with regards to the educational experiences of non-binary and gender-questioning adolescents. Study 2 explores the experiences of trans and/or non-binary parents in the UK within different parenting spaces, both during and after the transition to parenthood, using an intersectional framework. This study is based upon interviews with 13 TNB parents, and interview data were analysed according to the principles of reflexive thematic analysis. Three main themes were identified, reflecting participants’ experiences within the ‘highly normative world’ of parenting, and the strategies of ‘being a pragmatic parent’ and ‘being a pioneering parent’ used to navigate this. The findings suggest that parenting spaces are not inclusive of TNB identities, and that this is particularly impactful when individuals are being judged on their suitability as parents (e.g. in encounters with fertility clinics and adoption services). The findings of this study increase understanding of the way in which navigation strategies are related to parents’ multiple identities, highlighting the usefulness of an intersectional approach for research on this topic. The findings also have a number of practical implications for increasing the inclusivity of parenting spaces. Taken together, Study 1 and Study 2 make a unique contribution to scholarly understanding of the experiences and identities of TNB individuals within the UK. Theoretically, the thesis points to the usefulness of structural symbolic interactionism as a framework for exploring TNB experiences, and the findings illustrate that extant theoretical frameworks do not adequately attend to the experiences of TNB individuals. There are a number of theoretical, practical and empirical gains from this thesis. Theoretically, several extensions are suggested, for instance, to interactionist theorisations of gender and social psychological conceptualisations of resistance. Practically, implications relate to the need for schools and parenting spaces to assume gender diversity. Empirically, this thesis adds to our understanding of the creative ways in which TNB individuals navigate a normative social world.
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Across five studies (N = 4151), we investigate a novel barrier that prevents people from making personally beneficial requests: the overestimation of self-presentation costs. Even when deadlines are easily adjustable, people are less likely to request an extension and submit lower quality work when perceived self-presentation costs are higher—such as when the request is visible to a supervisor (Study 1a). Specifically, people are less likely to request an extension when they are concerned with appearing incompetent (Study 2). Yet, other people do not negatively respond to deadline extension requests (Study 1b). Attesting to the importance of self-presentation concerns in shaping extension request behaviors, formal policies that reduce self-presentation concerns increase requests in both online (Study 3) and in-person (Study 4) settings. These findings highlight a novel psychological barrier that prevents people from requesting resources that could increase their performance and more effectively manage their deadlines.
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The thoughts that come to mind when viewing a face depend partly on the face and partly on the viewer. This basic interaction raises the question of how much common ground there is in face-evoked thoughts, and how this compares to viewers' expectations. Previous analyses have focused on early perceptual stages of face processing. Here we take a more expansive approach that encompasses later associative stages. In Experiment 1 (free association), participants exhibited strong egocentric bias, greatly overestimating the extent to which other people's thoughts resembled their own. In Experiment 2, we show that viewers' familiarity with a face can be decoded from their face-evoked thoughts. In Experiment 3 (person association), participants reported who came to mind when viewing a face—a task that emphasises connections in a social network rather than nodes. Here again, viewers' estimates of common ground exceeded actual common ground by a large margin. We assume that a face elicits much the same thoughts in other people as it does in us, but that is a mistake. In this respect, we are more isolated than we think.
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Evidence is reviewed which suggests that there may be little or no direct introspective access to higher order cognitive processes. Subjects are sometimes (a) unaware of the existence of a stimulus that importantly influenced a response, (b) unaware of the existence of the response, and (c) unaware that the stimulus has affected the response. It is proposed that when people attempt to report on their cognitive processes, that is, on the processes mediating the effects of a stimulus on a response, they do not do so on the basis of any true introspection. Instead, their reports are based on a priori, implicit causal theories, or judgments about the extent to which a particular stimulus is a plausible cause of a given response. This suggests that though people may not be able to observe directly their cognitive processes, they will sometimes be able to report accurately about them. Accurate reports will occur when influential stimuli are salient and are plausible causes of the responses they produce, and will not occur when stimuli are not salient or are not plausible causes.
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Many decisions are based on beliefs concerning the likelihood of uncertain events such as the outcome of an election, the guilt of a defendant, or the future value of the dollar. Occasionally, beliefs concerning uncertain events are expressed in numerical form as odds or subjective probabilities. In general, the heuristics are quite useful, but sometimes they lead to severe and systematic errors. The subjective assessment of probability resembles the subjective assessment of physical quantities such as distance or size. These judgments are all based on data of limited validity, which are processed according to heuristic rules. However, the reliance on this rule leads to systematic errors in the estimation of distance. This chapter describes three heuristics that are employed in making judgments under uncertainty. The first is representativeness, which is usually employed when people are asked to judge the probability that an object or event belongs to a class or event. The second is the availability of instances or scenarios, which is often employed when people are asked to assess the frequency of a class or the plausibility of a particular development, and the third is adjustment from an anchor, which is usually employed in numerical prediction when a relevant value is available.
Chapter
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