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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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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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... These positive illusions are often adaptive (Dufner et al., 2019), and as such, assuming others share those illusions might be a way for people to maintain their sense of identity and their psychological well-being. On the other hand, people might assume they are seen more negatively than they really are because they focus too much on their minor social blunders (Gilovich et al., 2000) or on cues that signal potential rejection more generally. Given that social acceptance is crucial (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), such negative expectations might be how people err on the side of caution so as not to miss signs of rejection and risk losses to their social value (Leary, 2005). ...
... In romantic relationships, for example, people tend to be cautious when inferring their partner s care for them, arguably because the cost of missing negative cues is high (Fletcher & Kerr, 2010). Similarly, during social interactions, people overestimate the salience of their social blunders (Gilovich et al., 2000) and how harshly others will judge them for those blunders (Savitsky et al., 2001). This tendency to assume that one s social shortcomings are more salient than they really are is believed to explain why people systematically underestimate how much people like them (Boothby et al., 2018). ...
... Likewise, one unpleasant interaction could elicit negative emotions that negatively bias their meta-perceptions for everyone in a group. That is, when forming a metareputation (e.g., Morgan s guess about the group perception of them), people might give too much weight to negative behaviors (e.g., one time they interrupted someone) because they assume that at least a couple people in the group noticed that behavior and rated them poorly, an interpretation that is in line with the idea that people myopically focus on their social blunders (Boothby et al., 2018;Gilovich et al., 2000). That said, future work is needed to understand if and why meta-bias differs in a dyadic versus group context. ...
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Are people's metaperceptions, or their beliefs about how others perceive them, too positive, too negative, or spot on? Across six samples of new acquaintances (total N = 1,113) and/or well-known acquaintances (total N = 1,336), we indexed metabias (i.e., the mean-level difference between metaperceptions and impressions) on a broad range of attributes to test: (a) how biased people are on average, (b) whether bias is pervasive or limited to particular contexts (level of acquaintanceship) or attributes (e.g., liking judgments or traits), (c) whether bias is consistent across attributes, and (d) what explains bias. On average, participants demonstrated a negative metabias on most attributes for both new and well-known acquaintances, suggesting that people generally fail to appreciate how positively they are seen by others. However, there was variability around this average such that, whereas most participants were negatively biased (48%), many were accurate (34%), and some were positively biased (18%). Bias was also consistent across traits, suggesting that knowing people's metabias for one attribute offers some insight into their relative bias for other attributes. What explained metabias? Generally, people relied too much on their self-perceptions, which were more negative than the impressions they made, although bias for new acquaintances involved additional factors. That said, people understood that others saw them more positively than how they saw themselves, but they did not understand the extent of this positivity. These results offer a general framework for understanding metabias and add to the growing literature, demonstrating that people are not positively biased. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).
... This is why events perceived to be known by a larger audience tend to have a more pronounced effect on state self-esteem (Leary, 1999). Even when others give no clear indication that they approve or disapprove of one's attire, people often overestimate how much others notice aspects of oneself (i.e., the "spotlight effect, " Gilovich, Medvec, & Savitsky, 2000). Thus, the more instances that allow one's sociometer to directly infer what others think of them, the more likely self-esteem will fluctuate in response to factors that impact their current relational value (Burrow & Rainone, 2017;Leary et al., 2003). ...
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Do the clothes worn to work impact employees’ thoughts and behaviors? Despite the universal necessity of wearing clothes and the fact that employees make decisions about this daily, organizational scholars have not yet addressed this question. We integrated sociometer and enclothed cognition theories to propose that aspects of clothing—their aesthetics, conformity, and uniqueness—hold symbolic meanings that have implications for employees’ state self-esteem and subsequent task and relational behaviors (i.e., goal progress, social avoidance). We first provide evidence for the nature of the symbolic meanings associated with these three dimensions of work clothing in a set of within-person experimental studies. Then, the results of a 10-day field study of employees from four organizations generally supported our predictions, showing that daily clothing aesthetics and uniqueness had effects on state self-esteem and downstream behavioral consequences. The effects of daily clothing conformity emerged under the condition of greater interaction frequency with others in the workplace. Our manuscript contributes to both major theories from which we draw and further offers theoretical and practical contributions to the literature on organizational clothing.
... This is why events perceived to be known by a larger audience tend to have a more pronounced effect on state self-esteem (Leary, 1999). Even when others give no clear indication that they approve or disapprove of one's attire, people often overestimate how much others notice aspects of oneself (i.e., the "spotlight effect, " Gilovich, Medvec, & Savitsky, 2000). Thus, the more instances that allow one's sociometer to directly infer what others think of them, the more likely self-esteem will fluctuate in response to factors that impact their current relational value (Burrow & Rainone, 2017;Leary et al., 2003). ...
... For example, Golubickis et al. (2016) reported that brief mindfulness-based meditation fostered the adoption of a third-person (vs. first-person) vantage point during visual imagery, thereby lessening people's self-centric estimates of personal salience in a potentially embarrassing situation (i.e., the spotlight effect; Gilovich et al., 2000;Macrae et al., 2016). Similarly, by reducing reliance on an egocentric decision-making strategy during an object-ownership task (Golubickis et al., 2018;Golubickis et al., 2019), we expect a transitory period of mindfulness-based meditation to diminish self-prioritization. ...
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Recent research has asserted that self-prioritization is an inescapable facet of mental life, but is this viewpoint correct? Acknowledging the flexibility of social-cognitive functioning, here we considered the extent to which mindfulness-based meditation-an intervention known to reduce egocentric responding-attenuates self-bias. Across two experiments (Expt. 1, N = 160; Expt. 2, N = 160), using an object-classification task, participants reported the ownership of previously assigned items (i.e., owned-by-self vs. owned-by-friend) following a 5-minute period of mindfulness-based meditation compared with control meditation (Expt. 1) or no meditation (Expt. 2). The results revealed that mindfulness meditation abolished the emergence of the self-ownership effect during decision-making. An additional computational (i.e., drift diffusion model) analysis indicated that mindfulness meditation eliminated a prestimulus bias toward self-relevant (vs. friend-relevant) responses, increased response caution, and facilitated the rate at which evidence was accumulated from friend-related (vs. self-related) objects. Collectively, these findings elucidate the stimulus and response-related operations through which brief mindfulness-based meditation tempers self-prioritization.
... This literature shows that people tend to have difficulty making accurate judgments of others' perspectives on a social situation in part due to egocentric biases in perspective-taking (Epley et al., 2004;Kardas, Kumar, & Epley, 2022;Liu & Kwon, 2022;Liu & Min, 2020;Ross & Sicoly, 1979). For instance, following social interactions, people tend to be overly focused on their own actions (e.g., conversation performance) and overestimate the salience of these actions to others (Gilovich et al., 2000), leading to a systematic underestimation of how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company (Boothby et al., 2018). They often focus on their own internal monologues, which can be self-critical and negative after social interactions; however, others do not perceive them with such a critical or negative lens (Boothby et al., 2018;Savitsky et al., 2001;Savitsky & Gilovich, 2003). ...
... This literature shows that people tend to have difficulty making accurate judgments of others' perspectives on a social situation in part due to egocentric biases in perspective-taking (Epley et al., 2004;Kardas, Kumar, & Epley, 2022;Liu & Kwon, 2022;Liu & Min, 2020;Ross & Sicoly, 1979). For instance, following social interactions, people tend to be overly focused on their own actions (e.g., conversation performance) and overestimate the salience of these actions to others (Gilovich et al., 2000), leading to a systematic underestimation of how much their conversation partners liked them and enjoyed their company (Boothby et al., 2018). They often focus on their own internal monologues, which can be self-critical and negative after social interactions; however, others do not perceive them with such a critical or negative lens (Boothby et al., 2018;Savitsky et al., 2001;Savitsky & Gilovich, 2003). ...
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