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The Illusion of Transparency: Assessment of Sex Differences
in Showing and Hiding Disgust
Mark D. Holder and Christine Hawkins
University of British Columbia, Okanagan
The illusion of transparency occurs when one overestimates the ability of others to dis-
cern one’s internal states, including emotions. Two experiments demonstrated this
illusion using the emotion of disgust. Male and female tasters were given drinks, includ-
ing one that was very unpleasant tasting. Tasters either displayed spontaneous facial
expressions (Experiment 1) or tried to conceal their expressions (Experiment 2). Male
and female observers rated tasters’ expressions and tried to identify the disgusting drink
based on the tasters’ facial expressions. Results demonstrated the illusion of trans-
parency (e.g., tasters overestimated the percentage of observers who correctly identified
the disgusting drink) and suggested that the illusion was partly attributable to the
inability of people to set aside their own knowledge when considering the perception
of others who do not share this knowledge. Females were less successful than males
at hiding their disgust but there was no sex difference in the susceptibility to the illusion.
THE ILLUSION OF TRANSPARENCY
When people experience strong internal states they tend
to believe that these states leak out and are observable to
others. However, people actually overestimate the abil-
ity of others to discern their internal thoughts and feel-
ings (Barr & Kleck, 1995; Gilovich, Savitsky, & Medvec,
1998; Savitsky & Gilovich, 2003). This overestimation is
referred to as the illusion of transparency (Gilovich et al.,
1998), which occurs when people overestimate the
degree to which others can perceive their internal states
by observing their behaviors (Vorauer & Ross, 1999).
The illusion of transparency was demonstrated when
participants watched a humorous film (Barr & Kleck,
1995). Participants perceived the intensity of their own
facial expressions to be higher than what was actually
perceived by others. Later, participants viewed video-
tapes of their expressions and reported surprise that
their expressiveness was less than they thought. The
illusion was also demonstrated in tasks involving decep-
tion (Gilovich et al., 1998). Participants (referred to as
tasters) tried to conceal their disgust when they tasted
unpleasant solutions. Tasters estimated the number of
observers (i.e., participants who viewed videos of the
tasters) who would correctly identify the unpleasant
drinks based on the tasters’ expressions. As predicted,
tasters overestimated the number of observers who
correctly identified the unpleasant drink. In a similar
experiment, participants were instructed to lie to obser-
vers. Participants believed that their nervousness about
lying was apparent to observers and they overestimated
the number of lies that observers detected.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE ILLUSION OF
The illusion of transparency may provide explanations
for important phenomena in social psychology including
bystander apathy (Gilovich et al., 1998). For example,
one could observe an emergency and perceive that one
is displaying more emotion than other observers.
Because each bystander believes that he or she is clearly
displaying more concern than others are, each bystander
may reassess whether it is truly an emergency, and mis-
takenly conclude that no intervention is required.
Additionally, the illusion of transparency may have
implication for research on deception. For example,
participants tend to overestimate the ability of others
to detect their lies and underestimate their own ability
to conceal their deception (e.g., Ekman, 2003).
Correspondence should be addressed to Mark D. Holder, Depart-
ment of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, 3333
University Way, Kelowna, B.C., Canada V1V 1V7. E-mail: mark.
BASIC AND APPLIED SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, 29(3), 235–243
Copyright #2007, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
The illusion also has important practical applica-
tions. For example, when the illusion was explained to
people with speech anxiety, their speaking performance
improved (Savitsky & Gilovich, 2003). Apparently
awareness that one’s audience is not keenly cognizant
of one’s anxiety reduces nervousness. As another
example, the illusion may contribute to conflict in rela-
tionships (Gilovich et al., 1998). We may overestimate
how clearly we have communicated our emotions to
our partner. Though we may judge our partner’s response
as unsatisfactory and may attribute this to the partner
not caring, the partner’s response may be better attribu-
ted to the partner not fully perceiving one’s feelings.
SEX DIFFERENCES IN THE ILLUSION OF
The present study assessed sex differences related to the
illusion of transparency using the negative emotion of
disgust. Susceptibility to this illusion may differ for
men and women because processes involved in the
illusion, such as expressing and processing of negative
emotions, differ for men and women. For example,
women are generally more emotionally expressive than
men (Briton & Hall, 1995; Brody & Hall, 1993; for a
review see Kring & Gordon, 1998) and women process
faces that portray negative emotions in different brain
regions than men (Kesler-West et al., 2001; Lee et al.,
2002; McClure et al., 2004). Depending on the research
findings emphasized, one can support two different
hypotheses regarding sex differences in the illusion of
The first hypothesis states that women are more sus-
ceptible to the illusion. Duhaney and McKelvie (1993)
found that men and women did not differ in either their
ability to identify facial expressions or their ratings of
the intensity of the expression of disgust. Furthermore,
men and women detected emotions, including deceptive
emotions, equally well (DePaulo & Rosenthal, 1979).
Therefore, women and men may be similar in perceiving
the emotion of disgust. However, women perceive them-
selves as more emotionally expressive than men, but
judges of their emotional displays do not always confirm
this perception (Barr & Kleck, 1995). Therefore, the
illusion of transparency may be more pronounced in
women than men, because women think they express
emotions more than observers actually judge them to
The second hypothesis states that there is no sex
difference in the illusion of transparency. People think
their behavior signals more information than it actually
does, however, men and women do not differ in this
signal amplification bias (Vorauer, Cameron, Holmes, &
Pearce, 2003). This finding (i.e., that signal amplification
bias does not differ between men and women) was based
on a study of the communication of romantic interest to
potential partners. This finding is related to the illusion
because people perceived that their behavior communi-
cated more information to others than what others
perceived. If men and women are equal at detecting
underlying emotions, including when deception is
taking place (DePaulo & Rosenthal, 1979; Duhaney &
McKelvie, 1993) and there is no sex difference in their
amplification bias, they may not differ in their suscepti-
bility to the illusion.
Experiment 1 was designed to extend Gilovich et al.’s
(1998) research by testing for sex differences in the
illusion of transparency. Tasters sampled four unfla-
vored drinks and one disgusting drink. The tasters did
not know in advance which glass contained the disgust-
ing solution. Experiment 1 investigated spontaneous
expression; tasters were not instructed to conceal their
emotion. Tasters rated their emotional expressions after
each drink and predicted the percentage of observers
they thought would identify the disgusting drink based
on their videotaped facial expressions. Observers tried
to identify which glass contained the disgusting solution
and they rated the intensity of the tasters’ emotional
expressions. The illusion would be demonstrated by
two results: 1) tasters thought they expressed more emo-
tion than observers indicated they did, and 2) tasters
overestimated the percentage of observers who correctly
identified which drink was disgusting.
Gilovich et al. (1998) concluded that liars’ feelings of
transparency in a deception task were positively corre-
lated with their scores on the Private Self-Consciousness
Scale (Gilovich et al., 1998). This scale assesses an indi-
vidual’s tendency to be aware of his or her inner
thoughts and feelings and is conceptualized as a person-
ality trait (Fenigstein, Scheier, & Buss, 1975). People
with high self-consciousness scores may be more prone
to the illusion of transparency because they are more
conscious of their inner states and this heightened
awareness may lead them to perceive that more of their
internal thoughts and feelings are discernable to others.
To test for this possibility, tasters completed the Private
Forty-six undergraduate students volunteered. Twenty-
six participants (13 men and 13 women) were randomly
236 HOLDER AND HAWKINS
assigned to the role of tasters and the remaining 20 (10
men and 10 women) were assigned to the role of
Stimuli and Measurement Scales
Four glasses each contained 20 ml of unflavored filtered
water dyed with red food coloring. A fifth glass
contained 20 ml of a solution obtained from a premixed
solution of one litre of filtered water, red food coloring,
and 125 ml of baking soda. Pretests showed that this
solution had a disgusting taste. The flavored and unfla-
vored solutions could not be distinguished based on
smell or sight. The 5 clear plastic glasses were placed
in a row on a table in front of the taster. The disgusting
drink was never located to the far left (the first glass
consumed) of the taster and its location was counterba-
lanced across the four remaining locations.
Visual analogue scales. Tasters and observers
rated emotional expressions by placing marks on verti-
cal visual analogue scales (VASs). VASs are frequently
used scales that assess the intensity and magnitude of
sensations and feelings using a straight line with verbal
descriptors at each end. In the present study, ratings
of the intensity of emotional expression were assessed
by measuring the distance from the bottom of the VASs
to the participants’ horizontal marks, and could range
from 0–100 mm. At the bottom of each VAS was
written, ‘‘showed no emotion’’ and at the top, ‘‘the
most emotion one can express’’. Although VASs are
most frequently used to measure pain perception
(Chapman et al., 1985; Scott & Huskisson, 1976), they
are reliable, valid, and sensitive self-report measures
for studying other subjective experiences (Gift, 1989;
Private self-consciousness scale. The Self-
Consciousness Scale assessed tasters’ awareness of their
inner thoughts and feelings (Fenigstein et al., 1975).
Construct and discriminate validity have been estab-
lished for this scale (Fenigstein, 1987; Carver & Glass,
1976). Tasters’ self-ratings on the 10 questions were
summed to produce individual scores.
Videotapes. Tasters were videotaped during the
procedure. The tapes were edited to provide a 5 s pause
after each drink, which provided observers with a con-
sistent duration for rating each taster. Videotapes were
shown without sound to observers on an 81 cm Sony
color television located 2 m away from the observers.
Tasters. Tasters were informed that they were parti-
cipating in a study on emotions and were required to con-
sume small amounts of water and complete a
questionnaire. They were told that four glasses contained
only colored water and a fifth contained a safe, but
unpleasant solution. Each taster read a standardized set
of instructions. The experimenter demonstrated the test-
ing procedure and participants practiced using the VASs.
Tasters were then individually shown to a testing lab
and seated at a small table across from a one-way mir-
ror. Behind the one-way mirror was a video camera.
Tasters were told that they were being videotaped dur-
ing the procedure and this videotape would be shown
to observers who would rate their expressions.
Tasters consumed each drink and rated the intensity
of emotion they thought they expressed after each drink.
Next, they estimated the percentage of videotape obser-
vers they thought would identify which glass contained
the disgusting drink. Tasters were advised that 20%of
the observers would guess by chance alone. This instruc-
tion was used by Gilovich et al., (1998) and, therefore,
was used here to make the results of the present study
more comparable to the previous work. Lastly, tasters
completed the Self-Consciousness Scale.
Video observers. Video observers were told that
they were participating in a study on emotions. Their task
was to watch a video and identify which of the five drinks
was the disgusting drink based on the videotaped expres-
sions of the tasters. Video observers were instructed, ‘‘to
rate the intensity of emotion that they thought each taster
expressed’’. Each video observer rated all tasters.
Measurements were analyzed using t-tests and repeated
measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) and Fscores
reported are Greenhouse-Geisser. All means (M) and
standard errors (SE) for ratings of emotions are in mm.
During the study tasters continued to show disgust for
the drink immediately following the disgusting drink.
Therefore, the two drink conditions used in the analyses
were defined as follows: 1) disgusting drink (i.e., the sol-
ution that contained the baking soda), and 2) unflavored
drink (i.e., the average of all the unflavored drinks except
the drink tasted immediately after the disgusting drink).
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Tasters responded differently to the disgusting and
the unflavored drinks. For example, tasters rated the
TRANSPARENCY IN ASSESSMENT OF SEX DIFFERENCES 237
emotion they expressed to the disgusting drink (M¼61.9,
SE ¼5.48) higher than to the unflavored drink (M¼17.5,
SE ¼3.0), t(25) ¼7.74, p<.001, g2¼.71. Additionally,
the observers rated the tasters as showing more emotion
to the disgusting drink (M¼40.4, SE ¼4.87) than to the
unflavored drink (M¼15.4, SE ¼1.15), t(25) ¼5.56,
p<.001, g2¼.55. These results confirm that the flavored
drink was disgusting and evoked more emotion than
the unflavored drink.
For the disgusting drink, tasters’ self-ratings of emotional
expression (M¼61.9, SE ¼5.49) were higher than
observers’ ratings (M¼40.42 SE ¼4.87), t(25) ¼5.17,
¼.52. These results support the illusion of
transparency, as tasters believed that they displayed more
emotion than observers indicated they did. For the unfla-
vored drink there was no difference between tasters’ rat-
ings of emotional expression (M¼17.5, SE ¼3.0) and
observers’ ratings (M¼15.35, SE ¼1.15). According
to Gilovich et al. (1998), the illusion only occurs with
intense emotions. It is unlikely that tasting unflavored
water would evoke intense emotions.
Consistent with the illusion of transparency, tasters
overestimated the transparency of their emotional
expressions. Though tasters predicted that 77.2%of
observers would correctly identify the unpleasant drink,
only 67.7%of observers actually did, t(25) ¼2.154,
Males and females were similar in their susceptibility to
the illusion of transparency. There was no difference
between male and female tasters in terms of their
self-ratings of emotion expressed, or their predicted
correctness, ts(25) <1. Furthermore, the accuracy of
male (M¼68.9, SE ¼7.73) and female observers
(M¼66.9, SE ¼7.48) did not differ, t(25) ¼1.09,
p>.05. Observers judged females as expressing similar
emotions to males, t(25) <1.
Private Self-Consciousness Scale
There was no evidence that tasters with high Private
Self- Consciousness Scale scores expressed more emo-
tion or thought that their emotions were more apparent.
The correlation between tasters’ scores on the Private
Self-Consciousness Scale and tasters’ self-ratings of
emotional expression for the disgusting drink was not
significant, r(26) ¼.146, p>.05. Furthermore, tasters’
self-consciousness scores and the predicted number of
observers who would correctly identify the disgusting
drink were not significantly correlated, r(26) ¼.106,
p>1. Additionally, self-consciousness scores did not
predict the amount of emotion shown as judged by the
observers, r(26) ¼.265, p>.05. Self-consciousness
scores were similar for males (M¼26.8, SE ¼1.91)
and females (M¼27.4, SE ¼.80), t<1.
Experiment 1 demonstrated the illusion of transparency
for spontaneously evoked emotions. The illusion is also
observed when individuals attempt to conceal their emo-
tions (Gilovich et al., 1998). Experiment 2 was similar to
Experiment 1 except tasters were instructed to hide their
Women are better than men at decoding nondecep-
tive nonverbal cues but this advantage is reduced for
deceptive emotions (Rosenthal & DePaulo, 1979).
Therefore, in Experiment 1 when no emotions were hid-
den (i.e., no deception), women may have had an advan-
tage. Experiment 2 minimized this advantage by using
deception in order to test for sex differences in suscepti-
bility to the illusion when emotions were hidden.
Additionally, similar to Gilovich et al. (1998), yoked
observers were used to assess the contribution of the
curse of knowledge explanation to the illusion of trans-
parency. According to this explanation an individual
who has exclusive knowledge may have difficulty
assuming the perspective of other people who do not
have this knowledge. The individual mistakenly believes
that other people share some awareness of this knowl-
edge (Keysar & Bly, 1995). This belief could result in
the individual overestimating the degree to which their
internal states are apparent to others. Gilovich et al.
(1998) concluded that the curse of knowledge was not
sufficient to explain the illusion of transparency because
the tasters and yoked observers differed. Yoked obser-
vers were informed which drink was disgusting when
the tasters consumed it (i.e., when the tasters knew it
was disgusting). In Experiment 2, if yoked observers’
and video observers’ (who did not know which drink
was disgusting) responses were similar, then knowledge
of which drink was disgusting was not critical (i.e., the
curse of knowledge explanation would not be sup-
ported). However, if the yoked observers’ and tasters’
responses were similar, then the curse of knowledge
explanation would be confirmed.
Undergraduate students volunteered. Twenty-six parti-
cipants (13 men and 13 women) were randomly assigned
238 HOLDER AND HAWKINS
to the role of tasters, and the remaining 124 were ran-
domly assigned to one of three observer roles: 20 (10
men and 10 women) were video observers, 52 (26 men
and 26 women) were yoked observers and 52 (26 men
and 26 women) were video yoked observers.
Tasters. The procedure for tasters was identical to
Experiment 1 except for two aspects. Most importantly,
tasters were instructed to try to hide their emotions by
showing the same lack of emotion for each drink. Sec-
ondly, tasters were told that two yoked observers would
view them through a one-way mirror.
Yoked observers. Pairs of yoked observers (1 male
and 1 female) observed and rated the emotional display
of each taster. Yoked observers were informed that
tasters had been instructed to conceal their emotional
expressions. To assess the contribution of the curse of
knowledge to the illusion of transparency, the exper-
imenter indicated to the pair of observers when the
taster was consuming the disgusting drink (Gilovich
et al., 1998). Therefore, both the tasters and the yoked
observers shared the same knowledge at the same time.
Pairs of yoked observers sat in a small room sepa-
rated from the testing lab by a one-way mirror. A div-
ider prevented observers from seeing each other’s
ratings. Observers did not talk during the procedure.
Each observer rated the taster after each drink using
VASs. After all drinks were consumed, each observer
estimated the percentage of videotape observers they
thought would identify which glass contained the dis-
Video yoked observers. Video yoked observers
were treated the same as the yoked observers except that
they watched the tasters on the television similar to
Experiment 1. Videotapes are assumed to be a valid rep-
resentation of non-verbal facial expressiveness (Barr &
Kleck, 1995). The video yoked observers tested this
assumption. Furthermore, the inclusion of video yoked
observers is important to test the ‘‘curse of knowledge’’
explanation. This test requires that yoked observers be
compared to video observers. If these two sets of obser-
vers differ not only in the critical dimension (knowledge
of which drink is disgusting) but also in the viewing for-
mat (directly viewing tasters vs indirectly viewing tasters
via a videotape) then this confounding would make an
interpretation of any differences between the two groups
difficult. By including video yoked observers, these
observers can be compared to video observers without
Video observers. Video observers were treated the
same as in Experiment 1.
All observers. In order to compare the three groups
of observers, it was critical that all groups be treated
similarly. Therefore, audio information was eliminated
for observers (i.e., video tapes were shown without
sound and the yoked observers could not hear the
tasters). Additionally, the point of view for all observers
was almost identical (i.e., the camera angle for the
videos was the same as the viewing angle of the yoked
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
For the disgusting drink, yoked observers’ responses did
not vary as a function of whether they observed the
tasters through a one-way mirror (M¼22.4,
SE ¼3.07) or on a television (M¼27.5, SE ¼3.58),
t(51) ¼1.21, p>.05. Therefore, in the following analy-
ses the yoked observers were combined. These results
are consistent with the view that videotapes are a valid
representation of non-verbal expressiveness (Barr &
Kleck, 1995; Dowrick & Biggs, 1983; Ekman & Friesen,
1978) and any differences between yoked and video
observers could not be simply attributed to differences
in mode (television vs. real-life) of viewing.
Tasters in Experiment 2 displayed less emotion when
consuming the disgusting drink than in Experiment 1.
Tasters in Experiment 1 rated their emotional expression
higher for the disgusting drink (M¼61.9) than tasters
in Experiment 2 (M¼28.7). Similarly, observers in
Experiment 1 rated the tasters’ emotional expression
higher (M¼40.8) than observers in Experiment 2
(M¼23). These findings indicate that tasters were able
to at least partially conceal their emotions.
Tasters and yoked observers overestimated the number
of observers who correctly identified the unpleasant
drink. Tasters and yoked observers predicted that
42.6%and 37.7%, respectively of observers would
identify the unpleasant drink whereas only 28.8%of
observers actually did. An ANOVA showed a main
effect of group, F(2,50) ¼8.04, p<.005, g
low-up pair-wise comparisons showed that the tasters
and yoked observers predictions were greater than the
video observers’ actual ratings, ps<.05, but tasters’
TRANSPARENCY IN ASSESSMENT OF SEX DIFFERENCES 239
and yoked observers’ predictions were similar, p>.05.
These findings demonstrated the illusion of trans-
parency. Furthermore, the differences between the
tasters’ estimates and the video observers’ accuracy
could be attributed to a ‘‘curse of knowledge.’’
Actual ratings of emotional expression were not com-
pletely anticipated by the illusion of transparency.
Though tasters’ (M¼28.7, SE ¼4.75) and yoked
observers (M¼25.8, SE ¼3.51) ratings of the intensity
of emotion tasters expressed were higher than video
observers’ ratings (M¼23, SE ¼2.71), there were no
significant differences between these groups,
F(2,50) ¼1.02, p>.05, g
¼.039. All groups rated the
intensity of emotion as low because the tasters were
instructed to conceal their emotions. Therefore, any dif-
ferences between groups in ratings of emotions evoked
by the disgusting drink may have been obscured by a
The illusion of transparency was similarly demonstrated
in males and females. Male and female tasters’ self-rat-
ings of emotion expressed and predicted correctness
did not differ, ts(24) <1. There was a sex difference
for observers’ accuracy in correctly identifying the
unpleasant drink. Video observers were more accurate
in correctly identifying the unpleasant drink when view-
ing a female taster compared to a male taster,
t(24) ¼2.4, p<.05, g
¼.19. Females appeared to be
less successful than males at hiding their disgust. The
increased accuracy may have been because observers
rated the amount of emotion expressed by female tasters
(M¼26.4, SE ¼5.27) as higher than male tasters
(M¼19.6, SE ¼1.24). However, this difference was
not significant, t(24) ¼1.26, p>.05.
Private Self-Consciousness Scale
Taster’s self-ratings of their expressed emotions to the
disgusting drink did not significantly correlate with
their self-consciousness scores, r(26) ¼ " .015, p>.05.
Furthermore, tasters’ self-consciousness scores and the
predicted number of observers who would correctly
identify the disgusting drink were not significantly
correlated, r(26) ¼ " .076, p>1. Self consciousness
scores did not predict the amount of emotion shown
as judged by video observers, r(26) ¼ ".135, p>.05.
Self-consciousness scores were similar for males
(M¼27.2, SE ¼1.33) and females (M¼27.8,
SE ¼1.06), t<1.
The illusion of transparency involves an overestimation
of the ability of others to read ones’ internal states
(Gilovich et al., 1998). Overall, the results of the present
experiments confirm and extend this illusion. Tasters
perceived that their emotional expressions in response
to a disgusting drink were more apparent to others than
they actually were. Tasters overestimated the percentage
of observers who correctly identified the disgusting
drink based on viewing their expressions. In addition
to replicating work that has only been previously
demonstrated in two laboratories (see Gilovich et al.,
1998; Vorauer & Ross, 1999), the present study sup-
ported several additional conclusions. First, men and
women are equally susceptible to the illusion. Second,
a heightened sense of one’s internal states and feelings
(i.e., self-consciousness) does not predict susceptibility
to the illusion. Third, the illusion demonstrated here
can be accounted for by the ‘‘curse of knowledge’’
One explanation for the illusion of transparency is
that individuals have a lower criterion for what they
think is required for others to discern their emotions.
Perhaps tasters did not think that more of their feelings
of disgust had leaked out. Instead, tasters underesti-
mated the amount of emotional expression that was
required by observers to discriminate the tasters’ emo-
tions. This explanation is not supported. For example,
in Experiment 1, tasters’ self-ratings of emotional exp-
ression were higher than observers’ ratings. Addi-
tionally, previous experiments demonstrated that
individuals who overestimate the capacity of observers
to discern their emotions think that they express more
emotions than observers think that they do (Gilovich
et al., 1998). Furthermore, participants rated their own
facial expressions as more intense than others rated
them and were surprised at their lack of expressiveness
when they saw videotapes of their expressions (Barr &
Kleck, 1995). Another explanation for the present study
was that tasters overestimated the emotion that they
thought they showed, because they were aware that they
showed emotions through the lower parts of their bodies
(e.g., leg rigidity or foot tapping) that, because of the
table, observers could not see. This explanation is not
supported because yoked observers, who could not see
the lower part of the tasters’ bodies, rated the emotional
expression of the tasters similarly to the tasters.
Gilovich et al. (1998) attributed the illusion of trans-
parency to an anchoring and adjustment bias. When
people assess the ability of others to determine their
emotions, they first consider their own personal experi-
ence. This experience serves as an anchor that they mod-
ify based on their appreciation that others do not share
all their internal states. However, this adjustment is not
240 HOLDER AND HAWKINS
enough (e.g., Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). Conse-
quently, people feel their emotions are more apparent
to others than they actually are. This explanation is con-
sistent with the present study, in that the illusion existed
only when the tasters experienced a strong emotion (i.e.,
when they consumed the disgusting drink but not the
unflavored drink). This finding was consistent with the
anchoring and adjustment bias in that when there is
no strong emotion evoked, there is no salient internal
state to adjust from, and the illusion is not observed
(Gilovich et al., 1998).
Sex Differences in the Illusion of Transparency
Though the illusion of transparency was demonstrated
with spontaneous and concealed emotions, males and
females were similar in their susceptibility to the illusion.
Male and female tasters were similar in the emotion they
thought they expressed and their predictions of the per-
centage of observers who could identify the disgusting
drink based on their facial emotions. The lack of a sex
difference in the illusion is consistent with work on
signal amplification bias. Though people tend to per-
ceive that their behavior conveys more information to
others than it actually does, this bias does not differ
between men and women (Vorauer et al., 2003).
Further, though self-perception may differ from the
perception of others, males and females are similar in
their lack of awareness of how they are perceived by
others (Vorauer & Miller, 1997).
Previous work suggested that women might be more
prone to the illusion (Barr & Kleck, 1995). Women per-
ceived themselves as more expressive than men but
observers did not always confirm this. This work was
based on the emotion of humor, not disgust. Women’s
expressions of positive affect are more pronounced than
men’s (Hall & Halberstadt, 1986; Saarni, 1979, 1984),
but their expression of negative affect is less (Brody,
1985). Results of studies of the neural processing of
emotions displayed in faces show an interaction between
sex and type (positive versus negative) of emotions
(Kesler-West et al., 2001; Lee et al., 2002). The present
study was limited as it only examined negative affect.
Future research may investigate whether sex differences
in the susceptibility to the illusion of transparency vary
depending on whether positive or negative emotions are
The present work used nonverbal facial cues. These
cues are more easily controlled and more attended to
by women than men (Rosenthal & DePaulo, 1979).
Other cues that are less controlled (e.g., tone of voice
and body language) could be used to assess the gener-
ality of the illusion of transparency. However, because
the present experiments found no sex differences in
the illusion with more controlled cues, which show the
largest sex differences, it is unlikely that using the other
channels would demonstrate differences between men
Observers were more accurate in identifying the dis-
gusting drink when judging female tasters than male
tasters. Perhaps the increased accuracy was related to
previous research which has shown that women in a
spontaneous condition were better producers of disgust
(Rotter & Rotter, 1988; Wagner et al., 1993) and more
facially expressive than men in both spontaneous and
attentive conditions (Barr & Kleck, 1995).
The Curse of Knowledge
Consistent with previous work (Gilovich et al., 1998),
yoked observers significantly overestimated the percent-
age of observers who would correctly identify the
disgusting drink. Yoked observers’ and tasters’ predic-
tions were similar suggesting that the differences
between tasters and observers were due to the curse of
knowledge. According to the curse of knowledge expla-
nation, tasters may have erroneously credited observers
with having the knowledge that the tasters possessed. In
a sense, tasters were ‘‘cursed’’ with their own knowledge
in that they were unable to take the position of the
observers who did not have this knowledge (see
Gilovich et al., 1998; Keysar, Ginzel, & Bazerman,
1995). Together, Gilovich et al. (1998) and the present
study suggest that the overestimation of the trans-
parency of one’s emotions is sometimes the result of a
failure to appreciate that others do not have the same
knowledge that one possesses.
The curse of knowledge explanation cannot account
for all instances of the illusion of transparency. For
example, this explanation did not account for the find-
ing that participants overestimated observers’ ability,
including yoked observers’ ability, to detect their lies
(Gilovich et al., 1998) or for the finding that negotiators
perceive that their preferences ‘‘leak out’’ (Van Boven,
Gilovich, & Medvec, 2003). However, the curse of
knowledge explanation was supported for emotions
evoked by disgusting drinks (Gilovich et al., 1998). As
in the present study, yoked and video observers differed.
Gilovich et al. (1998) concluded that the illusion of
transparency could not be completely accounted for by
the curse of knowledge because the tasters and yoked
observers differed. However, their conclusion was based
on one marginally significant difference (p¼0.05) and
one nonsignificant difference (p<0.1) (see Study 2b).
Apparently the illusion of transparency is accounted
for by the curse of knowledge explanation but only
under certain conditions. Gilovich et al. (1998) con-
sidered that the curse of knowledge can account for
findings when the yoked observers’ knowledge is com-
plete (i.e., it is equal to the person experiencing the
TRANSPARENCY IN ASSESSMENT OF SEX DIFFERENCES 241
illusion of transparency). This explanation is consistent
with the current results. The ability of the curse of
knowledge explanation to account for the illusion may
also depend on the intensity of the internal states evoked
in the person experiencing the illusion. For example, if
the intensity of the disgusting taste was increased, the
predictions of the tasters may change, but the predic-
tions of the yoked observers (who know that the drink
is disgusting but not how disgusting it is) might not.
The assumption is that in previous studies (e.g., Gilovich
et al., 1998; Van Boven, Gilovich, & Medvec, 2003) the
stimuli used evoked more intense emotions and, there-
fore, the curse of knowledge explanation could not
completely account for the illusion.
Private Self-Consciousness and the Illusion
For both experiments, scores on the Private Self-
Consciousness Scale did not predict the tasters’ levels
of emotional expression. These results do not support
the idea that individuals with high awareness of their
internal states rate their emotions as more obvious to
others. Therefore, these individuals are not necessarily
more prone to the illusion of transparency. Gilovich
et al. (1998) found that private self-consciousness was
positively correlated with liars’ feelings of transparency
and their ratings of the obviousness of their lies. Perhaps
private self-consciousness contributes to the illusion of
transparency in only some situations (e.g., those that
involve guilt). Alternatively, perhaps the impact of
self- awareness is mixed. For example, though increased
self-awareness may promote a self-focus that increases
the magnitude of the illusion (see Gilovich et al., 1998;
Vorauer & Ross, 1999), increased self-awareness may
facilitate one’s ability to consider the perspectives
of others (Hass & Eisenstadt, 1990; Stephenson &
Wicklund, 1983). Perhaps the net outcome of these
effects is to cancel each other out. It is clear that the
present findings were in contrast to Gilovich et al.
(1998) and showed no relationship between self-
consciousness and the susceptibility to the illusion.
Implications of the Illusion of Transparency
Studies of the illusion of transparency might assist
people in improving the quality of their nonverbal com-
munication within relationships. For example, if spouses
overestimate how much emotion they actually show, the
illusion could make couples prone to conflict (Gilovich,
Kruger, & Savitsky, 1999). If males and females are
similar in their susceptibility to the illusion, then educat-
ing both sexes about the illusion’s role in communi-
cation may be beneficial. Additionally, less powerful
negotiators (e.g., employees) were more susceptible to
the illusion than more powerful negotiators (e.g.,
employers) (Garcia, 2002). This could lead to misunder-
standings between a boss and an employee, particularly
when employees are reluctant to discuss an issue with
their employer because they mistakenly believe that their
feelings=beliefs are more apparent than is actually the
case. Perhaps, if the illusion of transparency was
explained to spouses and employees, some interpersonal
conflicts might be mitigated.
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