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Pluralistic ignorance makes idiots of everyone

Illustration for article titled Pluralistic ignorance makes idiots of everyone

There's a reason why you should embrace being the stupidest, most obnoxious, loud-mouthed, stick-in-the-mud of any group. In some cases, you're providing free entertainment. In others, you're saying what absolutely everyone else is too shy to say.


Tell me if you've ever had this experience. You're with a group of friends at a certain place or event. You didn't particularly care for the venue, but it was close enough and cheap enough and you agreed with an internal sigh. Now, as you're all sitting around on uncomfortable chairs, perhaps picking at clever little food nuggets inspired by some Eastern Bloc country, or maybe listening to a hipster play an ocarina, you notice the strained smiles and the dead eyes around you and realize, "We all hate this."

You've just found yourself in the thrall of pluralistic ignorance. It's what happens when everyone fakes happiness, or enthusiasm, or understanding so well that that they fool, well, everyone else. Pluralistic ignorance rears its head when most people, and in some cases all people, do not agree with the general opinion, but aren't willing to speak out.


One study exposed pluralistic ignorance on college campuses and exposed college students as surprisingly anti-lush. Students were asked to assess their own attitude towards drinking culture on campus and assess the general student body's attitude towards drinking. For the most part, the students themselves thought that drinking culture was over-the-top and problematic, but believed that the other students on campus were in favor of it. Even in close groups of friends, each person believed that they were more concerned with alcohol abuse than their friends were. Yet another study showed that students would sit through lectures they didn't understand without asking questions because they believed everyone else had understood. They were willing to be stupid, but not to own up to it in order to stop being stupid.

Those of us who are out of college like to think we've learned a thing or two, but have we? How many times, recently, have you done something you weren't interested it, or stayed quiet about something you were, because you were sure that your attitude didn't sync up with the attitudes of people around you? Who knows, you may have suffered through something unnecessarily, and made your friends suffer through it as well. Perhaps being a stupid, negative, querulous, reluctant jerk is the way to make everyone in your group happier. And if it isn't, what are the odds that anyone would call you out on it?

[Via Pluralistic Ignorance, Pluralistic Ignorance and Alcohol Abuse on Campus.]

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A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that people were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.