Does ‘False Consensus’ Effect Exist?


False Consensus Effect is an egotistic bias, causing one to believe that others in a group will respond to a situation in exactly the same way as oneself (Dawes, 1987). For example, assuming that people hold the same beliefs and opinions towards specific behaviours and attitudes.

One study into false consensus effect was conducted by Ross, Greene and House (1976), which provided evidence for the existence of the false consensus. In this study participants were asked to read about situations in which a conflict occurred, and then told two alternative ways of responding. They were then asked to do three things, 1. Guess which options other people would choose 2. Say which option they would choose, and 3. Describe the attributes of the person who would choose each of the two options.

The results from this study indicated more people assumed others would do the same as them, regardless of which of the two responses they chose themselves. This shows what Ross et al (1976) described as the ‘false consensus’ effect – the idea that we each think other people think in the same way we do, when actually they often do not.

However, Suls and Wan (1987) state that there are factors that influence the way we view others.  People possessing undesirable attributes overestimate consensus, whereas people holding desirable attributes underestimate consensus, with the latter pattern being a form of false uniqueness.

According to Marks and Miller (1987) almost every psychologist has, at some point, found it difficult to explain a study’s findings because they assume that others think in the same way as they do. For example, being unable to understand how someone could misinterpret an incredibly easy question.

In conclusion, it is clear that the false consensus effect exists, to some extent. For further conclusions to be drawn, more modern experiments need to be conducted. Many of the studies were carried out in the late 80’s, where it has been suggested most people thought less independently (Duffy et al, 1999). This means that in the 21st Century, people may be less prone to the false consensus effect.




Dawes, M. R. (1987) Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol 25 (1) 1-17 doi: 10.1016/0022-1031(89)90036-X

Duffy, M. L., Jones, J., Thomas, S.W. (1999) Intervention in School and Clinic, Vol. 35 no. 1 34-37 doi: 10.1177/105345129903500106I

Marks, G. Miller, N. (1987) Ten years of research on the false-consensus effect: An empirical and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 102(1), 72-90. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.102.1.72

Ross, L., Greene, D.,  House, P. (1976) Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol 13, 279-301

Suls, J., Wan, C. K. (1987) Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 52 (1), 211-217. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.52.1.211


4 responses »

  1. A meta-analysis into the ‘false consensus’ effect was conducted by Mullen et al (1985) who examined previous research in order to determine how methodological variables can affect the ‘false consensus’ effect. They discovered that the magnitude of ‘false consensus’ effect measured was significantly affected by the number of estimates participants were instructed to make about the opinions of others, in addition to the sequence they were instructed to make the estimates in. For example, in the study conducted by Ross, Green and House (1976), participant’s responses may have been different if they had been asked to describe the attributes of the type of person who would be likely to agree or disagree with them, before being asked to estimate how another individual would respond. The main advantage of such meta-analyses is that the findings are more likely to be reliable if they have been collected from different pieces of research that have been conducted independently of one another (Howitt & Cramer, 2011); therefore, any significant findings from a meta-analysis can be more easily generalised to the target population.

    Howitt, D., & Cramer, D. (2011). Introduction to Research Methods (3rd ed.). Harlow, England: Pearson.

    Mullen, B., Atkins, J.L., Champion, D.S., Edwards, C., Hardy, D., Story, J.E., & Vanderklok, M. (1985). The false consensus effect: A meta-analysis of 115 hypothetical tests. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 21, 262-283.

    Ross, L., Greene, D., House, P. (1976). The “false consensus effect”: An egocentric bias in social perception and attribution processes. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,13, 279-301.

  2. A very interesting concept, especially the highlighting of it as a form of egocentric bias. I think this highlight the importance of checking interpretation of relevant materials for psychological studies, an experiment would yield very little of use if the majority of the participants do not understand the instructions.

  3. More recent studies have indicated that ‘false consensus’ is actually far less prominent than was originally concluded in some of the studies you have shown. An example is the study by Gendolla and Wicklund (2009) has shown that self-focus plays a larger role than false consensus and egocentrism is actually reduced as opposed to heightened when in groups.
    However, there is still a correlation between a concensus between a group with favourable/ unfavourable participants and how much consensus there is overall showing that a persons demeanor can still influence decisions (Wojcieszak, 2008), just less prominently than was thought before.

    Gendolla, G., & Wicklund, R.(2009) Self -Focused Attention, Perspective-Taking and False Consensus. Social Psychology, 40 (2), 66-72. Doi: 10.1027/1864-9335.40.2.66

    Wojcieszak, M. (2008). What Underlies the False Consensus Effect? How Personal Opinion and Disagreement Affect Perception of Public Opinion. Journal of Public Opinion Research, 21 (1), 25-46. Doi: 10.1093/ijpor/edp001

  4. Very interesting blog and concept. However I wonder if there are other reasons for why individuals behave differently than expected, causing psychologists to be unable to explain their actions. Psychological reactance, for example, occurs when an individual feels that their freedom is being threatened. The individual then adopts an attitude contrary to what was intended.

    Brehm, J. W. (1966) A Theory of psychological reactance.

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