The illusion of transparency: Biased assessments of others' ability to read one's emotional states

Thomas Gilovich, Kenneth Savitsky, Victoria Husted Medvec
1998 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology  
Three sets of studies provide evidence for an illusion of transparency, or a tendency for people to overestimate the extent to which others can discern their internal states. People often mistakenly believe that their internal states "leak out" more than they really do. The authors attribute this bias to a tendency for people to adjust insufficiently from the "anchor" of their own phenomenological experience when attempting to take another's perspective. Evidence for this illusion is provided
more » ... usion is provided by showing that liars overestimate the detectability of their lies (Studies la, lb, and lc) and that people believe their feelings of disgust are more apparent than they actually are (Studies 2a and 2b). A final pair of experiments ( Studies 3a and 3b) explores the implications of the illusion of transparency for people's reluctance to intervene in emergencies. All 3 sets of studies also provide evidence consistent with the proposed anchoring and adjustment interpretation. Fans of Edgar Allan Poe will recall that the key passage in The Tell-Tale Heart is one in which the protagonist does his best to play it cool during a conversation with three police officers. It is a performance made more difficult by the fact that the officers happen to be standing directly above the hidden body of the protagonist's murder victim. As he becomes increasingly anxious that the officers suspect his guilt, he begins to hear what he takes to be his victim's heart beating underneath the floorboards. He becomes convinced that the sound, which in reality is the beating of his own heart, can be heard by the officers as well. Eventually, his emotions get the best of him and he gives himself away: Was it possible they heard it not?.., no, no! They heard!--they suspected!--They knew !--they were making a mockery of my
doi:10.1037/0022-3514.75.2.332 fatcat:lfxpvtpqnrgsppz5nn2livetmm