Ross, Lee, & Ward, Andrew, Naive Realism in Everyday Life: Implications for Social Conflict and Misunderstanding, In T. Brown, E. Reed, and E. Turiel (eds.), Values and Knowledge, in press.


This paper has two thrusts. First, they assert that " differences in subjective interpretation oor construal" are important, and they have a profound impact in the conduct of everyday social affairs. Second, they assert that "social perceivers characteristically make insufficient allowance for such impact in the inference and predictions they make about others".

Construal and Social Inference
The Impact of Construral

In political systems, success often hinges on how issues are construed (or understood by the populace). "The political battles to shapr and manipulate construals happens constantly".

The author's study was the influence of construal in the Wall Street /Community game. "It essentially pitted the determinative power of a construral manipulation against the predictive power of subject's reputation for cooperativeness or uncooperativeness. They recruited Stanford students who were judged more likely to "defect" vs "cooperate" in the Prisoner's Dilemma game to play in the game. For one group, it was called the Wall Street game, for the others is was the Community game. The experimenter wanted to know how the difference in lables (and resulting construral) would affect play.

The results were that construral manipulation had a significant effect on play. 2/3 cooperated in Community Game, and 1/3 cooperated in Wall Street Game. The nomination effect of "cooperators" vs "defectors" actually had little effect. The dorm leaders who nominated the "defectors" and "cooperators" underestimated the power of the game label on play. Therefore, the personality of the players seemed to have less of an effect than the construral of the game.

"interventions that are experienced and interpreted very differently by the intended beneficiaries than by the intervention planners and deliverers are likely to produce results that disappoint all concerned". One example is how welfare programs are interpreted differently by social scientists, politicians, and ultimate the recipients, leading to disappointment for everyone involved.

Issues of construral also lead to Fundamental attribution error -- "the tendency to for observers to attribute actions and outcomes in the social sphere to distinquishing personal dispositions of the actor instead of the situational forces and constraints faced or experienced by that actor".

Naive Realism
The authors believe that people never really fully develop a purely rational intellect that fully understands the implications of individual construal. They see adults as thinking:
1. I see reality, and my actions and beliefs are based on a rational interpretation of reality.
2. Other people would share my view and actions and opinions if they had access to the same information that I do and if they have processed that information in a reasonable way like I do.
3. If others don't share my views, it's because:
* they have different information, and by sharing information we can reach an agreement
* they are lazy, or are not making rational decisions based on the information
* they are biased by ideology or self-interest, or some other distorting influence

Evidence for the First Two Tenents of Naive Realism
1. The False Consensus Effect
Tendency for people who make a choice to see their choice as more normative. One study by Ross asked students if they would wear a sandwich board around campus that said "Eat at Joe's" and to note student reation, then asked if others would be more likely to make their choice or the opposite choice. Most claimed their decision would be the majority.

Other researchers confirmed the same effect with color choice (color names vs color swatches), (60's vs 80's music)

Failure to notice potential issues of false consensus can lead to misunderstanding and misattribution.

One study of "tappers" vs "listeners" illustrates this effect too. "Tappers" tapped out a well known tune with their fingers on a table in front of a listener. Before the trial they guess the percentage of people who would correctly guess the result. While the predicted average was 50%, only 2.5% actually identified the tunes.

Construal and Social Enmity: The Third Tenant of Naive Realism
The third tenet suggests that people first believe others will see "truth" if they can only get the right information. If they don't, then people may conclude that they just aren't intelligent or too lazy to correctly understand the situation. Lastly, differences in understanding may be caused by the fact that the other person is biased and that prevents them from seeing things clearly. They assume others will believe things that furthers their interests. What is lacking is the realization that one's own interpretations suffer from the same thing.

So in effect people think they see clearly, but others see the world through biases and errant beliefs.

One demonstration is the famous Hastorf and Cantril study where Darmont and Princeton fans observed films of a football game between the two schools very differently, and assumed others would see it just as they did.

A more recent study theorized that partisan opponents looking at data both for and against an issue would focus only on the information that supported their views, discount the other data, and emerge even more partisan. The results supported this theory (example was on the death penalty).

They even extended the bias presumptions to third parties in a partisan setup. Indeed, the partisans did see a neutral third party as biased toward the opposing side (example was Arab-Israeli conflict).

Overestimating Partisan Difference in Construal
Naive realism can also cause people to overestimate the relative opinion or contrual differences between goups. This was confirmed in some Stanford studies with prolife/prochoice and with a racially charged incident. Of course, both sides felt that their side was less driven by ideology than the other group. Interestingly, a third supposedly neutral group also overestimated the differences between groups.

Barriers to Dispute Resolution
Egocentriam and naive realism not only give rise to social misunderstanding and conflict, they also create barriers to successful negotiation and dispute resolution.

The Pursuit and Perception of Equity
In any negotiation, people seek to achieve "gains in trade" that benefit both sides (versus not having an agreement at all). However naive realism causes them to misread the opponent's actions, and their feelings and demands for "fairness" are diminished by their perceptions of other's gains caused by naive realism.

Biased Contstrual and Reactive Devaluation
"Disputants who see equity rather than an advance over the status quo -- especially those who seek equity in light of differing construals of past events and present needs and entitlements -- thereby erect a formidable barrier for those negotiating on their behalf, and any third party mediators, to overcome". Naive realism causes each side to see their past actions as more honorable, and feel their side needs more protection from "loopholes" than the other.

It also appears that people will view a proposal less positively if their opponents have proposed it rather than a third party, and often view alternative proposals not put forward more positively than those "on the table". Known as "reactive devaluation".

Thus a skillful mediator knows to conceal the parentage of proposals.

The authors believe that while some differences are irreconcilable via negotiation (and some shouldn't be reconciled), many disputes are a result of construal differences.

Apparent vs Real Value Differences
"Our most general contention is that perceivers are apt to misattribute behavior, especially behavior that they abhor, to the values (or lack of values) held by the relevant actors". Once again, they are viewing their values as somehow being truely objective and right, and judging others against them. For example, people on one side of the health care debate may see the opposing side as having less compassion, equality, or feelings of personal responsibility than what is deemed appropriate for society (based on their viewpoint).

Egocentrism, Naive Realism, and the Golden Rule
Golden rule "do unto others as we would like them to do unto us".

In conclusion, the authors suggest that if you see others responding in a way that seems unreasonable, unconscionable, or simply bizarre, it is more likely their perceptions, assumption, associations, and construals, rather than their basic values, that differ from your own and that must be addressed in the process of seeking reconciliation".