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
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
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
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".
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
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
* 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
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
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
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
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".