Our Friends Are a Wacky Ensemble, Other People's Circle of Friends Are a Homogeneous Stereotype
I'm guessing everyone's been in a situation where they've been in some restaurant and a group of teenage girls is at the next table, talking way too loud and giggling at everything. You glance over once because you are wondering where that extremely loud noise came from and if anything interesting actually happened, but you just see the girls and go back to thinking about whatever you were thinking about.
Such as, "Is my date trying to drop a hint by eating that fry so suggestively?"
Then one of the girls says "Stop it, Tiffany, now EVERYONE is staring at us, wondering why we're so weird!" and they giggle even louder. Eventually, if you end up passing each other, one of the bolder girls might "apologize," saying, "I'm sorry Tiffany's so loud, she is a real weirdo!" and Tiffany will go, "Oh my God, no, you're the weirdo!" and they will burst into a chain reaction of giggles.
It seems like teenage girls are the worst for this, but we're all guilty of thinking that our group of friends is a very interesting, wacky, diverse bunch of individuals, each with unique idiosyncrasies and quirks. College party kids think that their group of friends is the gang from The Hangover, and their tales of drunken adventure will be unprecedented and fascinating to strangers. Working people think their co-workers are as interesting as the cast of The Office and that a long story about one guy's weird habit will have any outsider on the edge of their seat.
"For Linda's birthday, Jan and Steve put a whole bunch of sticky notes on her cubicle walls. They are so wild!"
The other side of that linked study is that we see other groups as homogeneous stereotypes. The working dude sees the college party kids as a group of identical, interchangeable "bro"-types. The teenage girls see the working stiffs as a bunch of clock-punchers who are always typing TPS reports in unison. It's hard to say who's "right", but one thing for sure is that nobody wants to hear the other group's stories.
Other People Are Influenced By Their Biases But We're Not
One thing you'll find in a lot of closed-minded people is a startling similarity in their theories of how those with opposing views came to hold them. Some nonreligious people think that all religious people only believe what they do because they grew up "brainwashed" into it; surrounded by friends and family with the same beliefs. Some religious people think that nonreligious people only disbelieve in religion because our heathen universities put those ideas into their impressionable young minds when they were too young and pliable to resist.
As far as I can recall, universities mainly teach you how to procrastinate and how to convince your parents you "need" a laptop.
We might laugh at people being so arrogant about their own ability to reason compared to others, but it seems we all suffer from it to some degree.
In this fascinating three-part study, they first had subjects rate how susceptible they were to different biases compared to the "average American", classmates in a seminar, or fellow airport travelers. Not surprisingly, everybody rated themselves less susceptible than any of the other groups.
"I suddenly feel like buying a Coca-Cola, out of my own independent decision-making process."
Then in part two, they brought back the people who said they were less susceptible to bias than average and showed them a description of how each of the biases might affect them without knowing it. They bravely stuck to their guns and insisted they were just as unbiased as they had claimed.
Finally, in part three, the researchers showed people the results, basically saying, "Look, everybody rated themselves above average. That's not mathematically possible. Maybe you overrated yourself?" The subjects shook their heads at how shameful it was that the other participants in the study overrated themselves. But they proudly continued to rate themselves the same.
How study participants see themselves.
Digging deeper into this thought process, another study noticed that participants gave a lot of credit to the fact they were aware of potential influences that could bias them and were able to think through it and account for it. But apparently they didn't think anybody else could do that.
One of the biggest influences, of course, is media, and studies have definitely shown that people think the media has a bigger influence on other people than on themselves. Seeing a guy shoot another guy on TV doesn't make me want to join a gang (goes the reasoning), but those other poor, easily-led sheep out there will be out popping caps in asses before the commercial break ends.
Other People Have Double Standards But We Don't
As seen in the bias study, even after all this has been spelled out, there's still going to be some people who have read all the points above and are convinced none of them apply to themselves. Maybe they liked the points and have just the person in mind to whom it applies, and they're eager to show it to that person. Maybe they hope that some group out there, that clearly has a problem with point No. 4, will read this and "learn a thing or two."
"That article is funny because it is about other people!"
I figure nothing can really be done for such a person. Warning them just adds another layer of recursion, where they go: "Yep, I hope whoever you're writing that to realizes that they do have double standards and thinks again!"
This is exactly the kind of person I'm going to imagine next time I'm stuck behind some dipshit in a traffic jam.
For more from Christina, check out 5 Things That Are Being Automated That Probably Shouldn't Be and Political Cartoons: The Lowest Form of Communication.