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Beliefs and False Consensus Effect

Updated on September 8, 2018

False Consensus Effect

“False consensus effect is the tendency for individuals to see their own behavior choices and judgments as relatively common and appropriate to the existing circumstances, while viewing alternative responses as uncommon, deviant and inappropriate” (Jones, 2004 p. 417-29). Another way to explain false consensus effect is to say that one holds the belief that the way they perceive something is the way that everyone else or most people perceive that same thing. A blanket term for false consensus effect is social projection. Which suggest that people that preceive exaggerate or inflate the percentage of other people that hold their own beliefs, ideas, preferences, styles ect. (Karasawa, 2003).

False consensus effect is detected and measured through surveys and questionnaires. This type of information gathering is referred to as the self-report or survey. An example of a questionnaire that detects the false consensus effect would be if a physician conduct a questionnaire to undergraduate students with questions such as: Do you prefer white bread over rye bread? After the undergrads answer the first question, they are then asked, what percentage of other undergraduate students prefer white bread? (De La Haye, 2000 p.569-581).

People have many different tastes and preferences but just because one group of people like veggie burgers does not mean that most people would prefer veggie burgers over beef burgers. In order to find out what the majority of people prefer in terms of veggie burgers and beef burgers many surveys and questionnaires would need to be completed by a very large amount of people.

There has been research that shows that false consensus effect has an effect on people’s behavior. The research suggests that false consensus effect could possibly direct people to partake in potentially dangerous behaviors that are influenced by their associates or peers (Bauman, 2002 p. 293-318). False consensus effects are developed individually as well as by the influences that shape and mold a person’s cognitive thought processes. What some research suggests is that when people are involved in groups that have an influence on the way that they behave and perceive to be the normal social activity some of them begin to think, act and behave like the people who they are influenced by (Bauman, 2002 p. 293-318).

According to Bauman, this is how false consensus effect can affect behavior, “Seventh and eighth grade students who believed that fifty percent of their peers or adults smoked were significantly more likely to smoke. Furthermore, students in the seventh grade that didn’t smoke were more likely to start smoking in the ninth grade if they overestimated the prevalence of smoking within their peer group” (Bauman, 2002 p. 293-318).

In consideration of the study conducted about the seventh and ninth grade students it can be said that peer influence and social perception has much to do with the probability or possibility of a person acting a certain way in the future. However, the perceptions can be false and that too can possibly have an impact on the things that people do in the future as well. This gives a great explanation as to how false consensus effect can cause a detrimental impact on people in schools, homes, institutions, churches and other places where they are socialized.

False consensus effect is found to be more prevalent within people from in-groups compared to those from out-groups. One of the reasons that more people are prone to be affected by false consensus effect within the in-group is because there is more social distance perceived in an out-group (Jones, 2004 p.417-29). The fact that studies have shown that most peers believe that they are all alike show that these peers have a certain perceptions of social norms within the group that they are involved with. When people base their decisions and choices on what is popular within a group this has to do with their social perception. In effect social perception can lead people to experience the false consensus effect.

People who belong to an in-group hold the same or similar belief systems. People within the in-groups are expected to hold these same or similar beliefs and views because they have a united relationship and have certain social roles within their in-group. It is the beliefs, behavior styles and preferences that the people within the in-groups share that set them apart from the out-groups that do not share the same beliefs that they do. (Karasawa, 2003 p.113-114).

When individuals of in-groups are asked about a certain beliefs and what percentage of people share that same belief they are more likely to assert that a larger percentage share and hold the same beliefs as that they do. The results are that in-group false consensus outweighs false consensus of that from an out-group (Jones, 2004 p. 417-29).

False consensus effect is also shown in studies that have been done where there are observed superiority of a person’s own relationship and observed prevalence of unhappy and happy relationships (Bunnk, 2001 p. 565-74). Persons who have happy relationships estimate the prevalence of happy relationships as higher in the population compared to those with less happy relationships. It is implied by false consensus effect that people with certain characteristics would estimate the percentage of other people in the population with the same characteristics as better than people without the same characteristics do.

If people who are happy in their relationship generally feel that they are better than most people, how can they assume that most people are like themselves? Mc Farland and Miller suggested that both phenomena can exist at the same time. People may overestimate the percentage of other people that share some characteristics with them because it’s cognitively easier to generate similar examples of others that respond in the same way as one does themselves. At the same instance, people may believe that they have a greater amount of these characteristics than other people because they have greater access to their own internal states. (Bunnk, 2001 p. 565-74)


Bauman, K. P., & Geher, G. (2002). We think you agree: The detrimental impact of the false consensus effect on behavior. Current Psychology, 21(4), 293-318. doi:

Bunnk, B. P. (2001). Perceived superiority of one's own relationship and perceived prevalence of happy and unhappy relationships. The British Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 565-74. Retrieved from

De La Haye, A. (2000). A methodological note about the measurement of the false-consensus effect. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30(4), 569-581.

Jones, P. E. (2004). False consensus in social context: Differential projection and perceived social distance. The British Journal of Social Psychology, 43, 417-29. Retrieved from

Karasawa, M. (2003). Projecting group liking and ethnocentrism on in-group members: False consensus effect of attitude strength.Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 6(2), 103. doi:10.1111/1467-839X.t01-1-00014


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    • Shaman Hcrft profile imageAUTHOR

      Shaman Haycraft 

      3 years ago from California

      After hearing a lot of the music that teens and college aged people listen too I can understand how they would still believe that their friends were ok with hook-ups even though they were not.

    • Dr Billy Kidd profile image

      Dr Billy Kidd 

      3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      The false consensus effect came up during interviews and surveys with college students.

      A large percentage of these young adults believed that their peers think hooking up for a sexual encounter--without experiencing any ancillary feelings--was common among their peers.

      Yet surveys showed that a clear majority of college men and women feel emotionally lousy about doing hookups. Still, they believed their friends were OK with it.


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