My favorite "research translation" site, BPS Research Digest, reports a new study that provides an interesting counterpoint to yesterday's post about how, after seeing just 30 seconds of video of teachers (with the sound off), research subjects were able to predict the evaluations given by students who had these same teachers for 16 weeks. This study by Wilhelm Hoffman and his colleagues found that, although outside observers can detect personality characteristics by watching a videotape of others, when people watch videotapes of themselves, they don't detect these characteristics. In other words, because of some kind of cognitive blindspot or "egocentric bias" we are able to decode others' nonverbal behavior, but not our own. As BPS summarizes:
The key question was whether seeing their non-verbal behaviour on video would allow the participants to rate their personality in a way that was consistent with their earlier scores on the implicit test. Long story short - they weren't able to. The participants' extraversion scores on the implicit test showed no association with their subsequent explicit ratings of themselves, and there was no evidence either that they'd used their non-verbal behaviours (such as amount of eye contact with the camera) to inform their self-ratings.
This research is part of a long line of studies that show people can be remarkably clueless to their own behavior and how others perceive them. As I have written here before, if this research is valid, it means that you -- as a leader or follower -- should come to grips with the fact that others' perceptions of your actions are probably a lot more accurate than your own. It seems we are all, to some degree, living in a fool's paradise.
Check-out the BPS story and you will see that this may happen, in part, because "One answer could lie in cognitive dissonance - the need for us to hold consistent beliefs about ourselves. People may well be extremely reluctant to revise their self-perceptions, even in the face of powerful objective evidence." In other words, we don't decode data about ourselves very well because our brains some "defend" against challenges to our sense of self. We believe what we believe about ourselves, evidence be dammed!
This helps explain a lot of things, for example why the Zogby survey a couple years ago found that over one-third of American's reported being bullied at work and yet less than 1% ever ever reported bullying others.
P.S. The reference is Hofmann, W., Gschwendner, T., & Schmitt, M. (2009). The road to the unconscious self not taken: Discrepancies between self- and observer-inferences about implicit dispositions from nonverbal behavioural cues. European Journal of Personality, 23 (4), 343-366