Most people are pretty bad at taking advice from others. People don’t mind hearing the advice, they just hate to take it. This is one facet of what psychologists call the ‘egocentric bias’: the general rule that we think we know better.
The egocentric bias strikes in the boardroom, in schools, in hospitals and everywhere where two or more people are gathered together and one turns to the other and says: “What do you think?”
It’s the reason why every person and every generation has to make its own mistakes. People have a tendency not to listen until after it’s too late.
This is a real shame because a lot of the time other people have really important insights or experience that we don’t have ourselves (e.g. The Impressive Power of a Stranger’s Advice). We can’t hope to know everything ourselves.
So how can we force ourselves to properly weigh other people’s advice?
An approach that’s recently come to the fore in psychological research, and popular culture, is perspective-taking. You simply imagine someone who is like you faced with the same question and then you ask yourself what they would do.
It’s the secular equivalent of the Christian question: “What would Jesus do?”
Now it’s been tested in psychological research by Yaniv and Choshen-Hillel (2012). Across three studies they had some participants make choices from their own perspective and some from the perspective of another person who is similar to themselves.
What they found was that taking another imaginary person’s perspective had the desired effect of encouraging participants to take other people’s advice.
It’s a fascinating finding but it only tests people’s judgements in a relatively simple situation: guessing the amount of calories in a foodstuff. We’ll have to wait for further research to look at more complicated or nuanced decisions.
Still, the procedure is so simple it’s unlikely to do any harm. Plus anything that helps us think outside ourselves is very likely to be helpful since there are quite a few other studies which have found robust benefits for perspective-taking.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: Pryere
→ This post is part of a series on cognitive biases:
- The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Why The Incompetent Don’t Know They’re Incompetent
- The Worse-Than-Average Effect: When You’re Better Than You Think
- Why You’re a Sucker for the Impact Bias
- The Hindsight Bias: I Knew It All Along!
- How to Overcome the Egocentric Bias
- See How Easily You Can Avoid The Memory Bias
- 4 Belief Biases That Can Reduce Pleasure
- Does Delaying Decisions Lead to Better Outcomes?
- The Belief in a Just World: A Fundamental Delusion
- Why Society Doesn’t Change: The System Justification Bias
- The Availability Bias: Why People Buy Lottery Tickets
- The Illusion of Transparency
- The Illusion of Control: Are There Benefits to Being Self-Deluded?
- The Endowment Effect: Why It’s Easy to Overvalue Your Stuff
- Illusory Correlations: When The Mind Makes Connections That Don’t Exist
- Anchoring Effect: How The Mind is Biased by First Impressions
- The Confirmation Bias: Why It’s Hard to Change Your Mind
- The Well-Travelled Road Effect: Why Familiar Routes Fly By
- How a Psychological Bias Makes Groups Feel Good About Themselves And Discredit Others
- The Sobering Up Effect: Why People Get More Pessimistic As The Moment of Truth Gets Closer