Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes does NOT help you understand what they are thinking, a series of 25 experiments has shown.
It debunks one of the most commonly used ways to work out what other people are thinking.
In fact, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes only gives you the impression that you know them better.
Far better, to just ask them.
The study’s author’s explain:
“We incorrectly presume that taking someone else’s perspective will help us understand and improve interpersonal relationships.
If you want an accurate understanding of what someone is thinking or feeling, don’t make assumptions, just ask.”
Across 25 different experiments, people were asked to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and imagine all kinds of things about them, such as:
- whether they were truly smiling,
- whether they were lying,
- and what they were really feeling.
The authors explain the results:
“Initially a large majority of participants believed that taking someone else’s perspective would help them achieve more accurate interpersonal insight.
However, test results showed that their predictive assumptions were not generally accurate, although it did make them feel more confident about their judgement and reduced egocentric biases.”
Dale Carnegie popularised this way of understanding other people in his bestseller ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.
The only benefit to imagining you are someone else is in reducing the ‘egocentric bias’.
This is the tendency people have to rely too much on their own opinions in order to satisfy their own egos.
Imagining you are someone else helps people take into account other perspectives and reduces reliance on egotistical opinions.
What it doesn’t do, though, is let you read other people’s minds.
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
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Eyal et al., 2018).