CHAMPION STRATEGIES – PUBLIC SPEAKING WORKSHOP – DECEMBER 7, 2020
What is the Illusion of Transparency?
The Illusion of Transparency is a cognitive bias which describes the tendency to overestimate the degree to which other people know our mental state.
The term “illusion of transparency” was coined in a 1998 research paper by Gilovich, Savitsky, and Medvec who first studied this bias. Their research showed that we tend to overestimate the degree to which our thoughts or emotions “leak out” and become known to those observing us. It’s not as if we believe that others can read our mind; rather, we tend to believe that others can pick up on external cues that we give off, even when we attempt to hide or suppress the emotion.
Does the Illusion of Transparency affect all of us in the same way in all situations? Later research by Holder and Hawkins showed no overall gender difference in the susceptibility to the illusion, although some people can develop a relative degree of immunity to the illusion (more on this later). The illusion does not affect us in exactly the same way in all situations; for example, the illusion affects us most strongly when we have a strong emotional response, whether positive or negative.
Note that the Spotlight Effect is a very closely related phenomenon. While the Illusion of Transparency deals with our internal states (i.e. thoughts, emotions), the Spotlight Effect is the tendency to overestimate the degree to which other people are aware of our external state (i.e. actions, physical appearance). Both phenomenon are believed to have similar origins in our mind; since we are ultra-aware of our internal and external state at all times, we have difficulty compensating for the fact that others are not.
Examples of the Illusion of Transparency
For example, consider the following hypothetical examples in which you might be susceptible to the effects of the Illusion of Transparency:
- If you tell a lie, you are likely to believe that others (who have no prior knowledge about your statement’s truth) can detect the lie much more often than they do.
- If you feel strong disgust or strong pleasure when eating or drinking, you are likely to believe that others at your table will know your opinion of the food more often than they do.
- If you feel guilt over not being prepared for a meeting, you are likely to believe that your colleagues can sense your guilt more often than they do.
- If you are disappointed that you didn’t receive the birthday gift you were hoping for, you are likely to believe that your friends can sense your disappointment more often than they do.
- If you are nervous in a job interview, you are likely to believe that the interviewers will sense your nervousness more often than they do.