How well do you really know yourself?
Have you ever discovered with surprise that the type of movie you hate was actually interesting; the sushi you would never try was delicious; or the cruise you resisted was really a blast?
You are not alone.
Most of us pride ourselves on the belief that we know ourselves.
We go to work each day believing we know how to do our jobs; we know what people think of us; and what we would do in certain situations. While much of this is likely true, the reality is that no one has a lock-down on self-knowledge…
In his book, Mindwise:How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel and Want, Nicholas Epley draws upon his own and prior research to consider that we tend to overestimate our ability to know what others are thinking and what we think we know about ourselves.
As you will see in the results of two fascinating studies discussed by Epley, there is often a disconnect between what we think we know about ourselves and how we actually behave or feel.
The Ten Thousand Mile Trip
The Daily Commute
In another study conducted by Nicholas Epley and his colleague, Juliana Schroeder, he recognized that although studies show that social contact keeps us happy and healthy, when it comes to the daily commute, most of us do not turn to speak with the person next to us. Deciding to survey people in a Chicago train station where Nicolas Ebley commuted, the researchers conducted a survey in which they asked commuters which would they prefer: to sit alone and enjoy their solitude; talk to the person sitting next to them; or do whatever they normally did.
Consistent with what he observed everyday (what most of us probably do) the vast majority reported they would least prefer to speak to the person next to them.
In a follow-up experiment in the same train station with the same populations of commuters, Epley next randomly assigned commuters (willing to receive a reward card) to sit alone and “ enjoy their solitude;” speak to the person next to them; or “ do whatever you normally do” on their daily commute.
Surprisingly and in direct contrast to what they predicted, those commuters who spoke to the person next to them reported having the MOST pleasant trip and those “ enjoying their solitude,” reported having the LEAST pleasant trip!
The results did not come at the cost of productivity – as there were no differences reported in the groups; nor were there differences found in personality types of the commuters, indicated by a questionnaire they had filled out.
What does this mean?
“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself” Miguel de Cervantes.
Could the most important self-knowledge we acquire about ourselves be that sometimes we just can’t know?
Could it be that despite the warnings not to speak with strangers and the tendency to seek solitude in the midst of crowded trains—you just might enjoy the option of speaking to the person next to you? You may be surprised.
“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.” Albert Einstein
Listen to Nickolas Epley discuss “Do We Really Have a Sixth Sense?” on Psych Up on Cosozo Radio or your IPhone podcast Sunday 6/22/14
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Illusions of Self-Knowledge: Findings and Benef... (June 21, 2014)
Last reviewed: 20 Jun 2014