Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


You Don’t Know What It’s Like to Be Around You

On the existence and consequences of blind spots.

Key points

  • Blind spots are a disconnect between self-perception and shared perceptions of knowledgeable observers.
  • The typical person is unaware of some of the unique ways others consensually perceive them.
  • Blind spots can create difficulties in interpersonal communication and mutual understanding.
Source: stable/Shutterstock
Odd duck?
Source: stable/Shutterstock

The title of this post is a lyric from The National, and it evokes a recurrent theme across multiple songs and albums for the band. In these instances, the author considers the idea that a) we don’t always have a great understanding of how we’re perceived and b) that communicating (or not communicating) about this can be difficult for both the perceiver and the perceived.

I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but I find that many times when I am upset by someone's actions, I invoke the concept of self-awareness/lack thereof, specifically. “Why would you do this? How can you not see what this looks like to everyone else?!” Of course, the flip side is that they probably would not act accordingly if they shared your assessment of the situation. In these ways, our blind spots about our actions can have serious interpersonal consequences. So, I would ask two questions: "Are these real things?" and "To what extent do blind spots impact our lives?"

Perspectives on the Person

To address the first question, one must consider various perspectives on a given person. There is longstanding discussion and debate about the validity of different sources of personality information (for some good discussions and data, see Vazire, 2010, and Connelly & Ones, 2010). Do we trust an individual’s assessment of themselves? After all, they have unique (though perhaps incomplete) access to their thoughts and motives. But they are also likely to be somewhat positively biased and may fail to notice more automatic, habitual acts (like a fish not thinking about how it swims a lot).

One could also seek external opinions, which may be less biased—though one must be careful here, as some people that know us might be overly positive (e.g., your mom) or the opposite (e.g., your personal or professional rival). They lack full access to your thoughts. Studies repeatedly show that each perspective can uniquely predict behaviors (Beer & Vazire, 2017; Vazire & Mehl, 2008) and important outcomes (Ozer & Benet-Martinez, 2006) and that each provides some unique, non-overlapping value in this venture.

So what happens when these opinions diverge, or my assessment of me doesn’t match yours? How do we decide who’s right, or can we even do that? Typically, you’d want an external outcome to verify a judgment, as examined in the abovementioned studies. If I say I’m talkative, and you say I’m not, we can maybe monitor my behavior across situations and determine some semblance of truth. However, sometimes the truth doesn’t fully matter. I mean here that people can hold perceptions contrary to observable evidence, and those perceptions can drive evaluations, reactions, and actions toward a person.

To study blind spots, defined as a disconnect between self-perception and a shared perception of multiple knowledgeable observers, effectively, one must also consider metaperceptions: the thoughts we hold about our own reputation. One might ask if this isn’t the same as a self-perception (and they do indeed overlap quite a bit), but it’s certainly possible and indeed probably frequent that a person knows people see them one way when they feel that they are different than that. (My students all think I’m a nerd, which is just categorically false.) The distinction is important because If I know that people see me as more hostile than I am, I can take intentional steps to counteract this (e.g., by trying to smile more). But what if I don’t? And again–do people typically have such blind spots, anyway?

The Research

The good news is that personality psychologists are on this particular case. In a larger scale replication of their earlier work, Gallrein et al. (2016) asked people to a) rate their own personality, b) estimate what others thought of them (metaperception), and c) solicit reports of their personality from at least three people who knew them well. The comparisons thereof yielded some expected conclusions and at least one potentially surprising one.

First, people who know us think similar things about us–your mother and your friend probably largely agree about your personality. Second, people’s views of themselves generally track what others think, as one would hope and expect. Third, our metaperceptions correlate pretty strongly with our self-perceptions; we tend to think others see us as we see ourselves. However, that final correlation isn’t perfect, and it turns out that there is some evidence (robust across multiple samples, measurement strategies, and even cultures) that ‘‘the typical person is not aware of some of the unique ways in which he or she is consensually perceived by others” (Gallrein et al., 2013).

Source: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay
Source: Alexas_Fotos/Pixabay

The Upshot

Since we know that blind spots exist and that at least sometimes we’re doubly blind (we don’t know that we don’t know), how do we navigate the world? The quick answer is that we ask our most trusted sources, our friends, family, romantic partners, and long-time co-workers, about our blind spots, right?

But imagine the conversation. Have you ever tried to explain to someone what it’s like to be around them? If the revelation is negative (“you’re not as funny as you think you are”), it could damage the person or the relationship. Do you have the guts to ask about your blind spots, and can you accept the feedback? Could you even obtain honest feedback if you were to seek it (maybe not. See, for example, Fay et al., 2013)? Would you provide it to someone if they asked?

The good news is that not all blind spots are negative (“You’re a better parent than you think you are”), and I have simple advice: Tell people about these! As for the bad kinds of blind spots, I understand why The National keeps returning to that problem, and it’s probably part of why I enjoy their music.


Beer, A., & Vazire, S. (2017). Evaluating the predictive validity of personality trait judgments using a naturalistic behavioral criterion: A preliminary test of the self-other knowledge asymmetry model. Journal of Research in Personality, 70, 107-121.

Connelly, B.S., & Ones, D.S. (2010). An other perspective on personality: meta-analytic integration of observers' accuracy and predictive validity. Psychological bulletin, 136, 1092-1122 .

Fay, A. J., Jordan, A. H., & Ehrlinger, J. (2012). How social norms promote misleading

social feedback and inaccurate self-assessment. Social & Personality Psychology

Compass, 6, 206–216.

Gallrein, A. M. B., Weßels, N. M., Carlson, E. N., & Leising, D. (2016). I still cannot see it–A replication of blind spots in self-perception. Journal of Research in Personality, 60, 1-7.

Gallrein, A.-M. B., Carlson, E. N., Holstein, M., & Leising, D. (2013). You spy with your

little eye: People are ‘‘blind” to some of the ways in which they are consensually

seen by others. Journal of Research in Personality, 47, 464–471.

Ozer, D. J., & Benet-Martinez, V. (2006). Personality and the prediction of consequential outcomes. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 401-421.

Vazire, S. (2010). Who knows what about a person? The self-other knowledge

asymmetry (SOKA) model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 281-300.

Vazire, S., & Mehl, M. R. (2008). Knowing me, knowing you: The accuracy and

unique predictive validity of self-ratings and other-ratings of daily behavior.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1202–1216.

More from Andrew Beer Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today