Are Our Expectations Accurate?

How seeing others egocentrically creates problems

Posted Dec 28, 2019

4 PM production/Shutterstock
Source: 4 PM production/Shutterstock

In any social interaction, expectations exist. You have ideas about how you think the other person will (and should) think or act, and they of you. And of course, the more people involved, the more expectations there are in play. When expectations aren't met, problems arise. But where do these expectations come from?

While there is any number of factors (e.g., social norms, group stereotypes, others' views of the person they shared with you, job roles, prior knowledge of the person), one that is possibly overlooked is how you yourself would act. What we think we would do shapes our expectations of others. This is because our entire existence is from an egocentric perspective. By this, I don't mean selfish. I mean that our views of the world all derive from our own sensory and cognitive experiences.

For instance, research on the false-consensus effect indicates that people tend to make higher estimates for people who share their beliefs and behaviors than those who do not have those beliefs or behaviors. A person who loves tennis will think more people will enjoy tennis, on average, than a person who doesn't enjoy tennis. A person who is sad a lot will do the same for sadness. You get the idea (I am not going to put too much thought into why I chose those two examples, of all things, but I now have an image of a very sad tennis player in my head). This is a well-established effect and has been for decades.

This work shows that we tend to see others to a large degree as we see ourselves. That is, we use our self-perspective and tend to work from there in terms of our expectations of others. 

An answer to why we get upset when other people act a certain way is often that they are not matching our expectations. This is also, of course, why others get upset with us; we don't match their expectations. But this frustration stems from them not acting like we would in the situation. 

Our expectations of others are largely derived from how we think we would act, think, or feel.