When Lee Ross, a professor of psychology at Stanford, explained to his students what his term “fundamental attribution error” meant, he loved to quote George Carlin. “Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” The late comedian perfectly captured our tendency to attribute the world’s problems to other people and not ourselves. I’m the only good driver on the road. Everybody else should drive like me.
Ross and his colleagues demonstrated that the fundamental attribution error was fed by the illusion of personal objectivity. In a 2016 Ted Talk, Ross joked that people “believe that their take on the world is the objective one, and what has to be understood or explained is, ‘What is it about those other people that seem to get it wrong?’” Ross came to call this “naïve realism,” the tendency for people to think they see the world objectively, as it is, free from personal bias.1 Ross established three characteristics of the “naïve realist.”
First, the naïve realist believes that their perceptions are realistic and “objective.” Accordingly, other people (at least, reasonable other people) should share their beliefs, preferences, and convictions. Second, the naïve realist expects that any reasonable, open-minded person will be persuaded to agree with the naïve realist if there is disagreement between parties. If there is disagreement, and if the disagreeing party is a reasonable person, presenting the “real facts” should restore harmony. Third, anyone who disagrees with the naïve realist after the presentation of real facts is unreasonable, biased, or irrational. [Continue reading…]