Sci + Society,

#215: Social Illusions with Dr. Erica Boothby

January 19, 2018

Nobody has noticed that stain on your shirt.

That’s the good news.  At least, for everyone except marketers of laundry detergents.

But here’s what may be the bad news.  (Or maybe not.)  All the people in the room around you who you think maybe aren’t noticing and assessing you, probably are.  The same as you may be surreptitiously noticing and assessing them.

And they probably think they’re being just as casual about it as you think you’re being.

This is the crux of what social psychology researcher Dr. Erica Boothby calls “The Invisibility Illusion.”  (Also described here in the New York Times.)  And it’s just one of the many human social illusions that she studies — a subset of the broader field of cognitive biases that we all share.  Hearing her talk about us (and yes, presumably that even includes her) makes you want to giggle and slap yourself in the forehead at the same time.

It’s hard not to recognize yourself in her descriptions of the way we mis-think.

The Good News it, It’s Good News

The general gist of Dr. Boothby’s findings is positive.  We’re wrong, but we’re often wrong in ways that are too hard on ourselves.  Hearing the ways in which we’re wrong might be described as a “frustrating pick-me-up.”

Ever had that experience where you find out the person who you “liked” in middle school actually “liked” you too — but it’s a decade too late?  Turns out we do versions of that all the time, for our entire lives.

Episode #215 provides a fun and surprising glimpse into your own thought processes, and reminds us that we don’t always know ourselves as well as we think.

Show Notes
  • 00:00:28

    Episode introduction: Social Illusions with Dr. Erica Boothby.

  • 00:01:42

    This Week In Neuroscience: Learning, beliefs, and cognitive shortsightedness.

  • 00:04:12

    5-Star review shoutouts.

  • 00:04:45

    SDS news and updates.

  • 00:06:06

    Guest introduction: Dr. Erica Boothby.

  • 00:07:30

    Interview begins: Importance of social life.

  • 00:09:30

    Recent studies on judgements and evaluations.

  • 00:12:00

    Quantitatively evaluating social factors and the application of such results for everyday life.

  • 00:15:23

    The Invisibility Illusion.

  • 00:20:15

    Classic study on the Spotlight Effect.

  • 00:21:53

    The social human brain.

  • 00:22:00

    Dr. Boothly recommends checking out the book Mindwise by Dr. Nicholas Epley.

  • 00:22:40

    The good news and the bad news.

  • 00:23:50

    Facial processing in the human brain.

  • 00:25:00

    Other social illusions.

  • 00:28:00

    Culture and social illusions.

  • 00:29:50

    Further research aims and some key takeaway points.

  • 00:33:21

    Interview wrap-up.

  • 00:34:28

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Speech and efference copies.

  • 00:38:00

    Episode wrap-up.


  1. Jake Haney says:

    Great episode (as most of them are). I was washing dishes while listening to it, though, and wasn’t in a position to google the book that Dr. Boothby recommended. I was hoping it’d be available in the show notes, but it isn’t currently there. Could you add it?

    1. Alexa Magnon says:

      Hi Jake!
      The book that Dr. Boothby recommends in the episode is Mindwise by Dr. Nicholas Epsley. The link will be added to the episode shownotes. Thanks for pointing that out!

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