Jul 22, 2019 | Updated: 09:15 AM EDT

People Misjudge the Strength of Other People’s Emotions Based on Egocentric Bias, Study Says

Jul 05, 2019 08:46 AM EDT

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People Misjudge the Strength of Other People’s Emotions Based on Egocentric Bias, Study Says
(Photo : Kobe University)

According to a new study, people of all ages tend to misjudge the strength of other people's feelings based on an egocentric bias. The results of this research made by Associate Professor Hajimu Hayashi, Kobe University Graduate School of Human Development and Environment, was published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

Even if the result is the same, the recipient of action usually responds with stronger emotions if the actions are intentional rather than accidental. If B intentionally destroyed A's treasured possession in front of A with a scenario in which B accidentally destroyed the possession, people assume that A is sadder if the action was intentional. In this case, A sees B's actions, so A knows B's intentions. In case A doesn't know the intentions of B, A would feel a similar amount of sadness in both cases.

The team prepared four pairs of stories. Two pairs featured negative context in which the protagonists were harmed by the actors and felt sad, and the other two pairs featured positive contexts in which the protagonists were helped by the actors and felt happy. Whether the actions were intentional or accidental was the only difference between each pair of scenarios.

The researchers prepared two conditions in terms of the knowledge or ignorance of the protagonists. In the knowledge condition, the protagonists in both stories watched the actors and therefore, knew that the actors intentionally or accidentally harmed or helped. In the ignorance condition, the protagonists in both stories did not watch the actors and therefore, did not know their intentions. After some fact-checking questions, the researchers quizzed the participants with questions about emotional understanding, such as "which girl is sadder at the end of each story?"

The key to social behaviors, such as smooth communication and helping others is to understand the emotions of others. In this study, it showed that human understandings of the strength of other people's feelings could be distorted by the information they possess. As a result, it may lead to miscommunication and affect actions, like offering help and comfort. Putting oneself in the position of the actors in this study: if someone accidentally harms another person else, that person might wrongly assume that the other person's feelings of sadness are weaker even if that person is ignorant of the intention.

Such are the quarrels between children over trivial matters which may also occur because of this sort of egocentric bias. This bias is particularly strong in children up to elementary school age, so that adults can use their awareness of this in education and guidance for child socialization.

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