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False consensus effect

What is the false consensus effect?

The false consensus effect is a cognitive bias that leads people to overestimate the extent to which their opinions, beliefs and preferences are shared by others.

Synonyms: consensus bias

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When does the false consensus effect occur?

  • UX designers might assume that their own design preferences are widely shared among users, leading to an overestimation of the perceived attractiveness or effectiveness of design elements.
  • When deciding which features of a product to prioritize, UX professionals may assume that their own preferences are the same as those of the majority of users. This can lead to an overshadowing of certain features, neglecting others that may be more important to the actual user base.
  • During UX usability testing, researchers can be influenced by the false consensus effect when interpreting user feedback. They may assume that the usability issues encountered by participants are representative of the broader user population, even if the sample size is small or not fully diverse.

How to prevent false consensus effect?

  • Conduct research: Invest in comprehensive UX research to better understand your target audience. Use methods such as user interviews, surveys and observations to gain insight into their preferences and needs.
  • Diversify the participants: Ensure that your participant pools represent a diverse range of users who reflect the characteristics and demographics of your target audience. Aim for a mix of ages, cultural backgrounds, technology skills, and levels of user experience.
  • Get feedback: Seek input from other UX professionals, stakeholders, or colleagues who can provide alternative perspectives. Encourage open discussions and constructive criticism to challenge your own biases.
  • Keep learning: Remain up-to-date with current UX trends, research findings, and industry practices. Attend conferences, participate in webinars, and engage with the UX community to broaden your knowledge and discover different insights.

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Why does the false consensus effect occur?

  • Egocentric bias: people naturally interpret the world based on their own beliefs. It can be difficult to break away from one’s own views and understand that others may have a different perspective. 
  • Limited information: In the absence of comprehensive data, people tend to rely on their own thoughts and actions as a guide, assuming that others share their views.
  • Influence of social groups: Social influence and conformity pressures can also contribute to the false consensus effect. People may conform to group norms and believe that their own opinion is the same as the majority opinion, even if it is not. 
  • Confirmation bias: This bias can increase the effect of false consensus because people selectively focus on evidence that supports their own views, ignoring or dismissing other opinions.


How does the false consensus effect relate to other cognitive biases in decision-making?

The false consensus effect is one of many cognitive biases affecting decision-making. While it leads individuals to overestimate the popularity of their beliefs or preferences, other biases, such as confirmation bias, cause individuals to seek information that supports their existing beliefs. The anchoring bias can cause individuals to overly rely on an initial piece of information. Each bias can distort perception and judgments, potentially impacting decisions, especially when not recognized or unchecked.

How can the false consensus effect influence decision-making in group settings?

In group settings, the false consensus effect can lead to a lack of diverse perspectives and ideas. If individuals believe that their viewpoints are the majority, they might not seek out or value dissenting opinions. This can result in groupthink, where members of the group prioritize consensus over the quality of the decision. Additionally, individuals who might have a dissenting opinion might suppress their thoughts, assuming they’re in the minority, leading to a lack of critical analysis. Over time, this can hamper innovation, reduce the effectiveness of solutions, and prevent the identification of potential pitfalls or problems.

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