Author: Marisol Caldera
Have you ever felt nervous about asking someone a favor? Do you tend to fear the outcome you will experience if someone says “no”? The way we socialize is all due to a phenomenon in social psychology called egocentric bias. When we ask others for favors, some people can become stressed out and often feel anxious because we believe others will decline our requests. This then prevents us from making social interactions with others, as we are afraid of being rejected or judged. This is a completely normal experience, as almost every person is taking a risk when trying to ask others for a simple favor or task.
Egocentric bias plays an influential role in our social tendencies because it keeps the focus more on your perception instead of the other people you are interacting with while in a social situation. Imagine ordering your favorite dish at a restaurant, but they end up getting your order completely wrong. You want to ask the waiter to take the dish back to the chef and bring what you had originally asked for, but you are too nervous to ask the server to fix the dish because you believe they will say “no”. This is an example of your egocentric bias taking over in social interaction. You cannot perform the simple task of asking for the correct dish because you are more afraid of how the waiter will react to your request. This unveils how effortlessly and impactful egocentric bias can play a part in the simplest tasks that take place in your everyday life.
In the podcast, “The Influence You Have: Why We Fail to See Our Power Over Others,” Vanessa Bohns, a professor of Organizational Behavior at Cornell University, explains her extensive research on egocentric bias. In her work, Professor Bohns will typically begin an experiment by asking her research assistants how many people they expect to comply with their experiment before their research begins, and the results were shocking. In one particular experiment, Professor Bohns requests her research assistants to ask strangers if they could agree to go along with an unethical task. The task consisted of asking people to vandalize library books and writing the word “pickle” onto the pages. The participants in the study hypothesized that only 28% of the people they solicited would agree to the immoral requests. After the experiment, data revealed that 64% of the people who were asked to vandalize the library books ended up agreeing to do so. This actively demonstrates that we tend to underestimate who will comply with our requests, thus triggering our egocentric bias. We automatically assume that people will react negatively to our requests, which causes us to feel anxious when in reality, they are more likely to say “yes” than we realize.
What we do not realize is that egocentric bias limits the consideration we have of other people's points of view. We fail to see how the other person in a social interaction feels. To give you an idea, imagine the point of view of a waiter at a restaurant. Part of the waiter’s job is to be concerned about your experience and they want you to let them know if there is an issue with your order. Egocentric bias blinds your perspective, making it easy to assume that others will react negatively, while that may not be the case - and in fact, that may just be a projection coming from within ourselves and our own insecurities. Due to social norms, we tend to feel uncomfortable when saying “no” to others, making it less likely for your waiter to decline your request. People want to be viewed as good, so when we say “no” we start to feel guilt. Our egocentric bias makes us focus on our guilt, thus making us agree to tasks. Some may know this experience as “guilt-tripping”. In reality, both you and your waiter are being affected by your own egocentric bias.
Next time you want to ask someone for a favor and you are too afraid, just take a few deep breaths, and ask. Most likely the person will say yes, as they might feel more willing to comply because they feel the need to help others. Some people will even agree just because they want to look like a good person in front of society. Supposing that you still do not feel comfortable asking someone for their assistance, you may want to take into account how the other person might feel. If you hold back on asking a favor, due to your concern of being rejected, you will never know the outcome. That person might have been more willing to go along with your request than you realize. Do not underestimate the influence you have on others as their answer may be surprising. You hold more power than you think.
Vedantam, Shankar et al. “The Influence You Have: Why We Fail to See Our Power Over Others.” Hidden Brain A Conversation About Life’s Unseen Patterns, NPR, 24 February 2020,https://www.npr.org/2020/02/20/807758704/the-influence-you-have-why-were-blind-to-our-power-over-others