This is probably one of the most useful things you will learn from MR all year. It is from Maria Konnikova’s new book The Confidence Game:
In 2010, Nicholas Epley and Tal Eyal of Ben-Gurion University published the results of a series of experiments aimed at improving our person and mind perception skills. The title of their paper: “How to Seem Telepathic.” Many of our errors, the researchers found, stem from a basic mismatch between how we analyze ourselves and how we analyze others. When it comes to ourselves, we employ a fine-grained, highly contextualized level of detail. When we think about others, however, we operate at a much higher, more generalized and abstract level. For instance, when answering the same question about ourselves or others — how attractive are you? — we use very different cues. For our own appearance, we think about how our hair is looking that morning, whether we got enough sleep, how well that shirt matches our complexion. For that of others, we form a surface judgment based on overall gist. So, there are two mismatches: we aren’t quite sure how others are seeing us, and we are incorrectly judging how they see themselves.
If, however, we can adjust our level of analysis, we suddenly appear much more intuitive and accurate. In one study, people became more accurate at discerning how others see them when they thought their photograph was going to be evaluated a few months later, as opposed to the same day, while in another, the same accuracy shift happened if they thought a recording they’d made describing themselves would be heard a few months later [TC: recall Robin Hanson’s near vs. far mode]. Suddenly, they were using the same abstract lens that others are likely to use naturally…
Upon reading this passage I realized I have been thinking in these terms for years, without quite realizing it so explicitly.
One implication: if you feel bad one morning, don’t let it get you down and lower your confidence. Other people probably won’t notice your problems.
Another implication: you’ll understand yourself better if, in a given moment, you can pretend to distance yourself from some of your immediate impressions of your day, and treat yourself like a piece of your writing which you set aside for a week so you could look at it fresh.
A third implication is this: you can read other people’s moods better by ignoring some of your overall impressions of them, and by focusing on what they might perceive to be small changes in their situation, appearance, or stress levels.
The original research is here, worth a read (pdf). And here are various reviews of the Konnikova book.