The spotlight effect
You spilled a few drops of coffee on your shirt, and suddenly you think the entire world is standing still and looking at you, judging you, saying to themselves: how dare she do such a thing? The fact that you made such a mistake consumes you and your thoughts. You’re beyond embarrassed. It’s only later that you find out that practically no one even noticed.
Generally, most people are not paying as much attention to us as we think they are. It’s just that when we are really focused on something that has to do with us, it just looks as if other people are as focused. This is what psychologists usually refer to as the spotlight effect.
I’ll give you an example. I have a friend who has hirsutism and she’s always so self-conscious. In fact, she always thinks that the entire world is staring at her face. I keep on telling her that I barely even notice anything but she never seems to believe me. Nothing on earth will make her believe that almost no one has stopped the world to stare at her face. She has focused so much on her condition that it seems that everyone is doing the same. This is not the case at all.
The term “spotlight effect” was coined by psychologists Thomas Gilovich, Ph.D., Victoria Husted Medvec, Ph.D., and Kenneth Savitsky, Ph.D. They also came up with ways in which to measure it. In one
In an experiment, they had students in university enter a room with other students while wearing an “embarrassing” T-shirt. The students were then later asked to estimate how many people in the room would remember the face on their T-shirt. They gave a number about twice as high as the number of students who actually remembered the shirt.
Participants largely overestimated how many of the people in that room noticed the t-shirt. The judgment actually makes a lot of sense if you put yourself in their shoes (or t-shirts. Lol). If you were made to walk into a room wearing an embarrassing t-shirt, you would most likely think everyone noticed it. But the reality is not even almost what we think it is. The spotlight effect actually makes a lot of us think that we’re getting about twice as much attention as we actually are.
Psychology Today also explains:
So what explains the “spotlight effect?” Basically, it is the result of egocentrism. We all are the center of our own universes. This is not to say we are arrogant, or value ourselves more than others, but rather, that our entire existence is from our own experiences and perspective. And we use those experiences to evaluate the world around us, including other people. But other people not only lack the knowledge of, for instance, the stain that you have, but they are the center of their own universes too, and in turn, are focused on other things!
Turning off the spotlight
Another research was done after that first one with the university students, researchers found that when the participants got used to wearing their new t-shirts before heading to the other room, they weren’t as prone to the spotlight effect anymore. They weren’t as likely to think that too many other people noticed the shirt.
This, therefore, lets us realise that the spotlight effect happens because people think that everyone else will notice something about themselves when they’re more focused on it.
So, there’s actually no reason to feel overly embarrassed next time something happens. You’re most likely the only person who was really paying attention to your mishap. But you also have to forgive people when they don’t notice your new hair or necklace. They are not really paying close attention to your appearance or what you do. This is because they’re too busy focusing on themselves!
What do you think about these experiments? Are you susceptible to the spotlight effect? Tell us what you think!
Featured image: Reset Strategies
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