Why Your Friends Know You Better Than You Know Yourself

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In the Magazine
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“KNOW THYSELF” may sound like simple advice, but it turns out to be harder than it sounds. As Cornell University’s David Dunning points out in the British journal The Psychologist, your acquaintances almost certainly are able to predict your behavior better than you can. Research shows that people have “a rough but valid wisdom about the general dynamics of human nature and how it is reflected in people’s actions,” writes Dunning. “They just fail to display the same sagacity when it comes to understanding their own personal dynamics.” Thus to take one small example, 83 percent of students said they would buy a daffodil for charity, but that only 56 percent of their friends would. In fact, only 43 percent of the respondents did. Dunning calls our tendency to exempt ourselves from our own good intentions “misguided exceptionalism.” And while we do know our hidden hopes and fears, they may have little impact on our public actions, especially as part of a group. So Dunning offers a bit of advice. “What we presume about other people’s behavior and futures,” he writes, “may be [a] much better indicator of our future than any scenario we are spinning directly about ourselves.”

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