I have an hour long commute. Each way. I won’t lie and act like I don’t wish it away, but I have found some good listening to make me feel the time is not wasted. (The waste of gas, however, make me cringe.) The saving grace of my commute this year has been Open Yale courses. In particular, PSYC 110 . Although I have taken an introduction to psychology course before, it most definitely was not at Yale so I figured I’d give it a try. On the way home yesterday, Professor Paul Bloom was discussing some research into how we typically overestimate how much other people notice us (our appearance and behavior). In one study, people were sent out wearing t-shirts with Hitler on them and then asked how many people noticed their shirt. The Hitler t-shirt wearers thought that two people noticed for every one person that actually did notice. In other words, the researchers asked everyone who had come in contact with the Hitler t-shirt wearer if they noticed the person’s shirt. If the wearer had guessed that 30 people noticed their shirt, only 15 people said they had noticed it. (How could someone not notice a person is wearing Hitler on their shirt?!)
I happen to find this relieving although I could see how someone might find this disturbing. (Why do we go to so much trouble when half the people don’t notice or care?) Perhaps because I’m sort an introvert though, I think this research is rather freeing. I have always known I spend way too much time concerned with what people think of me or whether I somehow offended someone. Now I have some odd research to help me reason with myself that my worries are senseless. I guess that person didn’t like my new hair color? No, they probably just didn’t notice. If they wouldn’t notice Hitler, why would they notice your hair? Is that student having a bad day because I was too hard on them about their grades? Doubt it. Their grades might be so low because they are the master at tuning me out anyway. So what if I just gave a presentation with my fly down in front of a hundred of my co-workers that I must face every day? Even if I believe that every single person noticed, probably only 50 actually did. (Although the difference between 50 and 100 doesn’t seem significant in this situation.) Regardless, the message remains. We are not all that we think we are. People are thinking about themselves, not you. So lighten up, have fun, take risks, embarrass yourself.
I mean, if half of all people can be oblivious to the fact that someone is proudly wearing Hitler on the front of their shirt, my bad jokes, bad haircuts, and frequent professional stumbles must be much less noticeable than I think.
People regret what they didn’t do, not what they did. I learned that in my Yale course. Can I get an honorary degree now?