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You know less about your friends than you think

Are you going to be spending part of the weekend with friends?How well do you know them?

Are you going to be spending part of the weekend with friends?

How well do you know them? I mean, really know them.

Our knowledge of the beliefs, opinions and ethical attitudes of our friends  — even our close friends — is a lot sketchier than we think, according to a recent article in the Boston Globe.

Notes Globe reporter Drake Bennett:

A growing body of experimental evidence suggests that, on the whole, we know significantly less about our friends, colleagues, and even spouses than we think we do…. [W]e’re often completely wrong about their likes and dislikes, their political beliefs, their tastes, their cherished values. We lowball the ethics of our co-workers; we overestimate how happy our husbands or wives are.

What is the most common mistake people make about their friends? They assume their friends agree with them on particular issues when they actually don’t, according to researchers studying social networking for the search engine Yahoo! This projection (the psychological term) happens even among people who regularly talk politics with their friends.

Another yet-to-be-published study, Drake reports, found that people unquestioningly — and mistakenly, it turned out — assumed their friends would share their responses to various ethical dilemmas. “Strikingly,” says Drake, “it was the more socially connected among the test subjects who were more likely to be wrong.”

Still, as Drake notes, our blantant blindness to our friends’ true views and opinions “is not all grim.”

Other researchers argue that people are pretty good at seeing at least the building blocks of their friend’s personalities. And in certain realms, like judging intelligence and creativity, there’s evidence that our friends are actually more perceptive about us than we are, if only because any illusions they may have about us are dwarfed by the illusions we have about ourselves.


Anyway, it may not matter what illusions you have about your friends — or they about you. Earlier this year, a sociologist reported findings that suggest we replace about half of our friends every seven years or so.

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Something to ponder at your social gatherings this weekend.