People think that any small mistake or embarrassment is going to be noticed and judged by everyone around them.
Yet in reality this is not what happens.
Even if you do something embarrassing, like falling over, forgetting a word while speaking, spilling coffee on your shirt or snorting while you laugh, and you feel like everyone in the world noticed, in reality that is just you suffering from the spotlight effect.
The spotlight effect is a cognitive bias refers to the fact that people significantly overestimate how much attention other people are paying to them.
We are all at the center of our own worlds, and so we notice everything happening to us, especially what we ourselves do. This is especially true of situations where we do something which is unexpected or embarassing, since we do not want to stand out from the group.
Yet in reality, since other people are more focused on their own lives as well, rather than yours, they are less likely to pay attention to what is happening with you.
And even if they do notice, they will not process it nearly as intensely as you do about yourself. They are likely to forget much faster than you as well.
Research studies published in 2000 found evidence for the spotlight effect, showing that participants who were forced to wear an embarrassing T-shirt significantly overestimated how many people noticed the image on it (it was of Barry Manilow, a singer deemed very embarrassing for the university students in the study). Similarily, assessing the impact of saying either something brilliant in a group conversation or stumbling on your words, participants overestimated how memorable both the brilliant things they said would be remembered by the rest of the group, as well as how memorable the mistakes were.
So science shows us that you do not need to be so embarrassed about what people think of you. They notice things a lot less than you feel or think they do.
And for anyone who is feeling intimidated to get started pursuing their interests or creative skills more seriously, in case they make a fool of themselves in front of others, this means you can breathe a sigh of relief.
But don’t worry, people won’t notice while you improve, even when you make some mistakes along the way.
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