Talking To Strangers: Why We Misjudge Those We Donít Know

by Valerie Foo (10595 views)
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Estimated reading time: 1.5 minute

It’s easy to make assumptions when it comes to dealing with people we don’t know.
After all, we usually form our own impressions based on today’s applied standard of

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Talking to Strangers, he explores the mistakes and
assumptions that we tend to make when it comes to strangers. He highlights a
behavioural study by Tim Levine about the social science of lying and deception – so
as to better encourage us to examine our own thought processes and behaviours.
Levine’s study involved him inviting students to his lab and taking a trivia test. They
would then be partnered up with someone they’ve never met before – these
“partners” are actually people who work for Levine, but the students do not know.
The students are then told that if they answer the questions correctly, they would win
a cash prize.

While the students are working on the test, the invigilator would get called away and
leave midway through. At this point, the “partner” would plant the idea of cheating in
the student’s mind by saying, “I don’t know you, but I could use the money. I think
the answers were left right there.”

30% of the students cheated. Levine then interviewed them and questioned their
good results. Apart from asking outright if they cheated while the invigilator was
away, he asked them what their partners would say when they get interviewed.
A student he code named Nervous Nelly was exhibiting nervous behavior – from
fidgeting to playing with her fingers and hair. During her interview, she told Levine
that she advised her partner to not do it and that it was against her morals to cheat.
However, when Levine showed the footage during his lectures, everyone agreed that
Nervous Nelly cheated even though she did not. Hence, this emphasizes the fact
that we all form judgements based on the behaviour of others without keeping in
mind that everyone reacts differently to a specific situation.

Want to examine your own thought processes and learn more about human
behaviours? Then get your copy of Talking to Strangers from Book Depository!