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Honesty Wears a Polite Mask with a Smile

Update Date: Jul 28, 2012 03:04 PM EDT

We come across many a people who we think are really funny. There is another set of people, who think of themselves as being funny, while many may not agree to the same.

But no matter how bad a joke is, we all do let out a polite laugh. Ever wondered why? Because we don't want the other person know that they are not funny, and scientists say, that social norms do not allow us to give a real feedback.

Joyce Ehrlinger, a Florida State University assistant professor of psychology in her recent paper "Polite But Not Honest: How an Absence of Negative Social Feedback Contributes to Overconfidence," maintains that our society does not allow us hurt others' feelings. This results in us hardly ever hearing anything negative about ourselves and thus contributes to over confidence in a lot of people. People who are overly self-confident, often carry around inaccurate, overly positive perceptions of how others view them, says a press release. 

Ehrlinger and two Florida State graduate students - Adam J. Fay and Joanna Goplen conducted three studies which were based on awkward social situations in which one person argues for a political position that others find reprehensible, the press release stated. 

The researchers brought together participants who were unacquainted with each other and had contradicting views. While the debate went on, the researchers observed that even when a participant was encouraged to express his or her view on the issue, most of them responded by smiling or vaguely agreeing.

The polite responses was perhaps the reason for the potential of the conflict going down, and it certainly left the political persuaders feeling overconfident about their debating skills, which was obviously untrue. 

In another study, it was found that participants were overconfident about themselves being funny because mostly they failed to understand how often people laughed at jokes not because they liked it, but because they were trying to be polite. 

"There's definitely no harm in some types of overconfidence, and I am not suggesting that we should stop living in a polite society. The worst that might come from someone believing that they are funnier than, in reality, they are is a bit of embarrassment or wasted effort auditioning for 'America's Got Talent,'" Ehrlinger explained in the news release. 

However, she says that people should make sure that politeness does not come at a cost. At times, overconfidence could cause serious consequences too. 

"Overconfident doctors and lawyers might offer their patients or clients poor advice," she said. "There are ways in which overconfidence is dangerous, and it might be important to set aside politeness in the service of helping people avoid the perils of overconfidence."

The findings of the study will be presented at the American Psychological Association's 120th convention in Orlando, Fla., in August.

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