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The third person effect: everyone is indoctrinated except me

The third person effect: everyone is indoctrinated except me

September 24, 2022

Each one of us has an idea about himself, a self-concept. We also have an idea about the world, a way of representing the reality that surrounds us and the people with whom we interact. And we also have an idea about how we or others can get or be affected by things. In this sense, we can observe that with regard to the visualization of advertising, we generally consider that it has a different effect on ourselves than on the rest. It is what is known as the third person effect , which we will explain throughout this article.

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The third person effect: what is it?

We call the third person effect to a distortion in our belief system through which we consider that others are more influenced than ourselves.


The effect in question observes that, seen an advertising element or submitted to a specific argument to an attempt of persuasion, we tend to consider that the effect it has on ourselves is low or non-existent while in turn we consider it much more likely that third parties will be affected by it and modify your beliefs. The effect in question was formulated by Davidson in 1983, in the observation of people's beliefs regarding the power of persuasion in advertising.

The denomination "third person" starts from the idea that we usually think that not only we will not be affected by persuasion but also those that are close to us (friends, couple, family or people to whom we feel united in general), while that yes it will be people that are unknown to us or with whom we do not feel a connection. In other words: we believe that neither the subject we call "I" nor the one we consider "you" will be easily persuaded, but we usually call him / her with a certain imprecision if we consider them more susceptible.


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What are these beliefs?

The third person effect is an effect that appears on a regular basis in most people and that is not pathological at all. But once defined, it is necessary to ask the why of this type of beliefs. And on the one hand, this effect supposes an overvaluation of one's ability to resist an attempt at persuasion , while on the other it supposes an underestimation of the resilience of others towards persuasion attempts.

In this sense, the same author who coined it (Davidson) considered that the cause of the third person effect was in pluralistic ignorance, that is, to the consideration of others they will not be able to analyze the situation with the same level of ability that we , either due to lack of skill or lack of the same information. This will cause external persuasion attempts to make more impression on them than on the subject itself.


Other authors, including some more psychodynamic, indicate that this effect is the product of individuation and the defense of self-concept: we believe ourselves less vulnerable than the rest as a mechanism to protect our own self-concept, in such a way that we unconsciously overestimate our abilities of resistance.

Influential factors

It should be noted that the third person effect it does not appear in the same way and with the same intensity before any attempt of persuasion , there are several factors that influence the consideration we have regarding the ability of a message to generate a behavioral change.

One of the main factors that influence is the message, affecting aspects such as its level of consistency, generality and abstraction. An unclear message, formulated in a generic way and with little specificity and with a somewhat abstract theme, has a greater tendency to generate a third person effect. Interestingly, if the message is much more structured and specific, the consideration is inverted, the third person effect ceases to appear to the first person effect: we believe that third parties are not going to be as deeply affected or moved by the message as we are.

On the other hand, the sender of the message and our relationship or consideration for him or her is also an element that can have a great influence on the differentiated belief regarding his ability to convince us and the rest. In general, the worse consideration we have of the subject or institution emitting greater intensity of the third person effect.

For example if we hate someone we will consider that their messages will not have any effect on us or our environment, while we accept that third parties can be convinced or deceived more easily by lacking the same information regarding the issuer.

Finally, another element to consider is the emotional sphere and the interest of the subject himself with respect to the message itself. A greater emotional involvement or the existence of motivation or interest tends to assume that the third person effect is not or will be less, being more likely to occur the aforementioned first person effect.

Bibliographic references

  • Davison, W. P. (1983). The third-person effect in communication. Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 47: 1-15.
  • Paul, B .; Salwen, M.B. & Dupagne, M. (2000). The Third-Person Effect: A Meta-Analysis of the Perceptual Hypothesis. Mass Communication and Society; 3 (1): 57-85.
  • Falces, C: Bautista, R and Sierra, B. (2011). The third person effect: the role of the quality of the arguments and the type of estimate. Journal of Social Psychology, 26 (1): 133-139.

Mass Effect 3 - Shepard's Indoctrination (September 2022).


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