The spotlight effect in social judgment: an egocentric bias in estimates of the salience of one's own actions and appearance

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000 Feb;78(2):211-22. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.78.2.211.


This research provides evidence that people overestimate the extent to which their actions and appearance are noted by others, a phenomenon dubbed the spotlight effect. In Studies 1 and 2, participants who were asked to don a T-shirt depicting either a flattering or potentially embarrassing image overestimated the number of observers who would be able to recall what was pictured on the shirt. In Study 3, participants in a group discussion overestimated how prominent their positive and negative utterances were to their fellow discussants. Studies 4 and 5 provide evidence supporting an anchoring-and-adjustment interpretation of the spotlight effect. In particular, people appear to anchor on their own rich phenomenological experience and then adjust--insufficiently--to take into account the perspective of others. The discussion focuses on the manifestations and implications of the spotlight effect across a host of everyday social phenomena.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Observer Variation
  • Self Concept
  • Self-Assessment*
  • Set, Psychology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Perception*