Pratfall effect: nicer when wrong

Curious how our mind works. The Pratfall effect is a good example of this, which is to start feeling sympathy towards a person especially when he makes a mistake.

Pratfall effect: nicer when wrong

Last update: September 29, 2022

There is a singular charm in intelligent and competent, but careless people. The figure of the clumsy genius, so iconic in the world of cinema, has a curious and suggestive psychological explanation. We refer toPratfall effect, or how brilliant people win the sympathy of others by making some mistakes.

It is not an isolated or singular fact to which science is dedicated and which many ignore. The truth is that we have certainly been direct witnesses of a similar situation on several occasions.

In movies, when the genius becomes less haughty, we start to like him more. The same happens in real life. When the typical classmate who knows everything and is extraordinarily experienced stumbles or throws coffee on the ground, we find it much more likeable, easy-going and endearing.

Error makes you more human, and even closer. This psychological phenomenon is well known and more than one individual exploits it intentionally.

Being fallible makes us human, as a result others are more inclined to establish a relationship with us.

People who make mistakes often seem much closer and have a greater emotional impact on us.

What is the Pratfall effect?

The Pattfall effect was defined by the social psychologist Elliot Aronson in 1966 following a curious experiment at the University of Minnesota. The students involved had to watch tapes in which other students talked about their academic achievements.

The aforementioned recordings fell into two groups: students who excelled and not. In one recording, however, one of the more studious students dropped his coffee. Thanks to this detail, he made a better impression on those watching the video, who described him as an attractive, friendly and easygoing person.

However, the same episode to a student of the “mediocre” group did not favor the same perception. The Pratfall effect was defined as the attraction that an intelligent person generates when he shows himself at a disadvantage.

This has led Aronson to hypothesize that those who are aware of their skills can be more successful if they prove fallible.

We like celebrities more if they make a mistake in public

One celebrity we’ve seen wrong in public more than once is Jennifer Lawrence. This actress has the merit of sincerity and spontaneity. Beyond her artistic abilities and her Oscars, she is known for some of her gaffes. This is a big plus for her.

On the contrary, any other well-known actor or character in the world of arts and sciences who does not leave room for improvisation, who takes care of their gestures in detail, will not generate so much closeness. Even if that doesn’t mean we don’t admire them for their work.

In light of this, a competent person will be more appreciated if he occasionally allows himself to be fallible in front of the public.

But here is an important aspect that needs to be underlined: mistakes or blunders must be punctual and sporadic; if they are a constant, the Pratfall effect disappears and its charm is lost.

The Pratfall effect and the theory of social confrontation

When we meet a bright, determined and competent person, we are always impressed and we have respect for him. It is as if we feel at fault.

However, seeing her stumble or make a mistake, things change. Seeing an exceptional character make a stupid mistake, like the ones we make, generates closeness and trust.

The Pratfall effect is based on the theory of social confrontation. In other words, as Leon Festinger explained in 1954, we evaluate ourselves by comparing ourselves with others. Seeing someone more determined and competent than us produces discomfort at times.

However, seeing a person making a mistake, spilling coffee or stumbling when talking, awakens our empathy because we identify with him or her. This also strengthens our self-esteem, makes us feel good.

If a person famous and appreciated for his many virtues is wrong like us, it means we are special too.

Highly intelligent people are aware of the Pratfall effect and can use it to generate social attraction.

Making mistakes makes you human

Nothing brings each other closer than discovering that we all make mistakes from time to time. No matter how brilliant we are, no one is immune from the most foolish mistake, from accidental fall, from public gaffe… And this phenomenon is well known to science, the media and the most ingenious minds.

The world of cinema always outlines the scientist on duty as that slightly clumsy genius who burns breakfast as easily as he saves the world.

The Pratfall effect makes these characters appear fascinating to our eyes. But beware, smart people are aware of this phenomenon and can use it to be more influential.

However, a study tells us there are exceptions. People with very high self-esteem and those with low self-esteem dislike the bright individual who makes mistakes. They prefer infallible individuals.

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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