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It happens all the time during basketball games. Two players are aiming for the ball. They touch it at the same time, but nobody controls it and it flies out of bounds.
At this point, the mood is rising – both are sure the other player was the last to touch it, which should give his own team a chance to control the ball ,
Do the players pretend that they are so sure they are against their opponent? Or could there actually be a difference in how they experience the event where they point their finger at the other player?
Scientists at Arizona State University addressed these questions in an article published in Science Advances.
"It's very possible that people experience two different sequences of events, two different experiences of reality, even though they experienced the same event," says Ty Tang, Cognitive Science graduate student at ASU, to NPR.
In the experiments, the researchers found that people tend to believe that their own actions took place in front of near-simultaneous actions. They found that people perceive their own actions on average about 50 milliseconds before the other movement. Therefore, the basketball players were so confident that they knocked the ball in front of the opponent.
Tang says that, in general, there is much evidence that "the things that some people experience are sometimes different than others."
To test this, Tang performed three different experiments with ASU students. In the first experiment, two students sat facing each other. A divider between them had slots for the hands. When a simultaneous light flashed, they each tapped a sensor on the other person's right hand and indicated which of them thought they had believed first.
"We found a very strong impact for the participants when they felt that their touch had taken place before the other person's touch," says Tang.
This was not a race – people were not told they should try to beat the other person. However, in more than two-thirds of the cases, the study participants stated that they were the first to knock.
Tang achieved similar results when he replaced the second man with a mechanical switch. In a third experiment, he used a clicking sound instead of a switch. "Even when we removed that touch and just replaced it with a click, they still thought that this touch had taken place before that sound," he says.
It is not clear why many people have these prejudices. Tang says it could support the theory that we "are constantly predicting the world and trying to create this mental model of what will happen." But they do not know if there is actually a sensory difference when things register in the brain, he says.
And it is worth noting that people do not always think that their action took place first, when two things occur almost simultaneously – it's just a significant trend. Some people are more vulnerable than others. Other factors should help. For example: "If it's a competitive situation, you're more likely to influence the decision that is more favorable to you."
What brings us back to the top athletes. Do they more or less likely have this inclination to their own actions?
"It's a bit hard to say and it can go both ways," says Tang. With these fast reaction times, the athletes are going about the whole time. So he wonders if this is a prejudice that can be trapped. "If you have all those tight temporal events between which you have to differentiate, then you could better say which one actually happened first or second," he says.
On the other hand, athletes are constantly in competitive situations – which, he noted, can compound prejudice.
Ultimately, however, "we really just want people to better understand other people's perspectives," says Tang.
He adds, "Sometimes people actually have different experiences with what happened and they do not lie – they may have just experienced it that way. "