Are people noticing you more or less than you think they are?

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-adjustmentinterpre- tation 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.

Source: “The Spotlight Effect in Social Judgment: An Egocentric Bias in Estimates of the Salience of One’s Own Actions and Appearance” from Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 78, No. 2, 211-222

I found this study in Thaler and Sunstein’s interesting book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

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