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Psychological projection

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We assume of others what we know of ourselves.
—Winston Rowntree[1]

Projection (also known as Freudian Projection) is the psychological phenomenon where someone denies some aspect of their behavior or attitudes and assumes instead that others are doing or thinking so. It is usually seen as the externalisation of a person's negative traits, placing blame on an outside force such as the environment, a government, a society or other people.

Projection can also extend to philosophy and knowledge. This occurs when a person or small group of people assume that everyone else is working with the same ideas and/or information that they are. When this fails to happen, however, it can lead to pluralistic ignorance.

A telltale sign of this is when a speaker says that "Everybody knows that...(a certain course of action)" is either beneficial or harmful, so society should avoid an impending catastrophe by following the course of action that the speaker proposes.

Another common forum for projection is in internet arguments, where it is usually pathetically obvious to everyone except the projector.[2] In that context, the phenomenon may be called mirror-imaging.

Although such a simple phenomenon is possible, it's worth mentioning that accusing someone of simply 'projecting' is an all-too-convenient and overused explanation of why people make incorrect assumptions. People use their own behavior as a basis for guessing others' – however it is, ironically, possibly an 'argument by assertion' to presume that the audience knows what is in the supposed projector's head. There is no proof that 'projection' is in fact something the brain does – it's only a theory in psychology, a science in which most theories are impossible to prove. It is, however, an easy out to defend one's point of view by attacking the integrity of their opponent's position by asserting it is simply an illusion of the opponent's lack of self-awareness – something often assumed by the accuser without any cause but their own bias. The net effect is that, whether real or imagined, once perceived, the two sides each realize they are in a polarized argument but blame each other for the lack of relation. This is one example of why internet arguments are often not productive.


  • An adulterous spouse may think the other spouse is sleeping around.
  • Creationists assert that supporters of evolution are religious zealots, and religious (especially Christian) fanatics assert that atheism is a religion (while sometimes going so far as to say "Christianity isn't a religion; it's a personal relationship with Jesus").
  • Self-proclaimed "ex-homosexuals" may state that all gays are empty, sinful shells of human beings that need repairing so they can be good, God-fearing straights.
  • The Media Research Center and any other media watchdog that complains about the liberal media and partisanship while being extremely biased and partisan themselves.
  • Racists who claim that anyone who criticises them must also be racially prejudiced.
  • Rare, but can actually happen if someone becomes sufficiently unhinged: a mother yelling at a childless friend about what a horrible mother the childless friend is. And, of course, the much more common case of a narcissistic parent yelling at their children about how horrible the children are.
  • Lyle Rossiter arguably holds a world record for this.
  • Bryan Fischer, who has a sufficiently severe enough case of this that Ed Brayton has named an award after him.
  • Republican commercial organizations encourage rampant consumerism surrounding Christmas, overwhelming other aspects of the festival. Then Republicans accuse American liberals of a War on Christmas.[3]
  • Pathological liars
  • Genocidal governments will accuse their victims of being brutal, vile, verminous animals. Of course, there is nothing more brutish, vile, or verminous than the act of committing genocide. [citation NOT needed]
  • Conspiratorial thinkers may assume that what they think people should be doing is not being done due to a lack of “self”-control, but have controlled themselves to think of these theories of why what they think people should be doing is not being done rather than modeling it.

See also[edit]


  1. Winston Rowntree, Subnormality #186, Virus Comix
  2. The problem is recognized in intelligence analysis, in the form of cognitive traps for intelligence analysis.
  3. Steven W Thrasher (Friday 11 December 2015) "Conservatives should blame capitalism for the 'war on Christmas'"