Psychological projection

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

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 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 the other for the lack of relation. This is one example of why internet arguments are often not productive.


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'"
  4. Of course Trump called Comey a liar: That's always been his strategy by Dana Milbank (June 12 at 4:28 PM) The Washington Post.