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The Spotlight Effect: Why No One Else Remembers What You Did

Louis Chew
Personal Growth
Published in
4 min readAug 18, 2018


Imagine you’ve just walked into a room.

You’re wearing a t-shirt printed with a terrible joke. It’s printed in block letters, so there’s no way people can miss. The colours don’t even go well together. It’s downright embarrassing.

A couple of reactions are to be expected.

You can’t help but notice that a couple of your peers are glancing in your direction. Someone in the corner was snickering. A few people you passed were talking under their breath. It seems everyone has noticed this social gaffe you’ve made.

A couple of minutes later, you’re certain you’re never going to recover from this faux pas. Nobody is going to forget this moment.

All Eyes On Me

It’s an extremely relatable scenario.

Most of us have had moments of embarrassment since we’re young. We’ve asked stupid questions and done stupid things, only realising the mistake we’ve made later on. Afterwards, we can’t forget it. The image of our fourteen-year-old self tripping on flat ground still flashes in our minds.

But as researchers found out, we are terrible at assessing how noticeable our social gaffes are to others. In the above scenario where students had to wear an embarrassing t-shirt, the number of people who actually noticed their gaffe was actually half as many as they had estimated.

This phenomenon is known as the Spotlight Effect — people tend to believe that more people take notice of their actions and appearance than is actually the case. It’s an apt name. We think we are in the spotlight and all eyes are on us. In reality, no one cares.

If you’re not convinced that nobody remembers the word you mispronounced back in high school, try to recall the last time your classmate made a similar mistake. You’ll find that it’s a lot harder than remembering your own mistake.

The Spotlight Effect

It’s not hard to see why the spotlight effect shows up in our lives.

First, we have an egocentric bias in how we assess our actions and appearance to others. We’re the centre of our world, which deludes us into exaggerating our importance. To…



Louis Chew
Personal Growth

I explore underappreciated ideas. Currently writing about tech and business in Southeast Asia - check out