Drawing on cutting-edge research, acclaimed author, Harvard professor, and think tank creator Todd Rose pulls back the veil on how our thinking is all too often informed by false assumptions and how those assumptions result in bad decisions that not only make us unhappy, but dangerously erode trust in society and skewer our vision of reality.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the first things to disappear from grocery shelves were toilet paper and paper towels. Many Americans stockpiled these ordinary items in their homes — not because there was a problem with the supply chain but because that’s what everyone else seemed to be doing. As a result, our panic created a shortage that otherwise didn’t exist. That real shortage then led to more buying and more panic and started a cycle that it took many months to untangle. This was all good news for toilet paper companies, but it wasn’t good for the psyche of Americans fearful they were going to need to find creative alternatives every time they entered a bathroom.

Todd Rose believes that human beings continually act against their own best interests out of a misunderstanding of what we think others believe. A complicated set of illusions structures and distorts how we see the world around us. We are trapping ourselves in prisons of our own making that prevent us from living the happy, fulfilled lives we envision and distort how we see the world. The question is, why do we keep joining the lies and hurting ourselves? The answer is a one-two punch, deeply hard-wired in our DNA.

The first punch is that we humans are far, far more socially dependent than we realize or dare to accept. All else being equal, we yearn to be both true to who we are and fully in sync with the social norms of our respective groups. The second punch — the “inference gap” — is more powerful. We humans have a very limited understanding of the illusory gulf between our private comprehension and the public social norms that determine so much of our behavior. Our interpretation is just that: an interpretation. We fill in the blanks and we get things wrong not just sometimes, but most of the time.

Using originally researched data and contemporary examples, Collective Illusions shows us where we get things wrong and how we can be authentic in how we form our opinions while valuing truth, and use that to transform ourselves and ultimately society. Rose offers a counterintuitive, empowering, and hopeful explanation for how we can bridge the inference gap, make decisions with a newfound clarity, and achieve fulfillment.

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