Understanding Feelings: Sunglasses, The Spotlight Effect, and Your World Model (Part 1)

You probably looked at the title of this blog and said, “Huh?”

Well, if you will bare with me, I’ll explain a very important concept that will help you make sense of some of the experiences you (or someone you know) have already had.

A few years ago, I started a conversation with an acquaintance of mine by saying, “How are you doing?”.

To my surprise, without even a pause, he looked at me intensely and said, “What exactly do you mean?”

I wasn’t sure how to respond.

So, I rather lamely said, “Nothing, really.”

I found out later from a mutual friend that this individual had been accused of having done something about which he was embarrassed. His comment to me implied that he thought I was prying or drawing attention to his situation.

In fact, I knew nothing about what he was experiencing and was merely saying, “Hello.”

My initial question to him was only intended to communicate to him that I was acknowledging his presence.

In other words, asking “How are you doing?” was the same as  saying “Hello.”

Clearly, my friend viewed my communication very differently than I did.

If you have ever had a conversation “go sideways” and wondered what was happening, here is one possible explanation.

Each of us views the world, and our interactions with it, through a set of filters based on our past, what we may be experiencing in the moment, our expectations, and so forth.

When our interactions with others are not impacted by emotions and there are no effective filters operating, our communication, generally, are clear and absent of misunderstanding.

If, however, in an interaction, you get a response to which you automatically think “Huh?”, then it is quite likely that the person with whom you are interacting has misunderstood what you have said (or done) and is viewing the interaction through a filter.


When you put on a pair of sunglasses (brown, green, grey, yellow), you notice that your view of the world appears to change. As you know you are wearing sunglasses, you realize the “change” is not real but is due to the filter you are wearing.

But, imagine that you did not know you were wearing sunglasses?

An experiment was done several years ago in which volunteers were fitted with glasses which turned the world upside down.  Initially, as you would imagine, they were disoriented.  Over time, however, they adjusted to their new perspective and were able to function “normally”.  They functioned as if the filters were not there.

But, the filters were there!

We do the same thing with the filters we wear. We get used to them and may not be aware that they exist and impact the way we interact with the world.

What are some of our filters?

  • Gender:

Are you misjudged as a man just because you are a man?

Are you misjudged as a woman in a professional setting just because you are an assertive woman.

  • Age:

Do people misjudge you based on their perceptions of your age (too old or too young)?

  • Race/Ethnicity:

Are you misjudged by others based on your race or ethnicity?

  • Past experiences related to abuse, unfair treatment, feeling misunderstood or inadequate.

To what extent might the past experiences of the individual with whom you are interacting be impacting how they are interacting with you?

If this person’s past experiences have led them to be excessively self-protective, it is possible that they are relating to you, in the present, as if you are similar to those people in their past who misjudged, or mistreated, them.


It is important to point out that I am not, in this post, referring to someone who, as a “racist” or a “misogynist”, demeans an entire class of people based solely on a specific characteristic.  While there certainly are filters that are operative which impact this person’s actions, dealing with these individuals can be very complicated.

I am more interested, in this post, in people who may not be mean-spirited but who judge others and interact with them based on misinformation or stereotypes. For these folks, the extent to which their filters impair their interpersonal interactions is less severe than it is for a “racist” or a “misogynist”.

Misinformation and stereotypes can be corrected.

Attitudes that are mean-spirited, derogatory and demeaning typically are resistant to change. Racism and misogyny are often denied, are abhorrent, and are very hard to redirect.

In this post, I have introduced the concept of an individual’s filters and the idea that one’s behavior can be, unknowingly, impacted by their filters.

In part 2, I will explore feelings, the Spotlight Effect, and one’s Model of the World.


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