We've all heard the following bits of advice at work: focus on youthink about yourself first, and perhaps even stay in your lane.

And the advice rings true. When we focus too much on others, we can lose sight of ourselves and our own progress. Now researchers are figuring out why.

A team led by Steven Buzinksi at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has investigated how the judgments and decisions of students can be guided by their perceptions of how others like them behave. This idea was explored previously -- another study, concerned with how students overestimate how much their peers drink alcohol, found that this "widespread overestimation" actually influences students to drink more themselves.

However, this Chapel Hill team wanted to see if study habits and behaviors were affected in similar ways by inaccurate perceptions.

In studying hundreds of social psychology undergraduates, researchers found that exam scores could actually take a hit when students miscalculated how much their peers studied.

Overall, students had a tendency to underestimate how much time peers spent studying for upcoming exams. Even further, how much a student studied correlated with what they perceived was a normal amount of time to study, according to what they perceived about everyone else.

However, Buzinski and his team found that students' misconceptions about the study time of their peers were not always positive influences for actual exam performance. One would normally assume that underestimating typical study time would lead to choosing to study less, and receiving poor test grades.

But, in fact, researchers surprisingly found that those students who overestimated, not underestimated, their peers' study time actually performed worse in the subsequent test.

The reason? Buzinski's team speculate that anxiety and self-doubt arrived when a student felt as if his or her peers were hitting the books too hard (even though it is likely that this perception was inaccurate).

Future research will be needed "to confirm the robustness of these findings," and it may be necessary to "directly observe how correcting misconceptions affects students' study behavior and their confidence."

Ultimately, it may benefit you to apply these findings to your own working life -- to think about how hard others may be working may actually cause you stress and anxiety, damaging your performance. Plus, you may be wrong about how hard your peers are working -- so yes, make sure to focus on you.

Published on: Nov 28, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.