We are thinking about thinking — about reasoning and judgment. How do we make choices? The world is complex. There’s so much information coming at us, sometimes misinformation. What to wear, what kind of car to buy? Whether to stay in the same job, choosing a mate, what to purchase at the grocery store. Most of these decisions that we make aren’t made under ideal conditions either. Most of the time, we are rushed. Ideally, you’d have all the time in the world, have a pros and cons list, do some research – all of the information available to you. But we just don’t have that kind of time.
Our perception and memory are influenced by the sum of our experiences. Richard Nisbett, a proponent of the power of unconscious processing, says that we have no real insight into the determinants of our own behavior. In a study, he set up a table at a market with four pairs of identical stockings labeled A, B, C, and D with a sign “Consumer Evaluation Survey: Which is the best quality?” They lined up the stockings in a row and encouraged people to feel them and choose which pair they thought was the best quality. What they found was that people in the study were subject to a massive bias. The people were much more prone to pick the pairs of stockings that were on the right side, as opposed to the left. When asked why they choose the one on the right, they replied “Well, I really liked the color of that one, the knit, the elasticity.” They were further asked if they thought the order of those could’ve influenced their judgment in any way. People tended to have one of two reactions, either they thought they didn’t understand the question or they were dealing with a madman. This study reveals what is one of our fundamental cognitive errors – the fact that we don’t really have any awareness of when we are interpreting and trying to make sense out of potentially unrelated data.
This is called naïve realism—that the world is exactly as we perceive it. This view holds that perception and memory are recorded and retrieved with perfect accuracy. Our legal system is based on this concept. However, we don’t have any sort of privileged access into the workings of our own memory for us to even begin to become aware of our biases.
Unfortunately this is only the beginning of humanity’s cognitive weaknesses. We think that a variety of events in our lives would have a big impact on us, but research shows that they don’t. Our predictions of how long bad feelings will last, end up lasting not as long as we think. When college students who are dating were asked, “What would it do to you if you were to break up?” The answer: “Miserable. I wouldn’t be able to hold my head up. I couldn’t sleep.” We assume we would be thrilled forever if we won the lottery. In reality, lottery winners end up less happy than they were before they won. Even bereavement doesn’t last as long and is not as bad as we predict it would be. Our psychological immune system is actually pretty good at lifting us up. We adapt well.
Cobhams Asuquo, a Nigerian/British, singer/songwriter – who was born blind feels that his blindness is a gift at times. He and his wife went into an airport shop to get a bottle of water. His wife ended up with a bag of gummy bears, a magazine and a book. He found this seemingly normal procedure, quiet alarming – making impulse purchases just based on what she saw – “sight sometimes is a destruction”.
…to be continued…