The good news is that your life is probably different than how you think it is. Unfortunately, that’s the bad news too. As Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman says: “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of the quality of evidence, but of the coherence of the story that the mind has managed to construct.”
Yet the tools for that construction are not only our experiences, hopes, desires and fears. There are psychological biases that prevent us from seeing an objective reality. In a sense, our collective reality is nothing but subjective experience vs. subjective experience. The people who do not understand this believe their subjective experience is, in fact, objective. Our inability to coexist is not out of lack or inherent social dysfunction, but simply a lack of understanding of the most fundamental aspects of the bodies we inhabit.
This phenomena has been studied since ancient Greek philosophy, and it’s typically referred to as “naïve realism,” the assumption that we see the world as it actually is, and that our impression is an objective, accurate representation of reality. Psychologist David McRaney summarizes it as follows:
“The last one hundred years of research suggest that you, and everyone else, still believe in a form of naïve realism. You still believe that although your inputs may not be perfect, once you get to thinking and feeling, those thoughts and feelings are reliable and predictable. We now know that there is no way you can ever know an “objective” reality, and we know that you can never know how much of subjective reality is a fabrication, because you never experience anything other than the output of your mind. Everything that’s ever happened to you has happened inside your skull.”
So what are these biases that affect us so deeply? Well, for starters, while there are many that are identifiable, there’s nothing that says you can’t create your own, unique biases – and in fact, it’s likely that most people do. Yet, those are likely derived from some combination of the following.
Because our sole experience of the world is only through the apertures of our senses and ultimately, our psyches, we inevitably project our own preferences and consciousness onto what we see, and interpret it accordingly. In other words: the world is not as it is, it is as we are. We overestimate how typical and normal other people are, based on how “odd” or “different” we feel. We assume that people think the way we do – because our internal narrative and process of the world is all we know.
Extrapolation is what happens when we take the current moment we are in, and then project those circumstances onto our lives as a whole. We make assumptions based on what our current circumstances “mean” about us, and then also begin to believe that things will always be the way they are – hence why tragedies feel so insurmountable, yet happiness feels so fleeting (in fearing that happiness won’t last forever, we lose it – in fearing that grief will last forever, we create it).
We become too influenced by the first piece of information we hear. For example, our world views tend to be the culmination of our parents’, not our most inherent beliefs. During a negotiation, the person who first puts an offer out creates a “range of possibility.” If you’ve heard of three people getting their books published for about the same amount of compensation, you begin to assume what will be possible for you, simply from your first frame of reference.
We can’t stop watching car crashes and pay more attention to bad news and find ourselves absolutely enthralled by the destruction and drama in people’s lives – and it’s not because we’re morbid or completely masochistic. It’s actually because we only have the capacity to be selectively attentive, and we perceive negative news to be more important and profound, therefore, what our attention should go to first. Part of the reason for this is an essence of mysteriousness (when we don’t know the purpose of negativity in an existential sense, we become fascinated by it).
The sister of “anchoring,” conservatism is believing something more only because we believed it first. In other words, it’s an apprehension toward accepting new information, even if that information is more accurate or useful.
6. Clustering illusion
“Clustering” is when you begin to see patterns in random events because you have subconsciously decided to. This is what happens when you start seeing the car you want everywhere, or notice everyone wearing red when you’re wearing it. You subconsciously create patterns that, to other people, would be seen as random, simply because you’re seeking a confirmation bias.
One of the most commonly known biases, confirmation is what happens when we selectively listen to information that supports or proves our preconceptions of an idea or issue at hand. It’s how we mentally insulate ourselves and our world-view. It’s also how we self-validate.
When you consciously “choose” something, you tend to see that thing more positively, and actively disregard it’s flaws, more often than you would of a thing you did not choose for yourself. This is why the idea that we are autonomous in deciding what’s right for us is so crucial – it dictates how we’ll relate to that thing forever.