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How Our Brains Trick Us into Believing the Wrong Things

How Our Brains Trick Us into Believing the Wrong Things

Watching the past presidential elections, we can easily find protests and demonstrations where huge crowds of supporters argued with their opposing sides, blaming each other for the perceived mess they brought to the country.

Supporters of one side see only the good policies while turning a blind eye to others, and that’s how the confrontation begins.

Have you ever wondered why such a large discrepancy can be caused between the two? Instead of mere difference in political views, it was actually confirmation bias that came into play.

Reason for discrepancy: Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to seek information to reinforce their own beliefs. It is also known as myside bias, which literally means the strong belief in the ideas of one’s own group when we are in a large collaborative group.

How is confirmation bias lethal to us? It blinds us from being objective to facts. Facts that oppose our beliefs. Facts that can prove us wrong. Consequently, we become irrational and render ourselves incapable of proper reasoning without realizing it.

Confirmation bias comes in three dimensions: Biased search for information, biased interpretation and biased memory. They all contribute to our misjudgment in different ways.

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1. Biased Search for Information – Only Test in a One-sided Way

It refers to the tendency for people to test their hypotheses in a one-sided way. In simpler and more direct words, we only look for evidence consistent with our own hypotheses. This phenomenon has been confirmed by numerous experiments.

For example, in a study, participants were asked to rate another person on the introversion-extroversion scale from the performance of an interview they conducted with him/her. They were also provided with a list of interview questions to choose from. [1]

Interestingly, when the interviewee was introduced as an introvert/extrovert, the interviewer would pick questions that presumed the personality. When introduced as an introvert, questions like “What do you find unpleasant about noisy parties?” were likely to be asked, which gave the interviewee little room to justify himself/herself.

The selection of questions served to reinforce the belief of the interviewee as an introvert/extrovert. And all these were done subconsciously.

2. Biased Interpretation – Interpret in a Way that Supports our Beliefs

We are also found lopsided to interpret a piece of information in a way that favors our beliefs. Even when we are given the same piece of evidence, people having opposing stances can view the evidence entirely differently. [2]

During the presidential election in 2004, a study was conducted to people with strong feelings towards the two parties. They were given contradictory statements written by a Republican, a Democratic and a politically neutral figure. They were also convinced that the contradiction was reasonable. In the end, the result showed that participants were much more likely to rate the political figure of the opposing party contradictory, even with the same evidence.

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3. Biased Memory – Remember Memory Selectively to Support Beliefs

Also known as “selective recall”, where people remember a piece of information selectively to reinforce their beliefs. There are two sayings in this bias, one suggesting memory consistent with prior expectations is stored more easily, while another one suggesting surprising information is more memorable. Both views are confirmed in studies. One thing to be sure is that we all have selective memory.

In one study, participants were asked to recall the traits of a person in a job application scenario. When told the applicant was looking for a librarian job, participants recalled more traits related to introversion. On the other hand, participants recalled more extroverted traits when they were told it was a real estate salesperson application. [3]

Confirmation Bias Makes us Believe our Faulty Beliefs Even More

Up to this point, we are aware of the fact that our minds are biased. But what does it do to us?

    On the scientific grounds we often look for a cause-and-effect relationship. If confirmation bias is in play, we are likely to fall into traps that affirm faulty hypotheses.

    Researchers are sometimes guilty of confirmation bias by setting up experiments or framing their data in ways that will tend to confirm their hypotheses. It is common to see that one incident follows another, but does that mean there is a causal relationship?  Not necessarily, but when researchers seek to identify the relationship, they are likely to falsely recognize it as such.

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    When it comes to business decision making, it is also very dangerous to not be objective. People usually overlook the importance of information that may have substantially influenced the decision to be made when the piece of information is against their expected results.

    For example, when an executive team is devising a new strategy, they are likely to magnify even the tiniest clue of success. The downside and contrary results are put aside and disregarded, or they are dismissed as exceptional or special cases which require little attention. Such flaws and selective blindness in decision-making can severely harm a business.

    Or even back to simple daily life examples, like when we’re aiming to lose some weight.  You pick a diet and follow it, and your weight changes. If it reduced as expected, you might conclude that it is completely due to the diet’s effectiveness.  However, if later your weight rebounds, confirmation bias may wrongly lead you to ignore it as a random fluctuation and believe that the diet is still working perfectly.  In this case, confirmation bias might cause you to overlook some important hints about your own body.

    To Defeat Confirmation Bias, Try These Practices

    Now that we know that everyone has confirmation bias, how can we fight against it?

    Prove Ourselves Wrong Instead

    No theory or model is every absolutely perfect, and we can only make it better by finding out where it is wrong.  So when you write down your hypotheses, instead of seeking evidence only in favor of our view, try to actively look for the opposite.  Have the courage to find as much opposing evidence as you can, and it can give you big hints about where the flaws in our current ideas are.

    Nurture Constructive but Independent Thinking in a Group

    In group decision-making, create opportunities for each member to formulate their own ideas independently, and a safe environment to express them constructively.  Strive to clear away group-think assumptions that encourage everyone to jump on the same bandwagon.  Welcome people who have opposing ideas!  Instead of dismissing or confronting them, why not leverage each person’s unique point of view to illuminate our blind spots?  Having more perspectives can help the entire group create a clearer picture when making decisions.

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    This is actually what Abraham Lincoln did by inviting rival politicians and welcoming debate and discussion in spite of their completely contradicting opinions.  The same method is also used in police investigations.  Witnesses are generally not allowed to discuss with one another to prevent unintended (or intended) influence to maintain an unbiased testimony.

    Expect the Unexpected Results

    If we encounter unexpected situations or surprising results, never treat them as just a “special” or “exceptional” case and disregard them.  They are not!

    Try to explain the occurrence of the incidents by providing 3 possible reasons.  Research has suggested 3 is the ideal number, as having more does not significantly help to analyze the problem. [4]

    Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

    Reference

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    Jeffrey Lau

    Editor. Sport Lover. Animal Lover.

    A Dull Resume Can Kill Your Job Chances, Here’s How You Can Write an Appealing One The Secret to Effective Conflict Resolution: The IBR Approach 20 Most Fun Jobs in the World (That Also Pay Well) How to Think Positive Every Day How Our Brains Trick Us into Believing the Wrong Things

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    Last Updated on December 9, 2019

    How to Become Smarter: 21 Things You Can Do Daily

    How to Become Smarter: 21 Things You Can Do Daily

    Although many people believe intelligence is limited to those with high I.Q.s, there are a number of potential methods to boost one’s cognitive abilities and become more effective at various professional and personal pursuits.

    With enough motivation and determination, anyone can expand their mental capabilities and become smarter. Integrating new habits into your regular routine and providing proper stimulation can sharpen your intellect quickly and leave you inspired to take on new challenges each day.

    So how to become smarter?

    Brain health is an important key in complete physical health. The list below includes the best brain-engaging activities in daily life.

    Inviting Novelty

    To create new neural pathways and strengthen the brain, it’s critical for people to continually incorporate new experiences and information into their lives. At first, these moments might feel useless, but eventually, you will find yourself looking forward to quiet moments alone.

    1. Visit New Places

    Whether this means studying in a new coffee shop, taking a different route to work, or traveling to a different country, displacement is good for the brain. This might be difficult to recognize in the moment since it usually feels rather awkward – at least initially. At the coffee shop, you can’t order the “usual.” You have to study a new menu, pick something you have never tried before, and make a decision.

    While this seems simple, people enjoy the comfort of habit. We like to know what to expect at all times. When you travel to a new country, the language is strange, the customs are unfamiliar, and the culture presents a strange new rhythm of life. Adjusting to these new elements forces the brain to tackle new, unexpected challenges.

    Learning how to communicate through a language barrier forces the brain to develop creative ways to express needs and emotions. Listening to new music, trying new foods, and navigating foreign streets all work to challenge your brain’s capacity to adapt to new situations.

    2. Continue Your Education

    Adult education is one of the best investments of time, money, and energy you can make. While education is valuable throughout childhood and adolescence, adults often underestimate their ability to learn new concepts and skills.

    Challenge yourself to take a class, academic or creative. Voluntarily choosing to continue education provides a perfect opportunity for your brain to create new connections and build higher intelligence.

    Also check out these 15 Ways to Cultivate Continuous Learning for a Sharper Brain.

    3. Read and Watch the News

    This is one activity that maintains the appearance of habit while nurturing healthy brain waves. Setting aside half an hour every morning or evening to read a newspaper or watch the news will help your brain stay active.

    Digesting new information is a good daily habit. The news introduces interesting topics to consider, and will leave your brain churning with new information.

    4. Read

    Reading is the most basic way to facilitate brain activity, but it often presents some of the most diverse opportunities for stretching brain capacity.

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    Reading provides practical assistance by introducing new vocabulary, presenting examples of proper grammar usage, and showing the elegance of a well-written sentence. However, this is only half of the magic of reading.

    Whether you choose fiction, non-fiction, historical literature, or poetry, reading offers an opportunity for the reader to make big-picture connections between the literature and real life. In this way, reading is an alternative way to make your brain travel to a new place.

    As your imagination works to create tangible people, places, and experiences from the words on the page, your brain is rewiring to understand all the new information.

    Here’re some great books to read:

    5. Approach Work in New Ways

    The workplace is a canvas for new experiences. Regardless of what type of job you might hold, everyone is at one time or another presented with opportunities to think outside the box, problem solve in a creative way, and contribute fresh ideas to the team.

    Instead of stressing over each new problem, it’s important to relax and starting imagining alternatives for reaching an end goal.


    Challenging Yourself

    Like a weightlifter who develops muscles, one must exercise the brain on a daily basis, pushing it just beyond its current capabilities. As Albert Einstein once said,

    “One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”

    This quote encapsulates what I believe about the brain. With enough focus and stretching, the brain can truly surprise people.

    Underestimating yourself holds you back from success. When people begin believing in their abilities, they often go beyond what they thought was possible.

    6. Do Brain Training

    Organizations like Lumosity offer fantastic daily brain training. With puzzles and games designed to increase neuroplasticity, Lumosity was created to challenge the brain to make new connections.

    A group of neuroscientists at University of California Berkeley developed this program to provide stimuli for the brain to push it to adapt and re-train itself in uncharted territory. Success stories abound concerning the results of this public experiment.

    You can also try these 11 Brain Training Apps to Train Your Mind and Improve Memory.

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    7. Ask 5 Whys When Encountering Problems

    One of the most standard problem solving solutions, the 5 whys still provide a solid start to uncovering the root of a problem.

    Asking a question gets the brain working to find an answer. Instead of worrying about the problem, always start by asking why.

    Learn more about this problem solving framework here: How to Solve Any Problem Efficiently with 5 Whys (Step-By-Step Guide)

    8. Eschew Technology to Keep the Brain in Shape

    Technology does wonders for the modern world, but in some ways, technological dependence stunts the brain’s capacity for problem solving, adapting to new environments, and being a reliable resource for practical things like simple mathematics and navigation.

    Try going on a trip without a GPS. Work a few algebra problems without a calculator. Make your brain work for you; you’ll see the results.

    9. Foster Creativity

    Finger-painting in preschool was not only a fun activity; it helped open up the mind to new possibilities and ways of solving problems. An artistic mindset creates new opportunities to find new solutions, fresh inspiration, and peaceful confidence.

    The blend of these elements in both personal and professional environments allows ordinary people to shine by becoming an innovative thinker and inventive leader. Find ways to incorporate creativity into the dull grind of daily tasks.

    Take a look at these 30 Tips to Rejuvenate Your Creativity.

    10. Draw

    You don’t have to be an artist to appreciate the benefits of drawing, which cultivates brain activity in a unique way. In addition to nurturing basic hand-eye coordination, it sends synapses to neurotransmitters to help more permanently and vividly store your memories.

    From doodles on a piece of scrap paper to charcoal portraits, drawing is a healthy brain activity for everyone.

    11. Paint

    Painting is an extension of drawing. It feeds the same areas of the brain; but unlike drawing, painting often introduces new and unfamiliar textures and colors to stimulate the brain.

    Painters often have a keen sense of awareness towards their surroundings. Engaging in painting encourages people to notice minute details of the world around them. Focusing the brain in this manner brings a heightened state of alertness.

    12. Play an Instrument

    Learning to play an instrument also has outstanding benefits for the brain. Hand-eye coordination, memory, concentration, and mathematic skills all improve through playing an instrument. While some are more challenging to learn than others, any instrument facilitates increased and improved cognitive functioning.

    From training your fingers to master complex musical passages on the piano to counting the beats in a musical measure, instruments force various regions of the brain to work together to create music.

    13. Write

    Like reading, writing encourages vocabulary growth, grammar skills, and use of proper syntax. Writing helps the brain store information more effectively and fosters better memory skills. Studies show that students who regularly take handwritten notes during college classes consistently score better on tests.[1]

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    Writing forces a person to pay attention to their memories, experiences, and internal dialogues – a combination that increases brain function altogether.

    Learn more about the benefits of writing: 5 Benefits of Writing: Why You Should Write Every Day

    14. Role-Play

    Put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and your brain starts to rewire to help you think like a different person.

    For those struggling to form creative ideas, role-playing can help the wheels start turning in the brain to help develop unique solutions for difficult problems.


    Working with Others

    Although logical intelligence is important, emotional intelligence plays an equally vital part in overall success. Interacting with others helps people expand beyond their own limited thinking, gain new ideas, and see things from a different perspective.

    People are challenging. Smart people often enjoy isolation because it protects them from being critical of others. However, this discomfort is necessary for truly smart people because it pushes them outside their bubble.

    When you start to believe you have all the right answers, start collaborating with others to expand perspective.

    15. Teach and Share Information with Others

    Whether this is achieved virtually or face-to-face, pursue colleagues and peers to share experience and wisdom. Fresh faces and new ideas spur inspiration and create an amplified learning environment for the brain.

    By creating a network for sharing ideas, your brain starts developing a new network for formulating and executing innovative concepts.

    16. Talk to Interesting People

    No two people share the same life experiences. Everyone interprets information uniquely, stores memories differently, and digests daily life with their own intellectual flare. This makes collaboration a necessity for brain health.

    Although we are all inclined to think our method is the best approach, gaining perspective from another person helps our brain consider new solutions and new techniques for both personal and professional issues.

    Whether the conversation is centered on religion, finances, politics, or diet trends, people should practice being a good listener. Silencing your own thoughts while the other person speaks is often challenging, but the brain needs discipline to stay sharp.

    17. Work in a Team Environment

    Collaborative environments are essential for enhancing brain activity. Some people who enjoy working independently dread the moment when they are forced to participate in a team-focused workplace. However, these independent individuals are highly intelligent and can benefit the most from a little teamwork.

    Author Steve Johnson’s book, Where Good Ideas Come From, focuses on the benefits of collaborating with peers and coworkers to develop original ideas and effective strategies for their execution. The modern workplace continues to shift towards this team-oriented approach.

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    Cultivating Physical Health

    The body feeds the brain, and keeping oneself in top physical condition is crucial to adequate fueling and operation of the brain. Lack of motivation, mental fatigue, and absence of inspiration are typically connected to poor exercise, diet, and focus.

    18. Exercise

    Studies constantly show people who exercise regularly have higher I.Q. scores.[2] In addition to maintaining a strong body, people who exercise regularly actually stimulate brain cell growth. A process called neurogenesis occurs during rigorous exercise, which increases the production of neurotransmitters. With side effects like increased dopamine, active people enjoy less stress, better concentration, and more energy.

    Dr. Michael Nilsson of Sahlgrenska Academy and Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden conducted extensive research on the topic.[3] “Being fit means that you also have a good heart and lung capacity and that your brain gets plenty of oxygen,” the doctor said. His research focused on over a million Swedish military men, and Dr. Nilsson found a direct correlation between physical fitness and high scores on I.Q. tests.

    19. Pursue Athletics

    Multiple studies have shown active children typically do better in school and have a better chance of continuing their education after high school graduation. Although athletic pursuits can feel grueling at the time, the overall benefits of intense physical activity are wise for your future.

    Whether it’s finding one thing you are good at, like basketball, running, or lifting weights, or trying something new every day, maintaining an athletic routine is important for optimal brain health.

    20. Meditate

    Controlling and calming the brain is as powerful as enhancing activity through instruments and puzzles. Doctors have been studying the effects of mediation on the brain for several years, and the results are impressive.

    In one famous study, Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin collaborated with the Dalai Lama to study what happens to the brain during meditation.[4]

    Transcendental Meditation yields impressive results for the brain. People who struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments should experiment with meditation to calm themselves and develop a stronger sense of focus.

    Here’s a The 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime to help you start meditating.

    21. Maintain a Nutritious Diet

    Children and adults interested in boosting brain activity should begin by transforming their diet. Research from the University of Bristol in England points to a strong connection between unhealthy diet and low I.Q. scores in children.[5] To begin reversing unhealthy tendencies, try cutting out excess fat, sugar, and fast foods, and start adding more vegetables, fruit, and lean meats. These 12 Best Foods That Improve Memory and Brain Health are good for you too.

    There are also a number of unusual drinks proven to help brain function. Matcha green tea, raw cacao hot chocolate, and ginkgo biloba tea all show benefits for the brain. Some scientist claim ginkgo biloba helps pump more blood to the brain, improving circulation.

    The Bottom Line

    Creating daily routines to promote healthy brain activity doesn’t require the advice of a neuroscientist. While plenty of studies provide convincing evidence, increasing brain activity can be accomplished with a few basic steps.

    Be intentional about your time and energy to start working towards a smarter and more fulfilling life.

    More to Boost Your Brain Power

    Featured photo credit: David Iskander via unsplash.com

    Reference

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