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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 March 31, 2020

    How to Use Visual Learning to Work More Effectively

    How to Use Visual Learning to Work More Effectively

    Knowledge is essential to become successful in life, your career and your business. Without learning new concepts and becoming proficient in our craft, we cannot excel in our chosen careers or archive knowledge to pass down to the next generation.

    But content comes in various forms, and because how we learn influences how much we know, we need to talk about learning styles. This article will focus on how to utilize visual learning to boost your career or business.

    The Importance of Knowing Your Learning Style

    Knowing your learning style enables you to process new information to the best of your ability. Not only does it reduce your learning curve, you’re able to communicate these same concepts to others effectively.

    But it all starts when you’re able to first identify the best way you learn.

    As a college student, I soon figured out that taking online courses without visual aids or having an instructor in front of me led to poor retention of concepts.

    Sure, I got good grades and performed excellently in my online exams. However. I discovered that I couldn’t maintain this performance level because I forgot 80 percent of the course content by the end of the semester.

    There are several types of learning styles known to mankind. To give an idea of how visual learning stacks up against other learning styles, here’s a brief mention of some of the different types of learning styles we have.

    The four most popular types of learning styles are:

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    • Visual learning style (what this article talks about).
    • Aural or auditory learning style (learning by listening to information presented).
    • Verbal or linguistic learning style (learning that involves speech and writing).
    • Tactile learning style (learning by touching and doing)

    But for the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on using visual learning to boost your career or business.

    How to Know If You’re a Visual Learner?

    When it comes to boosting your career, business (or education), a visual learner is one who would most definitely choose shapes, images, symbols, or reading over auditory messages.

    I’m talking about preferring to read an actual map when navigating to a new place over listening to verbal directions. I’m talking about discovering that you actually have trouble remembering what your manager said at the meeting because there were no graphs or illustrations to support the points raised.

    Most people who struggle with learning probably aren’t leveraging their best learning styles. The earlier you identify how your learning style can boost your success, the less struggle you will encounter with processing new information throughout your career.

    However, visual learning in particular CAN 10x your career or business whether it is your preferred learning style or not. And here’s why:

    Several studies have arrived at the conclusion that the brain retains more information with the help of visual aids. In other words, images are directly processed by our long-term memory which helps us store information for longer periods of time.[1]

    While some lessons can be performed orally, several concepts can only make sense if you have an image with an explanation of sequences (i.e learning about the human DNA).

    Visual learning does use a different part of the brain and visual cues are processed by the part of the brain known as the occipital lobe.

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    By engaging more parts of the brain during learning, you’re able to have a fuller understanding of concepts and facilitate better interaction with your immediate environment.

    How to Use Visual Learning for Success

    Here’re 4 ways to use visual learning to boost your career or business:

    1. Bring back the to-do list. Then add shapes and colors to boost productivity.

    We live in an age where computers have taken over virtually every aspect of productivity and most human functions. But written lists are making a comeback, and with an endless number of important tasks to complete, having a to-do list of tasks in order of importance can improve your productivity.

    While coming up with a list is initially challenging, adding colors and shapes to written lists that you personally write and manage gives you an extra layer of assurance and boosts aids recall so that you actually get stuff done.

    I have tried this technique in my work as a registered nurse and discovered that adding shapes and colors to to-do lists helps me delegate tasks, recognize where more work is needed, and makes it easy to cross off completed tasks at the end of the day.

    2. Add graphs, charts and symbols to your reports.

    Yes, it seems like more work cut out for you. However, graphs enable you monitor the heartbeat of your business.

    Graphs and charts help you trend your finances, budget, and pretty much any data overtime. With the help of free and premium software available on the market, it has become easier to take plain data and in a matter of seconds, have relevant information displayed in different shapes and images.

    As an entrepreneur, you can make predictions and allocate funds wisely when you’re able to see whether your efforts are rewarded. You can use colors and charts to delegate actions to members of your team and track performance at the same time.

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    And when broken down into monthly, quarterly, bi-annual or annual goals, graphs and charts communicate what ordinary text cannot.

    3. Effectively brainstorm with mind-mapping.

    Mind-mapping is not new but I don’t think it’s been talked about as often as we do to-do lists.

    With mind mapping, you’re organizing information accurately and drawing relationships between concepts and pieces from a whole.

    Think of a mind map as a tree with several branches. For example, the tree can symbolize healthcare while each branch stands for nursing, medicine, laboratory science, and so on. When you look at nursing, you can further branch out into types of nursing; pediatric, women’s health, critical care, and so on.

    It’s an interesting relationship; the more ideas you’re able to come up with for your chosen subject, the deeper you get and the stronger the association.

    Mind maps really show you relationships between subjects and topics, and simplifies processes that might seem complicated at first glance. In a way, it is like a graphical representation of facts presented in a simple, visual format.

    Mind mapping isn’t only limited to career professionals; business owners can benefit from mind mapping by organizing their online learning activities and breaking down complex tasks into simple actions so that you can accurately measure productivity.

    4. Add video streaming to meetings.

    What if you could double the productivity of your team members by video streaming your meetings or adding flash animation to your presentation at the same time?

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    When you offer video as an alternative method of processing information to colleagues, there is a greater chance of retaining information because we recreate these stories into images in our minds.

    For organizations that hold virtual meetings, it can also be an effective way to enhance performance during if people can see their colleagues in addition to flash animation or whatever form of video is provided during the meeting.

    Is Visual Learning Better Than Other Learning Styles?

    No, that is not the point. The goal here is to supplement your existing dominant learning style with visual learning so that you can experience a significant boost in how you process and use everyday information.

    You might discover that understanding scientific concepts are much easier after incorporating visual learning or that you’re able to understand your organization’s value when projected on a visual screen with charts and graphs.

    The overall goal is to always be learning and to continue to leverage visual learning style in your career and business.

    More About Learning Styles

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

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