Cursed With a Conscience

marvels and musings of a normal girl in a wacky world.

Why humans are never wrong: A list of bulletproof biases

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So I set about today with the formidable task of proving why human beings are always right. It is a simple fact: our opinions, impressions and preferences will always be morphed in our minds as indisputable reality. Any evidence to the contrary, no matter what, can in some way be falsified by our exceedingly artful ego’s.

After living my life with complete faith in the unconditional correctness of all of my beliefs, an infallible certainty that I (especially) was always right, I was suddenly attacked today by a troubling notion. If I am always right, and everybody else believes they are always right heedless of any and all empirical evidence stating otherwise, who is actually correct? Or if everybody is right all the time as the human conscience would contend, does that mean nobody is? My first solution to this conundrum was latching onto the (probably correct) assumption that I was right the first time (naturally) and have an exceptional and elevated understanding of my self and the world, and thus my readings of each are piercingly accurate and on point the vast majority of the time. But then, EUREKA! Before I could hit the “send” button reporting these satisfactory findings, I stumbled upon an interesting term that  helped me explicate the validity of my preconceived notions a little bit better. This concept, my friends, was that of “human biases”. With this revolutionary strand of research, I was finally able to dispel everybody else’s misguided pretenses of being right and reaffirm my superior standing as the sole human who actually is. To follow are a list of biases that others exhibit in order to fraudulently feign legitimacy.

1. False consensus effect: “The tendency for humans to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them”. Indeed, human beings have a baffling tendency to interpret incredulous head shakes, condescending sneers, and the word “no” as encouragement or praise. Thus when they articulate  crazy claims or do something clearly unacceptable, they incorrectly perceive the responses of others as positive and supportive, when generally they are befuddled and/or critical in nature. When we ( ahem,  others) are assured of being correct, that confidence is reaffirmed by whatever we see, no matter how obviously these cues signify  the contrary.

2. Illusion of external agency: “when people view self-generated preferences as instead being caused by insightful, effective and benevolent agents.” Yes people, you have all done it. Your love of expansive, southern California beaches and crystal clear blue skies is an exquisitely tasteful and inspired preference. This setting provides you with an existential feeling of connectedness to the world and the effervescent  spirit  bursting from wild matter. When you are gazing out at the tumultuous blue sea, you feel one with the earth. Ok ok, admittedly this insight also has a little something  to do with you not liking to be cold and the superficially pleasing fact that surfer men make for a decent crop of eye candy.

3. naive cynicism: “expecting  more egocentric biases in others than in oneself.” Those who commit this bias think that others make self-centered and self-serving judgments based on their own preferences, but will refuse to acknowledge this tendency in themselves. For example: SoCal is much better than Norcal, and anybody who disagrees and puts their region on a higher pedestal is egocentric. See what I did there? Surprising that I could could come up with an example of this one so readily, considering that I have no practice with such a bias….

4. Self-serving bias- “the tendency to claim more responsibility for successes rather than failures.” This one explains why the quiz you aced last semester hangs on your parents fridge next to your participation track medal from six years ago, and the C- term paper you thought you aced sits shamefully in a hidden folder on a dusty flash drive never to be looked at or spoken of again. It also explains why  friends on facebook are kept diligently informed of every good deed you have performed in the last month, and every “epic” night out you have had with your “besties” that a camera can capture. As far as this bias is concerned, that little stunt that happened last night in the alley behind typhoons DID NOT HAPPEN. and anyway, it wasn’t your fault…

5. Backfire effect: “when people react to disconfirming evidence by strengthening their beliefs.” You mean to tell me that because a few ice bergs have melted and the ozone layer is looking a bit think these days that global WARMING is occuring? Then explain to me last night why I had to sleep with an extra pair of fuzzy socks and a thermal blanket. You IDIOT, clearly you understand nothing of the way the environment works…Global warming? Preposterous, if anything global FREEZING is occuring…

6. confirmation bias: “the tendency to search for or interpret information or memories in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.” For instance: I am a very compassionate person and always put the needs of others before myself. Remember that time at the beach two years ago when I fed that adorable seagull the rest of my meatball sandwich I didn’t feel like finishing because I was sickeningly full? It liked it so much it now prefers subway sandwiches to clams and shellfish. Your welcome.   Also, I cannot believe my friends think my man likes that other girl. He bought her a bud LIGHT for god sakes. That’s the shittiest beer there is and it probably means he thinks she’s fat. He lets me buy my own drinks because he respects my independence.

Before I go on and on with my list of these common biases, I will step down from the podium because I think I have made my case for why others are psychologically delusional and wayward in their assumption of being right. Afterall, according to the “illusory superiority” bias, others will always be incorrect in their presumption that their opinion is better than mine. This report is not meant to patronize any humans for their fanciful, biased thinking, it’s just my benevolent and insightful mission to spread awareness. Good day everyone!:)

Letting criticism help you

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The very word makes me shudder. Nothing wreaks more havoc upon my  nervous system  than a situation  in which criticism is directed at my work, my character or anything else that I take seriously or prize highly. Hearing criticism  from another person- words that I, myself,  might even know to be true-  wrench my insides, pierce my heart, and send my nerves into a frenetic tailspin. Why is it so hard to hear words of criticism from another person, let alone when you know them to be true yourself?

For a reason I do not fully understand, I have lived my entire life in fear of criticism. With academics, sports, hobbies, men, it’s always the same: I never place myself in a path of rejection, refuse to attempt goals I do not feel assured I can reach, and rarely solicit feedback from others about my job performance unless i’m confident it will be a flattering assessment. It seems as though the opinions of others truly do shape the way we perceive our own self worth. So why do we not just shield out what others have to say? Why should we let the opinions of others influence our self concept?

About six months ago this answer was made clear to me, and I think it can be best explained with an analogy. I believe that human beings have blind spots. The same way that every car review mirror fails to reflect back a tiny sliver of the landscape behind us, our introspect fails to see clearly every aspect of our own self. Human beings by nature see the world, and ourselves within it, with a certain bias or subjectivity no matter how hard we strive to be  impartial. Therefore, as individuals, we can learn a lot by looking through another set of eyes, or assuming  a vantage  point from another angle; an angle that might see our blind spot just a bit clearer.

Six months ago I had my blind spot revealed to me, and it took me by storm. I had been doing the same job for over a year- I knew what I was doing, I was comfortable, and I felt confident that I was always on the top of my game. I went through my tasks the same way every time, bringing consistency and ( I thought) efficiency to my work. Nobody expressed any concerns to me about my performance, or ever offered suggestions of ways that I could do things differently or improve in any aspect. In short, nobody provided any criticism. With no outside lens to shine upon my self or my actions, I blissfully ignored what lurked within my blind spot, and kept seeing the world, and myself, the way I had daily been conditioned to. I continued to operate with the same methods and mindset in each instance, with no new insight to jar me out of cruise control.

And then my bubble of bliss popped- or more accurately, exploded. In one dramatic moment, in one mortifying conference, my weaknesses were revealed to me- and there were a lot of them. And they really, really hurt to hear. The worst part was these weaknesses were so easy to change, and could have been avoided all along had I received this criticism earlier. Minor things that I felt to be inconsequential were, in fact, things I should have been taking seriously. My excellence in several areas of the job were being achieved by my apparent neglect of others- others that were not even in my zone of priorities, because they were hiding in my blind spot. Without the rug being shifted from it’s everyday locale, I continued to sweep, dust and decorate around its inert form- clueless to the dirt and decay building` underneath. I was never prompted or impelled to move the rug, so why concern myself with what’s beneath it?

On the day that I received that criticism almost a half year ago, I almost wanted to give up. I thought to myself: if they don’t appreciate me, I should go somewhere that will. However, it occured to me rather quickly that this was a cop out response to the issue. Spurning the criticism rather than internalizing it’s purpose would only hurt me in the long run. Clearly, this criticism had an element of truth, even if that truth was not immediately obvious to me. Furthermore, that truth was probably being noticed by others as well, just never vocalized.  Who knew how long I had been committing these blunders, and what important person was taking notice. Thus, ignoring the criticism, or writing it off as faulty or a matter of “their opinion”, would continue to do me a disservice in that particular job  and possibly related others.

To make a long story short, I kept with the job and implemented the changes they wanted to see to the best of my ability. Right away, I noticed myself improving. My attitude, work ethic, performance, everything vamped up significantly merely because I was aware of my actions and how they were perceived, and determined  to combat the criticism I had received because of them. Had I scoffed and walked away from the job instead, or had nobody ever spoken up in the first place, I would have continued with the same bad habits and less-than-exceptional performance. Although it was mortifying and demoralizing to hear at first, overcoming the criticism and changing my image was absolutely a worthy reward, and one that I am very proud to look back on today with a sense of accomplishment.

Six months down the road, I have had new jobs, taken on new challenges, and faced more criticism as well as commendation. Although I still dread to face criticism, I have genuinely learned to appreciate it and view it in a positive light. I have realized that how one responds to criticism directly impacts their level of success and defines their character.  By demonstrating in every situation that I am determined, humble, hardworking, and committed to fixing  my faults, I have proved myself a more valuable individual than one who exhibits competency without those other attributes. Being aware of our weaknesses and receptive to feedback about them is truly an essential part of personal success and greatness. Blind spots exist, and so does the law of motion. Something will continue at a constant pace unless it is exerted upon by an outside force. Velocity and direction will not change without being forced from outside entities. Similarly, our perspectives and personal qualities seem to crystallize or remain unchanging without interference from the world. I am fortunate interference came my way, because it forced me to escalate my intensity, reroute my priorities, and overall improve my job performance. Criticism, though hard to hear, is something to appreciate, not fear. So appreciate feedback, good or bad, seek out appraisal of your work from those who mean you well, take to heart what trusted others have to say, and always remember to check your blind spots:)