Perceptual Biases

I, as a human being, am an inherently biased person. I take in information of my surrounding world through organs, and then my brain does a fantastic and fascinating job of translating all of that data into something that I understand and can respond to. But, this does not mean that what I see and what is actually true matches up. Just look at any given compilation of eye-witnesses talking about the same event.

A friend recently asked a small group, when you look over there (pointing to a plant) what is the first thing you see? Guesses included the color green; the size of it; etc. Actually, the first thing you see is–A PLANT. If someone had a chance to quickly glance at something and then was asked details about what they saw, they’ll get the main category right–but the details totally wrong! Our brains just make stuff up to fill in the gaps of what we were able to perceive. This is actually very useful for us, because it allows us to pay attention to the most IMPORTANT aspects of the world and more-or-less tune out some of the unnecessary details. But still, sometimes our filters will lead us astray. 

For example, I have this idea stuck in my head that my friends don’t REALLY want to be my friends, but that they’re just being nice to me. I probably got this idea based upon how my mother modeled friendship, but that itself is not important in this discussion; the main idea is that this idea ISN’T TRUE. Yet, because I BELIEVE it’s true, I perceive things that confirm that assumption. For example, I texted a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while and she never got back with me. Probably, she was busy or just forgot, but in my head, I created a story that: 1) she read the text, 2) groaned inwardly, and 3) felt frustrated that I forced her to address the problem of me wanting to speak to her and catch up, and 4) put off actually dealing with my request indefinitely. This narrative, while potentially true, is not supported by any evidence. Yet, my brain gravitates towards this description because I desire to fill in the details that I don’t know, and this matches with my internal understanding of the world. 

The cool thing about being human, though, is that we can consciously change how we think. So, I can decide that I’m not going to listen to my brain, and I’m going to choose to believe that my friend is simply busy right now–and nothing more. Hopefully, the more I tell myself that, the more my brain will gravitate towards that simpler, more accurate narrative. 


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