SHAREemail sharing iconLinkedin sharing iconFacebook sharing iconTwitter sharing icon
Menu icon
Research Rabbit Holes | Faulty Minds
Humans’ brains evolved to hunt and gather. Most of us don’t rely on wild rabbits to get by anymore, but now that same ancient hardware our ancestors were running is all we have to navigate today’s complex world. To each of us, our individual perceptions of reality seem like the logical, unbroken, obvious Truth—but it’s just a convenient illusion our brains tell us to get us through the day. Our perspectives are heavily shaded by biases that affect every one of us.
We all know people who live in the same area, watch the same news and somehow come away with political beliefs totally opposite to our own. It can seem unbelievable at times. Confirmation bias goes a long way to help explain this. Our brains work very hard to protect our concept of ourselves. We view our beliefs as being foundational to who we are. When someone is confronted with information that contradicts their beliefs it can feel like an attack on who they are as a person. That’s when the brain steps in to rationalize away the threatening information, dismissing the source or the information itself. Conversely, when someone happens upon information that confirms their prior beliefs, their brain rewards them with a little hit of dopamine. This is why many people seem so impervious to new information. No matter what facts or figures they’re provided, their position never changes. And if that reminds you of someone you know, just a guess that they’re someone you don’t agree with—confirmation bias at work yet again.
Companies fail to pivot to profitable models. People stay in bad relationships. And America still uses the imperial system. Ever wondered why some things never seem to change? It’s because when given the option to change things, even when the new state of things would be objectively better, humans default to keeping things the same. This is partially because we tend to give more weight to the cost of a potential loss caused by a change and less weight to the potential gains—even if those gains are objectively higher. We also have an aversion to being responsible for selecting change, as opposed to passively accepting how things are. This allows us to avoid feeling culpable despite the fact we made a choice in both cases. The combination of these two effects lead people to disproportionately prefer choices that maintain the status quo. Which is why we’ll forever be stuck with Daylight Saving Time despite the fact that no one can tell you what its purpose is and most people actively dislike it.
While there are many biases that affect decision-making and the formation of beliefs, there are also a host of biases that affect our memory. Our experience of our memories is that they’re like a video clip of a past event we can bring up from the hard drive of our brain, but nothing could be further from the truth. Every time we recall a memory, we’re actually reconstructing that memory, more so based on the last time we recalled it than on the original event itself. It’s like you’re playing a children’s game of telephone by yourself, with each recollection introducing new distortions. Distortions can be caused by information you’ve taken in since the initial occurrence (the misinformation effect), they be can self-serving, making our actions seem better than they were (the egocentric bias) and they can even be complete fabrications thanks to the way our brains don’t really separate things we imagined from things we experience. This is why it’s always good to keep a record of important things rather than relying on your memory alone, because it’s far more fallible than it might seem.
There are dozens of recognized cognitive biases that affect us every day. Learning about them is a good first step to recognizing when you might be falling prey to them—podcasts like Hidden Brain, Invisibilia and You Are Not So Smart are all great introductions to these phenomena. However, the best cure for psychological biases is talking an issue out with other people. If you’re unsure whether you’re thinking clearly about something, bouncing your thoughts off others helps widen the perspective available to you much more than the narrow tunnel or vision our individual experience provides us.
Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario
1 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700
Toronto, ON M4P 3A1
416.488.7422 | 800.268.8845
Copyright © 2021 by Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario. All rights reserved. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.