5 psychology facts that everyone should know
I recently read this book, “Thinking fast and slow”. I did not finish it but still learned some valuable things about our two thinking systems.
Our intuitive system of thinking is fast, it associates ideas at a lightning fast speed, which is useful but it also leads to biases if we don’t keep a watchful eye on how we make quick judgments. Our critical thinking system is slow but it can give an accurate picture of the scene and help us make an objectively better judgement where most people would fall in trap.
Knowing when to trust intuition(fast thinking) and when to use critical eye (slow thinking) is a good practice to do regularly..
5 psychology facts that affect our daily life
I am sharing 5 of the important ideas that are presented in the book. These patterns of thinking affect our life everyday with or without our awareness. So becoming aware about them will help us avoid biases, heuristics and lead us to make better decisions in life.
1.) The Priming effect
In the 1980s, psychologists discovered that exposure to a word causes immediate and measurable changes in the ease with which many related words can be evoked. If you have recently seen or heard the word EAT, you are temporarily more likely to complete the word fragment SO_P as SOUP than as SOAP. The opposite would happen, of course, if you had just seen WASH. We call this a priming effect and say that the idea of EAT primes the idea of SOUP, and that WASH primes SOAP.
“being amused tends to make you smile, and smiling tends to make you feel amused.”
If you come across words like old age, grandparents, walking stick…etc, you are more likely to walk slowly when you stand up.
On the other hand, if you walk at a slower pace for 10 minutes, you are more likely to come up with words related to old age such as ‘forgetful’, ‘old’ or ‘lonely’
Our mind is an associative machine. It doesn’t work in isolation. Every image we see, every sound we hear, every word we read, or the textures that we touch immediately bring up associated experiences in our minds. And our following thoughts and behaviors are very much affected by recent sense impressions. It is called the ‘Priming effect’ in psychology.
“Most of us think of voting as a deliberate act that reflects our values and our assessments of policies and is not influenced by irrelevancies. Our vote should not be affected by the location of the polling station, for example, but it is. A study of voting patterns in precincts of Arizona in 2000 showed that the support for propositions to increase the funding of schools was significantly greater when the polling station was in a school than when it was in a nearby location. A separate experiment showed that exposing people to images of classrooms and school lockers also increased the tendency of participants to support a school initiative.” – From Thinking fast and slow
Do you recall any experiences where you think that your decisions may have been ‘primed’ due to some other perception? It is hard to do so. Because this process is mostly unconscious. But now that you are aware of it, you can see how it is working all the time in the world…
2.) Cognitive ease
Information that is effortless to perceive feels good, positive, familiar, and is more likely to be believed as truth (even if it is false). It is called Cognitive ease.
Information that is hard to read, unclear, or gives mixed signals creates ‘Cognitive strain’. It makes you feel suspicious, maybe even frown, and you are less likely to believe it as true even if it in fact is true.
Our critical thinking system is lazy and doesn’t want to put efforts unless there is something important at stake. Therefore, most of the time, we tend to make our judgements based on ‘Cognitive ease’. Keeping that in mind, “How you present the information may become more important than what you present.”
Take this example from the book:
Adolf Hitler was born in 1892.
Adolf Hitler was born in 1887.
Both these statements are false (Hitler was born in 1889). But experiments have shown that the first is more likely to be believed.
Words that you have seen before become easier to recognize when you come across them again. Familiarity with a name or image creates an illusion of pastness as if that name is a direct reflection of your past experience.
For example, here is a list of names:
Einstein, Bono, Shakira, Bill gates, David Stenbill, Michael Jackson.
Now, this is the list of very popular celebrities. You must know all of the names. Oh, who is David Stenbill btw? That is the made-up name. But notice how you perceive that name when put in with the line of famous celebrities…
Now a few days later, if you were to come across a list of names, David Stenbill will ring as a familiar name, and you are more likely to recognize him as a celebrity even though you don’t know who that is… Of course, now it is less likely because I just told you that David Stenbill is a made-up name.
3.) The Halo effect
If you like (or dislike) one aspect of a person strongly, you would tend to like (or dislike) everything else about the person. The first impression is indeed an enduring and strong impression. And to change it becomes a very difficult task because we are not wired to think critically when judging a person as a whole.
“If you like the president’s politics, you probably like his voice and his appearance as well. The tendency to like (or dislike) everything about a person—including things you have not observed—is known as the halo effect.”
You must have seen people who are totally in love. They like everything about each-other. And it’s funny that in most cases, the same two people after breaking up would hate each-other…
Ever thought of it? A person is never totally bad or totally wonderful…Each one of us without exception has some qualities likable and some unlikeable. But think about your favourite person. You would find it hard to point out a negative quality in them. Think about a person you dislike the most. You would rarely point out something good about them.
I think judging the character of a person or a relationship should also involve critical thinking, taking in account the positive and negative qualities (that we feel) about the person. Whenever we think about someone, we should be aware of the Halo effect…
Although the Halo effect works strongly in relationships, it also works in other aspects of life, everywhere when you say, ‘I like this or I don’t like this”…
4.) Answering an easier question
When we face a difficult question which requires analysis and critical thinking, we tend to substitute that question for an easier question which can be answered by our intuition without any effort. For example:
“Should I invest in TATA motors stock?”
“Yes, they make nice cars and the company is trustable.”
In this case, we try to give an intuitive answer to a question that actually complex and requires deep analysis and study of facts. The original question was substituted by, “What do I feel about the company and its products?” Of course, the correct decision should be made after asking, “Is the stock currently undervalued?” followed by a sound financial analysis.
Here are a few examples which give insight to how we answer complex questions by substituting them for an easier question which can be answered intuitively.
- Target question: How happy are you with life right now?
- Substitute question: What is my mood right now?
- Target question: How much would you contribute to save an endangered species?
- Substitute question: How much emotion do I feel when I think of dying dolphins?
- Target question: What career should I choose?
- Substitute question: What career are my friends choosing?
Mostly, we avoid thinking about our important life decisions by thinking about what others are doing. That creates the herd mentality. To avoid the efforts to design and shape our unique life, we often tend to play it safe by asking, “How is everyone else doing it?” And we get trapped by setting it as a standard. Whenever you make an important decision make sure that you have not answered an easier question. Make sure that you stick to the original question which you wanted the answer for…
5.) Anchoring effect
Was Gandhi more than 114 years old when he died?
You know for sure that he wasn’t 114 years old. But now if you were to estimate a correct answer, you would anchor to 114 and settle down somewhere below it.
Had I asked, “was Gandhi 35 years old when he died?” The anchor point would become 35, and you would start tracing up from the number 35.
Any number that you are asked to consider as a possible solution to an estimation problem will induce an anchoring effect. And the usual tendency is to arrive at an estimate which is close to the anchor point. This is called the Anchoring effect in psychology.
We see the same strategy at work in the negotiation over the price of a home, when the seller makes the first move by setting the list price. If you consider how much you should pay for a house, you will be influenced by the asking price. The same house will appear more valuable if its listing price is high than if it is low, even if you are determined to resist the influence of this number. You may have experienced when negotiating for the first time in a bazaar that the initial anchor has a powerful effect.
But the most dangerous place where the anchoring effect is a monster, is the stock market. A place where numbers are floating around everywhere, anchoring effect rules.
For example, by looking at all-time high or low of a stock, you assume whether the current price of stock is cheap or expensive. When you compare two stocks of same industry, the price inevitably influences your judgement. A stock trading at 500 can seem more expensive than the stock at 150. Eventhough you know that it isn’t the case the anchoring effect doesn’t wear off that easily.
Thumbrule is that: Use your intuition when facing simple problems..It mostly leads to correct decisiion but when you face a complicated problem, make a habit of approaching it only with your critical mind..
Intuition makes it so much easier for us to live. We can identify patterns and use them to make quick decisions automatically. But to move to the next level in any area, we must use our critical thinking system. Lazily relying on our intuitive system all the time becomes a hindrance to our progress.
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