“They have something better to do and don’t want me in”, says your inner voice after your date told you they wouldn’t be able to make it. Or perhaps it says “come on, it’s not true at all” when your coworker tells you a story on why they couldn’t finish that task which would help you a lot. If you ever heard this kind of thought in your mind you got a serious disease named ‘having a human brain’. So if you are human, I’ll tell you some good reasons for not believing that hard-to-resist thought.
Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky dedicated several years researching about how our brains judge and make decisions. Kahneman’s opinion, our brain is ‘wired’ to make judgments about everything, and enable us to practice a sport named ‘jump to conclusions’ . Indeed, everything that our senses capture generates stimuli which get, as response, a judgment. No piece of information escapes this ‘judging machine’ we have, and this is why humans are such an unreliable source of information.
Despite the fact that the “shortcuts” our brains take makes us save body energy, which allowed our species to survive , we no longer have the need for trusting our under-performing ‘power saving mode’ these days when we have plenty of food available (at least in our western bubble of well-developed countries). And I will tell you some reasons and explanations for that.
Our Brain Really Stinks at ‘Automatic’ Judging Stuff
Cognitive science is here to show us how we are really bad at judging things in that “quick first thought” that comes automatically right after a new (piece of) information arrives. And this is mainly because of heuristic processes in our brains . In a common-sense definition, a heuristic is a kind of ‘shortcut’ our brain takes to have a quick, easy, ‘power saving’ and instantly ready response about a situation or information .
The problem with is that our brains don’t take these ‘shortcuts’ in the appropriate moment, making us likely wrong in our first thoughts. Furthermore, we tend to stick to these first thoughts really easy, as shown in research by Whitman and Woodward, in which they found that people tend to prefer their first hypotheses to explain a problem, regardless of how much and how fast evidence supporting something else is shown .
Also, in my own life experience, I’ve learned that the first thought is likely wrong. To be honest, my chess coach said something like this when I was like 14 years old, but it took me many years to realize and make sense. Sometimes that judgemental voice is right either, but you don’t possess information enough to be sure about anything.
Indeed, sometimes that thought is much more about yourself than about the other person. We evaluate what others present to us according to our own experiences. Here the heuristics come again: sometimes we even think that person is lying because we lied in a similar position in the past, and project our own unfaithful behavior in someone else (perhaps sometimes you can’t forgive yourself). I won’t discuss in-deep the emotional aspects because it’s not in my knowledge, but there is an article about that in The Psychology Today that you might like to read.
You Also Are Being Constantly Judged Others
Also, I had a friend whose name I won’t reveal whose profession is being an analyst of some kind (never mind). This person had the unpleasant behavior of keeping analyzing everything I said and jumping to conclusions – perhaps the worst kind possible – and saying unfair things to me. And of course, it was disturbing to know they thought absurd things about me and dared to say it in my face, emphasizing their skills in this field to support their claims.
And indeed, people have all the right to make judgments. And to express them too, as long as it doesn’t affect someone else. But calling out and acting in an accusing manner based in first thoughts is definitely beyond the line. Most times, even when you are right.
Nonetheless, it’s important to keep in mind that people are judging you in the same way the whole time, regardless of expressing it or not. Sometimes (often, I hope) it’s good judgment, sometimes it’s not, but you can’t even know. So if you don’t like people thinking the worst of you, why don’t you try to think the best of them (at least while there are no facts pointing otherwise)?
So, after a thoughtful reflection, I think I’ve exposed good reasons to “hold that thought” and ask ourselves: “am I sure”? when our brain starts producing bad judgments. Ohhh, and obviously, ask yourself about good judgments too. They might also be wrong and likely they are – more often than you think.
References / Notes
- Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0374275631.
- Actually, euristic is more accurately defined by Kahneman as the replacement of a ‘thought attribute’ by some other more readily available. See Kahneman, D. (2003). Maps of Bounded Rationality: Psychology for Behavioral Economics. The American Economic Review, 93 (5), pp. 1449-1475. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/000282803322655392
- Whitman, J. C., & Woodward T. S. (2012). Self-selection bias in hypothesis comparison. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 118(1), pp. 216-225. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2012.02.002