It’s Humbling to Realize We Do Not See Things As They Really Are, But We Don’t

a fuzzy light shining behind a curtain that's been pulled back
Image by Tiffa Day / CC BY

“The brain is designed with blind spots, optical and psychological, and one of its cleverest tricks is to confer on us the comforting illusion that we, personally, do not have any…’naive realism’ [is] the inescapable conviction that we perceive objects and events clearly, ‘as they really are. ‘ We assume that other reasonable people see things the same way we do. If they disagree with us, they obviously aren’t seeing clearly. Naive realism creates a logical labyrinth because it presupposes two things: One, people who are openminded and fair ought to agree with a reasonable opinion. And two, any opinion I hold must be reasonable; if it weren’t, I wouldn’t hold it. Therefore, if I can just get my opponents to sit down and listen to me, so I can tell them how things really are, they will agree with me. And if they don’t, it must be because they are biased.”

-Tavris & Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

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When I first began to study to become a psychological researcher, I noticed a very peculiar pattern. More than anything else I’d ever encountered, my fellow students seemed to succeed or fail¬†wholesale¬†at studying research. And particularly when it came to cognitive bias — which is a huge staple of the field.

Because bias is an ever-present specter in psychology and one of the most important tenets of psychological research is that bias is found in basically all of human relating.

No one is immune. I have cognitive biases, and so do you.

Human brains aren’t built to be perfect information collectors. Nor are they built to perform comprehensive objective analyses. Instead, our brains shortcut for speed and efficiency. We filter all incoming information based on what’s important to us. Without conscious intervention (and sometimes even in spite of it), all else being equal, we seek to confirm our existing beliefs instead of challenging them.

Love itself is a form of bias, as we form bonds with other people that regard us to subjectively view them more favorably than we would otherwise, awash in the neurochemical soup of attachment.

It’s a lot to be hit with all at once. And a lot of newer psychology students really struggle with it.

“Not me,” they’ll say. “I’m different than other people. I’m clear headed. I see things as they actually are.”

And then they go on to struggle to internalize the concepts about bias being taught. Because they view these biases not as facts but as a bunch of falsehoods they’re being forced to memorize.

They don’t see it as a view behind the curtain. Which is how I saw it. A peek into how things actually are, when bias can be mitigated through clever experimental design and the scientific process.

It was humbling to realize that I didn’t see things as they really are. But I don’t.

And it was only when I accepted this premise, when I stopped needing to feel like my senses were perfect, that I could make room for staying curious and coming up with ways to work around and manage the imperfection that really is.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Dealing with Difficult Metamours, the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).

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