One thing I really do not regret is taking up two psychology-related elective modules despite doing a technology-related degree – ‘Introduction to Psychology’ in Spring 2008 and ‘Social Psychology’ in Fall 2008.
Psychology is a really awesome discipline. It looks deep into the human psyche, and the takeaways from the modules I took were largely relevant in real life. It enabled me to better understand the behavour and thought processes of the people around, and got me in touch with the inner-workings of my mind.
I still have the textbooks from both courses. Despite it being almost two years ago, I can still vividly recall how I could practically devour several chapters of the textbook in one sitting, even going to the point of reading the entire textbook despite several chapters being ‘not in the syllabus’.
Needless to say, I aced both courses. Fun stuff, really. (;
It was also through Psychology where I realized that there are many flaws in the way human beings reason. It remains a fact that the world is a judgmental place, and the bulk of it is the result of these flaws in reasoning.
Human beings do make use of a lot of ‘shortcuts’ methodologies when perceiving things around them. These shortcuts ARE useful – they do save us a lot of brain energy, and we come to conclusions much faster when using these shortcuts.
However, these shortcuts are often derived from the general ‘norms’ or typical observations of people – which often do not apply to all. Most of us make use of shortcuts so regularly to an extent we fail to realize that human beings are a broad, complex species with a myriad of values, mindsets and behavioral patterns that cannot be fitted into moulds.
Lemme’ share some of the most common reasoning errors!
The Fundamental Attribution Error
The fundamental attribution error is the tendency of people to make internal attributions* towards others when perceiving their behaviour, while making external attributions^ when perceiving their own.
* Internal attribution – to attribute behavour to a person’s disposition or personality.
^ External attribution – to attribute behaviour not to the person, but to external factors (eg. family problems) that may have caused him/her to behave this way.
Ah, this is the most common mistake of all, hence the word ‘fundamental’ in its name. I see this almost everywhere, especially how people tend to assume the worst of people based on what they observe, without attempting to understand people’s circumstances. Conversely, one would always want to preserve a positive impression of oneself to feel good about themselves.
Most of this stems from information latency – or what type of information is more easily brought to mind when perceiving something. If we are perceiving another person, we do not know that person’s background circumstances, which results in the behaviour (and the person) being more latent. As such, we are more inclined to make an internal (person-centric) attribution.
Whereas, when we are perceiving ourselves – we know our circumstances and background history best and that information is more latent to us than the behaviour we are exhibiting (which is in turn, more latent to the people observing us). As such, we lean towards making external (situation-centric) attributions of ourselves.
Of course, not to mention the intrinsic ego-centric nature of human beings to focus more on understanding themselves than other people, which leads to even more manifestations of the Fundamental Attribution Error!
Meanwhile, let’s move on to another!
This describes the process of utilizing commonly-held beliefs and impressions (called ‘stereotypes’) when gauging another person’s behaviour.
Mentally, we have so many different moulds in which we classify people. Most of these moulds are derived from publicly-held perceptions, whereas other moulds may be the result of our past experiences … to the point where we find a distinctive pattern in which people behave, or the way certain ‘types’ of people behave.
In Singapore, the most common stereotypes are school-related. For example, students from St Joseph’s Institution are perceived to be ‘elitist’ (based on a recent debacle publicised a coupla’ times in recent-day newspapers), and that Students from Nanyang Girls High School ‘do not shave their armpits’.
(Before any current or former NYGH students come after me with a knife – this is not my opinion of the school but rather, I’m reiterating a widely-held stereotype!)
As a result, most people end up being misjudged simply because they fall into a certain ‘class’ of people – being part of a certain religion, race, school, organization … basically, any group. People end up being perceived to be doing this or thinking that just because they are part of a group who are ‘known’ for doing this or thinking that – when the former may not hold true for the person at all.
Again, here is where I reiterate that human beings are a complex species. With billions of people existing on Earth with several different attributes that define a human being, there can be trillions of different permutations when it comes to human behaviour. No matter how much we want to fit people into moulds because it makes reasoning so much easier, we have a realize that not all moulds apply to all, and certainly not all hold true!
Lemme now move on one last reasoning error – also pretty common, but not as ubiquitous as the other two mentioned above.
The Just World Phenomenon
This phenomenon describes the way some people hold on so strongly to “the world is just” belief, that when they witness something negative happening to another person, they rationalize it by thinking that the person must have done something to deserve it.
Bascially, this phenomenon amounts to people blaming others – who could have quite possibly been victims – for their plight.
I’ve come across several articles and forum postings describing or mentioning crime cases such as rape and robberies, and I never fail to come across an article response promoting the ‘Just World’ belief. Take a rape victim for example. It is common to hear people say things like ‘she shouldn’t have dressed so revealingly in the first place’ or ‘she should have known better than to come home so late’ – when in actuality, these two ‘reasons’ given are pretty common things done by most of us.
Recently, I’ve also stumbled upon a blog of a mother with a young child with cancer (I’m not going to link to that blog here to preserve their privacy) who wrote about how she’s been accused of ‘being a bad mother‘ which is ‘why her child has cancer’.
That – we all know – is one of the most unfair accusations of all.
I shall stop at three common reasoning errors. There are quite a lot more, but these are the three that manifest the most. I hope you guys had a blast reading about ’em. (;
One thing about having done some psychology and knowing about all these reasoning errors is that it makes you more conscious about the way you think.
For me, I am especially conscious about the Fundamental Attribution Error and utilizing Stereotypes especially after knowing the dynamics behind how they work. As a result, I always try to give people the benefit of doubt because I believe every human being has at least one good quality in them, despite their actions.
I ain’t perfect, that’s for sure. At times, I slip into states of self-pity or people loathing especially during times of mental exhausion – which leaves little brain energy left to prevent Fundamental Attribution Errors (hurhur). But hey, at least I take the effort! (;
It gets a bit exhausting sometimes though, because reasoning errors are so common. EVERYONE is using them, to the point where sometimes I do wonder why I even bother trying since I’d gain nothing apart from becoming the odd one out.
However, I was never one to follow societal norms (its an ego thing), which is why I choose to persist, on top of the fact that it is the right thing to do – it being more conscious of other people and seeing beyond the surface rather than relying on mental shortcuts all the time.
Everyone should try it, in fact. It won’t solve the racial/religious/minority group disputes and hatred around the world, but you’d most certainly end up making more people happy. Nobody likes to be judged. Instead, they want to be understood!
Sidenote: Writing this entry makes me want to read my psychology textbooks all over again!