scanning for patterns…


humans are pattern seeking creaturesNOTE: There is no pattern. I doodled.  It’s random.

Our brains don’t like chaos, we want to believe things are connected, not random.

brainResearching pattern seeking got me thinking about conspiracy theories…of which I am not immune.  I went down a rabbit hole after 911, wanting to make sense of the attack on our nation and all of the lives we lost.  I really thought I was finding all sorts of insider information.  I wasn’t.

Humans are pattern seeking creatures.  There’s so much interesting research on this subject.  Our brains are capable of gold medal worthy gymnastic moves to confirm our preconceptions. I know I like feeling that confirmation buzz. That heady feeling has a shadow side though.

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“A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.”      —Daniel Kahneman

This quote reminded me of when I hear a song I initially don’t like. If I hear it over and over, it begins to grow on me. Next it becomes familiar…I even begin to like it…hell, maybe even love it, playing it often. With repetition my brain will eagerly override my initial dislike and discernment. This is great when you’re making a conscious choice.

Not so great when the goal is manipulation or brand loyalty.

hate + repetition = acceptance

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“The premise of (most) conspiracy theories is inherently unscientific.”

“You should be skeptical of any theory that starts out with the exact same premise every time: Some malevolent and ill-intentioned individual, group, or organization is somehow out to get you.”

“It is not wrong to have a hypothesis. What is suspicious, however, is when that hypothesis never changes.”

“The interesting thing about conspiracy theories is that they start out with the need to confirm a particular premise (i.e., some evil actor must be responsible).

“…psychologists refer to it as a fundamental attribution error—the tendency to overestimate the actions of others as being (intentional) rather than simply the product of (random) situational circumstances.”         

Why Do People Believe in Conspiracy Theories?  by Sander van der Linden Ph.D. Psychology Today

Here’s an example of FUNDAMENTAL ATTRIBUTION ERROR:

My husband started the laundry SO obviously he thinks I’m lazy and not holding up my end of our shared household responsibilities.  OR…and far more likely, he needed some clothes washed and is just doing the laundry. 

laundry clip art

It’s so easy to make this error. I know I need to slow my brain down a lot more often before I jump to conclusions in many aspects of my life.

We inadvertently create mini conspiracy theories when we attribute people’s actions as personal and not situational in their nature. 

The trick is to learn when to take a moment to see if our attribution is actually accurate.

When I slow down my pattern-seeking brain, I feel more in control of the chaos around me. When I don’t, and I often don’t I feel far more anxious and uncertain.

RESOURCES

a short video about fundamental attribution error from the U of Texas

US National Library of Medicine/National Institute of Health on conspiracy theories

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman about slowing our thoughts down when making decisions and judgements.

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