Our brains filter out information deemed not useful to our overall sense of self — our values, our judgements and our conditioned memories. How does my brain know what to conclude? My brain pays attention to my thoughts and beliefs and produces what it thinks I wish it to.
I’m not happy with the term brainwashing. I prefer brain rinsing. Laundering and bleaching away the stains of the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable. We abhor dirt. We prefer our view of the world clothed with crisp, clean concepts that fit easily.
Let’s backtrack and define confirmation bias.
“The tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.” -Webster Dictionary.
Pause for a moment. Where do you source your news? Why? Do you share common points of view? Do you ever venture elsewhere for opinions divergent from yours?
Before I expand on this, let’s examine how our brains behave in our daily lives with two recent snapshots from my world.
1. Where is my Watch?
The hot day dictated that I wear shorts and a tank top. I’d been bleaching a pair of denims so put my watch in my pocket. As twilight approached, cooling the air, I trotted off to exchange shorts for longs. 20 minutes later, I’m sitting outside chatting with my hubby, and remember my watch. I rush indoors to check my shorts — nope. Check the bathroom and bedroom floors — no luck.
I’ve had that watch for over 20 years, I can’t have lost it. Has to be some place. I return outside to enlist help but as I open my mouth to speak, I glance at my wrist — my watch is staring right back at me with a smiling face.
So, what happened here?
My thoughts were so focused on the image of the watch in my pocket that my brain filtered out the memory of having removed and replaced it on my wrist.
2. Why choose a double cab pickup?
A friend had taken us shopping (we don’t have our own transport). As we were driving, I opined that I can’t understand why someone would purchase a double cab as the load area is so small. Either buy a single cab (a crew cab in the US) if you need a workhorse, or an SUV if you want the family to fit.
As we agreed on the impracticality of a double cab, in a space of 3 minutes, guess how many of them we observed on the road? I’m not kidding — seven!
Because our awareness was on double cabs, we saw them. There wasn’t an immediate invasion, no more nor less than usual.
The Big Picture
Our brains are complex and fascinating organs. As we grow and develop, our neural networks evolve by how we think and what we believe. We are unwittingly drawn to opinions and attitudes that confirm our beliefs and experiences and reject what doesn’t conform.
We do this because our brain’s primary role is to keep us protected. If something threatens our beliefs, it activates our pain centre and we become anxious — it’s a defence mechanism as being wrong sucks. The dominant emotion at any moment colours our memories and details of past events. Ever quarrelled with someone and you both later recall the details differently?
(I suggest that a Google search acts similarly. Based on your search history, the algorithms make assumptions (often irritatingly wrong!) of what interests you. I occasionally look for things I’m NOT interested in, just to throw them off track!)
Have you ever found it frustrating trying to debate an issue on which you disagree with someone? You try to persuade them you are correct and they try to convince you they are right — each of you telling the other they are wrong.
Do you tremble with cognitive dissonance because of that disruption? We attract that which we believe to be true and reject everything else outside those limits. We resist moving away from our comfort zone. We avoid unexplored territory. Not safe — won’t go there.
- Be open-minded
- Be willing to explore new concepts
- Surround yourself with diverse people.
- Listen and discuss different opinions on politics, religion, nations and life.
- Respect another’s right to express their viewpoint.
You will grow into a stronger and more empathetic human being. Your brain’s neural network will build new pathways to a greater you and your emotional intelligence will skyrocket.