Sunday, September 16, 2012

Confirmation Bias

Sometime back I wrote an post called Accepting Your Wife in Marriage.

There was a critical step mentioned in that post - You "accept" a person warts and all. This is difficult. I already wrote about how The Fundamental Attribution Error makes you create a negative image about other people. That is just the beginning.

Carry out an experiment. Ask somebody to count the number of black cars they see during a trip, maybe on their drive to office. After they are done telling you how many black cars they saw, ask them how many red cars they saw. Most people will not be able to answer.

There is a famous video of people passing a basketball, if you have already seen that, try this one. I tried the second video on Vandana, she definitely has an eagle eye :-)

Your brain only notices things that it has been sensitized to notice. What does this means in relationships? Once you believe your spouse behaves in a particular way, your brain will only notice behavior that confirm this belief.  You will NOT notice behavior that contradicts this belief. This is known as Confirmation Bias.

Let us take an example. Because of circumstances, your spouse complains about something two days running. The Fundamental Attribution Error means you will ignore the circumstance and you will convert it to a statement of innate nature. You will think "whiner". Now your brain is sensitized to this belief, if your spouse complains once a month, you will become certain - definitely a "whiner". Your brain will not register the 29 days that went by without complaints :-)

That is the Confirmation Bias in operation. In combination with The Fundamental Attribution Error it is deadly. You are certain you know your spouse's "nature". And you remember many instances that "prove" this belief.

Vandana was certain I was "insensitive" and I was equally certain she was "careless". We used to have endless arguments; she would point out instances when I was insensitive and I would hit back by giving her instances of careless behavior.

How do you overcome this dangerous pair, I will share how I did it in my next few posts.


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