We all think we’re the rational ones.
We think our view of the world is the logical one.
We’d like to think we’re the enlightened and educated ones.
I know this because I suffer from it. It’s easy for me to think I have a one up on others. It’s easy to think my views aren’t emotionally charged, or that I don’t fall for the same perverted reasoning that everyone else suffers from.
But the reality is we all suffer from irrationality.
The key is to avoid assuming you’ve got it all right and they’ve got it all wrong.
You Aren’t The Sole Judge of What’s Rational
One of the biggest reality distortions is assuming your views are rational, informed, and unbiased.
I know it’s hard to wrap your head around, but you are not the poster child for objective rational thought. I’m not, you’re not, my dog definitely isn’t.
We’re humans; humans aren’t rational.
A study conducted in 2002 had Stanford students take a questionnaire about biases in social judgment and how susceptible they were to such cognitive distortions. The study found that the majority of students thought they were less likely than other students to fall prey to bias. The students were then informed that 70 to 80 percent of people fall prey to bias. Afterwards, the students were asked how accurate their self-assessments were; 63 percent of them argued that they were objective, while 13 percent said their ratings were too biased.
Obviously, we bend reality to fit the narrative in our heads. Topics that breed controversy, like religion, politics, and sports tend to magnify this effect.
The narrative of your political group is that you’ve got it figured out, your system works the best, and everyone else is either selfish or ignorant.
As I’ve written about before, narratives can pervert your sense of reality. The controversial, aggressive nature of politics incentivizes these distortions.
Naïve Realism: It’s Why You Think You’re Objective & Others Aren’t
Naïve realism is the culprit. It’s the term for assuming you’re objective and everyone else isn’t because they’re either uninformed, unintelligent, biased, or irrational. And was first coined by social psychologist Lee Ross and his colleagues in the 1990s.
Naïve realism assumes that rational discussions and facts will win people over. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. The Backfire Effect shows how throwing facts with the hope of proving someone wrong will only strengthen their beliefs in their mind.
And let’s not forget that facts aren’t self-regulating entities. Facts are human created by way of how we view the world around us, a view affected by naïve realism. Facts are inherently biased because of how and who created them.
Further reading: here’s a podcast episode from You Are Not So Smart with Lee Ross.
The 3 Facets of Naïve Realism & The Fallacies That Go Hand in Hand
There’s 3 critical beliefs of the naïve realist, as defined by Lee Ross.
- Believe that they see the world objectively and without bias
- Expect that others will come to the same conclusions, so long as they are exposed to the same information and interpret it in a rational manner
- Assume that others who do not share the same views must be ignorant, irrational, or biased
Along with these subpoints of naïve realism, there’s five naïve realism effects.
False consensus effect: the tendency for people to overestimate the quantity of people who share their beliefs.
Hostile media effect: participants view neutral events subjectively according to their own views and needs. Throw someone in front of a TV with news coverage of some controversial issue and they’re bound to say it’s biased and ideologically bent.
Bias blind spot: the ability to recognize cognitive distortions and biases in others but not yourself. In the grand scheme of things, it’s more important to focus on the biases in your own arguments than attempt to highlight every bias in your opponent. By focusing on your opponent’s distortions you’re only engaging in the Backfire Effect. By focusing on your biases, you’re improving your logic and your ability to outreach.
False polarization: interpreting people’s views as more extreme than they really are. This distortion originates from the third facet of naïve realism. Political debates are breeding grounds for this. Take for instance the abortion debate; both sides think the other side is more extreme than what’s really true, and discussion stagnates as a result.
Reactive devaluation: a cognitive distortion that happens when you disregard or devalue a proposal that originates from an antagonist. A sidewalk study was done in 1991 that asked pedestrians to evaluate a nuclear disarmament proposal. One group was told the proposal came from Ronald Reagan, the other group was told it came from Mikhail Gorbachev. 90 percent of participants who thought the proposal came from Reagan supported it. Only 44 percent of participants who thought it came from Gorbachev supported it.
Avoiding Naïve Realism in Politics
Here’s a few main points, adapted from a post from Psych Your Mind…
- Refrain from making a snap judgment: wait for all the facts, don’t rely on stereotypes, and don’t make assumptions. You don’t have enough information to judge them, no matter what you think. This is especially true if you’ve never met/talked politics with this person before.
- Look for disconfirming information: look for information that contradicts your beliefs about this person and their outlook. Liberals aren’t trying to enslave Americans with the welfare state, so what’s the real motive? Don’t fall for confirmation bias.
- Put yourself in their shoes: think about the experiences they’ve been through. Why would you do if you held their beliefs? Understanding their mental thought process is key to effectively relating to them, and winning respect.
- Don’t try to figure out who’s right: being right isn’t important. Creating a conversation where both sides respect each other’s views, ultimately crafting a positive view of said beliefs is what’s important. It doesn’t matter if you’re right if you’re ostracized and no one respects you.
- Ask them what they’re thinking: ask them why they believe what they believe. Ask questions; they’re the best tool at your disposal.
Like I said earlier, focus on dispelling cognitive distortions and biases from your own beliefs. Use it as a filter against new ideas and views, and not getting dragged down with the masses. But please, don’t go yelling “fallacy” and “cognitive distortion” at people. It doesn’t help you.
Lastly remember this…
You might think your views are objective truth, but to everyone else, they’re only subjective.
Remember the subjective nature of views, use it interact with those who disagree with you. Don’t walk around like you’ve got the moral high ground. Interact with an honest interest in what someone else has to say and why they believe it.
You’ll go farther that way.