It turns out that we are not very objective in our beliefs. It turns out that our perceptions and reasoning are heavily influenced by cognitive biases.
Imagine that you’re looking at an image on a computer screen of a big party somewhere. Now, imagine that you tell the computer you want to believe that everyone with blonde hair is an asshole. And let’s say as if by magic, the computer’s algorithm gradually edits the image to make it look as though each blonde-haired person has a smug, condescending, highly-punchable look on their face.
Now, pretend you tell the computer screen you want to feel rich. Voila! The computer morphs the clothing and jewelry and hairstyles of everyone in the picture to look drab, cheap, and mundane.
Now, let’s say you tell the computer that this party, whatever it is, clearly sucks. And like a genie obeying your wishes, the party is quickly morphed into a stultifying, tepid affair. People appear to be slouched in corners, staring intently at their feet. Few conversations are happening and the ones that are seem forced.
This computer is not a computer at all. It is your subconscious. And like the computer, your subconscious alters what you perceive in highly predictable ways. Our moods color our experiences. Our identities steer our attention. Our self-interest dictates our interpretations.
So when we sit around and think, “If only people could see what I see to be true,” without knowing it, we mean that literally—people can’t see exactly what we see.
You and I can look at the same scene of the same party, yet our internal graphic design software alters it in completely different ways.
This graphic design software of our minds is what psychologists call “cognitive biases,” and we all have them. Below is a summary of some of the more prominent cognitive biases and how they affect our perceptions. Understanding these biases is important because they not only help us stop lying to ourselves, but they also help us empathize and understand the perspectives of others.
This list of biases is by no means exhaustive.2 But these are arguably the most common and important cognitive biases that we regularly fall victim to…