Research shows that humans can’t perceive reality accurately

In Science & Technology
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Humans have a serious problem: we hang onto our biases even in the face of facts demonstrating otherwize.

We like to think that we are rational and that our point of view is based on facts. The sad thing is, research has found that we can’t trust our brains to perceive reality accurately. More often than not, we resort to familiar patterns of behavior even when they are harmful to us.

New research has demonstrated that we make decisions based on our biases and our brains ignore facts that don’t fit with our biases.

What’s more, we do this even if we are well aware that it can cost us!

A team of researchers from ENS and University College London led by Stefano Palminteri of École Normale Supérieure set out to find out if people will hold onto their biases even if they knew that it would cost them financially. Would people realize that their opinions are not worth hanging on to?

To find out, the researchers set 20 volunteers a task that involved associating symbols with financial reward. In the first of two experiments, the volunteers had to choose between two symbols and received a financial reward that varied depending on their choice. Going thorough the process repeatedly, the volunteers learned the values of the symbols that they had picked.

In the second experiment, the volunteers were again asked to choose between pairs of symbols, but this time they were told the value of both symbols.

This is the shocker: even knowing that a symbol is more valuable, the volunteers chose the symbols that they had developed a preference for in the first experiment. This meant that they would wilfully choose less valuable symbols.

This is just insane.

Even in the face of facts, and if we know we will lose out, we’ll stick to our rusted guns.

This suggests that people generally ignore new information that counters their beliefs, even though doing so costs them financially, Palminteri told New Scientist. “It’s as if you don’t hear the voices in your head telling you that you’re wrong, even if you lose money,” he says.

This is worth thinking about.

For instance, is this why it’s so hard for some people to change their minds even if the facts are staring them in the face? This is really a scary thought and what on earth can you do about that? Your own bias and that of others?

Will we ever be able to look at a situation objectively and agree on what we see?

The problem is most of us don’t think we are biased. It’s hard to change something that you don’t think needs changing. Besides, we hide our own stereotypes from ourselves because we tend to deny that we are guilty of something that society has taught us, and that we believe, is bad. Bias is something that’s really hard to be fully aware of and therefore hard to eliminate.

Says Palminteri: “Complete objectivity is probably something we will never fully achieve.”

Any ideas on how we can rid ourselves of our biases?