Introduction to Psychological Effects – The argument against logical reality
" The pendulum of the mind alternates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong. "
The common belief that the human mind is an organized, coherent, and efficient system is not entirely true. Although we manage to function and, if lucky, excel in our daily tasks most of the time, our minds tend to fall victim to some bizarre psychological effects. We, humans, pride ourselves on our rationality and the belief that our thoughts follow the principles of logic and reason. However, we may be unaware that our rationality is subject to various forms of mental distortions, otherwise known as cognitive biases. Cognitive biases are essentially mistakes in thinking that occur when we are processing and interpreting various forms of information. The tricky thing with this phenomenon is that although we make obvious errors in thought, we are still convinced that our reasoning stems directly from our rationality and logic. You could compare this to a delusion or an instance where our brain deceives us into thinking that we are correct.
Examples of Psychological Effects
Hundreds of quirky psychological effects can be found in research and general contexts. Throughout your life, you may have already fallen prey to minor cognitive distortions or biases that influenced your decision-making. Take overconfidence, for example. It is not uncommon for someone to grossly overestimate their sense of skill, talent, or self-belief, leading them to make brashly overconfident decisions based on those beliefs. In most cases, this is predominantly harmless, but imagine making an overconfident decision where the stakes are much higher and the consequences of failure much stronger.
Overconfidence is an example of a cognitive bias that consists of overestimating prior beliefs. As a psychological effect, it is rather mild and can be corrected through reflection and maturity. However, there are instances where our minds can go through more intense psychological effects that engender severe forms of mental distortions. Thus, with the hundreds of existing psychological effects, it is crucial to understand the full nature of how our minds can become distorted. You may be surprised to hear that you may have already fallen victim to a host of common psychological effects in your daily life. Here are a few common effects or biases that the majority of people participate in on a day-to-day basis:
- Confirmation Bias: As children, many of us believed Santa Clause was real. Over the years, we constantly looked for evidence to support our beliefs while remaining ignorant to evidence that challenged them. This is confirmation bias, and it is the process by which we only pay attention to what we believe to be true.
- Hindsight Bias: Have you ever watched a movie with a big plot twist and thought, "I knew it all along" after it was revealed? This is called hindsight bias, and it is the tendency to overestimate one's ability to predict an outcome of a given event.
- Anchoring Bias: The anchoring bias is a simple yet far too common mental fallacy that most people fall into. It refers to the overreliance on the first piece of information one is given on a topic. For example, if you read on a travel blog that people are rude in a country, you will remain anchored to that belief since as you were exposed to it first.
- Self-Serving Bias: Most ego-centered people fall victim to self-serving bias. It refers to the habit where an individual will take credit for positive events while not taking any responsibility for negative events. People with self-serving bias are essentially quick to accept praise but slow with receiving criticism.
How Do These Psychological Effects Happen?
Why does our brain do this, you may ask? Simply put, when processing information from our senses, our brains may interpret the incoming data stream using mental shortcuts or heuristics. Heuristics are automatic cognitive tools that allow our minds to make quick decisions or judgments based on the information being fed to it. This may seem counterintuitive, but in reality, they serve an adaptive purpose by creating time and energy for people to function without needing to constantly stop and think repeatedly. However, although useful in events requiring snap judgment, heuristics often lead us to believe nonsensical truths for problems that require careful scrutiny or analysis. Let us come back to the example of overconfidence. When faced with a task, our egos often tend to make us believe that we will be able to achieve any particular task with ease and efficiency. Effectively, after a brief scan of our skills, mental heuristics produce snap judgments, and we are now confident we can complete this task without any further rational analysis of the situation.
" The thinking mind is a useful and powerful tool, but it is also very limiting when it takes over your life completely, when you don’t realize that it is only a small aspect of the consciousness that you are. "
The Dark Side Of Psychological Effects
When we go deeper into the underlying mechanisms of the human mind, we see that hundreds of possible psychological effects can arise and influence how we think. Many of these effects, like confirmation and hindsight bias, are relatively harmless. However, there have been many cases throughout the history of psychological effects that have pushed people to commit highly dysfunctional acts impacting the lives of many. Stemming from the faulty heuristics that arise from our reasoning abilities, various psychological effects on the human mind have been responsible for a host of harmful behaviors by twisting our morals and beliefs. To better understand the full nature behind psychological effects, it is vital to look at the various ways it can influence how we think, feel, and behave. Understanding these mechanisms will also help us to know how to avoid falling prey to these effects but also to recognize and know how to handle them.
Classification Of Psychological Effects
Over the hundreds of different psychological effects, we can categorize them into five major groups depending on which areas of our minds they influence. These include:
- 1. Effects that influence our perception
- 2. Effects that influence other people
- 3. Effects that influence what we like
- 4. Effects that influence our Morals
- 5. Effects that influence our Beliefs
Effects That Influence Our Perception
Our perception (e.g., sight, smell, hearing, touch) is our mental ability most susceptible to psychological effects. Everything registered by our eyes, ears, and skin needs confirmation by the brain to predict what it is. Often, faulty heuristics obstruct functional information processing and distort our perceptions.
Fun Fact: Your entire reality is a hallucination. You do not see, hear, or feel anything: Those perceptions are created by the interpretation your brain makes based on the signals it receives. All it takes is a slight deviation in how the information is processed, and the brain could make an atypical prediction.
A psychological effect that is a prime example of this is the various optical and auditory illusions that are frequently employed in the arts and science. The Bezold effect is one such example as it demonstrates how any given color can appear different when placed in relation to an adjacent color. The bouba/kiki effect also represents a quirky example of this as it shows that our minds attribute visual properties to sound (i.e., The sound Bouba feels like a round shape whereas Kiki feels sharp). Effectively, psychological effects that influence our perceptions are common but mostly redundant in terms of how they affect our overall functioning. However, in severe cases, these psychological effects can influence how some people view the world and ultimately dictate their behavior according to their false perceptions.
Effects That Influence Other People
Effects that influence how we see others are also called social cognitive biases. They are distorted patterns of thinking related to how we view other people and can be influenced by many factors. For example, we may view certain people as superior due to their status but at the same time think lowly of another because of their looks and appearance. Essentially these effects impact our ability to make rational judgments about other people.
For example, when you love someone, the intensity of your feelings may cloud your judgment of them when they express conflicting behaviors. This is the Halo effect, and it can be applied to a wide range of social contexts. Put simply, if we overly idealize someone for love or another reason, we will think that everything they do is either for a good or constructive reason. Prominent examples of the halo effect can also be seen in politics, where many people believe that a politician's actions are made with their best interests at heart.
Another example of effects that influence how we view others is the pratfall effect. It posits that people may appear more likable after being seen committing a mistake or blunder, otherwise known as a pratfall. This is because highly competent people may be seen as arrogant or perfect and it is comforting to see them make mistakes like the average individual.
Effects That Influence What We Like
Effects that influence what we like are frequently used in advertisements or marketing strategies. You may be surprised to hear that you can be easily manipulated into liking something you previously disliked using simple psychological effects. It goes to show how easily we can be tricked into thinking that our tastes in objects are genuine while they have been manufactured using psychological effects.
One simple example of this is the Baader Meinhof effect. According to this effect, all it takes for someone to like a particular object or product is to be consistently exposed to it over and over again. Also known as the frequency effect, the more you are exposed to a given object, the more you will be ready to accept it within your preferences.
Effects That Influence Our Morals
There exist certain psychological effects that can bend our morality and principles. These are one of the most dangerous psychological effects as they are responsible for various harmful behaviors. Humans are social creatures, and our minds are wired to help and support the people around us. However, a few factors can come in the way of our empathetic outlook resulting in unknowing heartless behaviors.
Have you ever been alone with someone who was distressed and needed help? If so, your first impulse would be to help the distressed individual by whatever means you have at the moment. Now, place that distressed individual in a group of 100 people. As a casual bystander, your desire to help greatly reduces as you are aware that 100 other people could offer their assistance instead of yourself. This is called the bystander effect, which is the phenomenon where people are less likely to help an individual in distress when surrounded by many people.
A more severe form of moral influencing effect is Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, which causes someone to fake or produce real symptoms of an illness to make their child appear sick. This effect ultimately leads someone to harm a more vulnerable individual just for their impulsive desire to receive attention. Although psychologists are unsure why some people do this, they speculate that it may stem from childhood trauma or forms of abuse.
Effects That Influence Our Beliefs
Humans are incredibly influenceable when it comes to what we believe. The vast number of religions and ideological doctrines are prime examples of how this phenomenon unfolds. Undoubtedly, many effects easily influence our minds to believe certain things. These effects can also cause harmful behaviors as we tend to think and act according to what we believe.
You may be well aware that some people with limited knowledge and competencies grossly overestimate their capabilities, believing they can achieve anything. This is an example of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which consists of people's tendency to overestimate their abilities. There is also an effect called imposter syndrome, which is the opposite of this phenomenon where capable individuals underestimate their abilities and feel undeserved for their success.
These effects ultimately show how our beliefs are influenced by different factors, many of which stem from how we view ourselves. A more ego-centered individual may fall prey to the Dunning Kruger effect, whereas someone with low self-esteem may feel like an imposter in their own skin. The bottom line is that our beliefs can be influenced by many factors, and training your awareness to respond to these potential factors is vital.
The Bottom Line
The main takeaway from this information on psychological effects is that the human mind works in mysterious ways. It is fascinating to see how far it can go regarding bizarre psychological effects. Understanding how our thinking can deviate from rational and logical forms of reasoning can be unsettling for many. However, accepting this fact and being aware of the different psychological effects can help improve how we think and behave around ourselves and others. Over the following chapters, we will immerse ourselves in the hundreds of ways our minds can be influenced and observe the different patterns of thinking it can take. By the end, you will be aware of all the common pitfalls and develop a strong sense of psychological integrity that you can keep with you throughout your life.