By Bonnie Hutchinson
It’s all in your mind–really!
It’s all in your mind–really!
Several lifetimes ago, in March 2020, the day after the lockdown was announced, my neighbour said to me, “They say this could last five weeks.”
I said, “Surely not!”
Denial. Total denial.
Eight months later with no end in sight, I can’t decide if my initial reaction was funny or sad or both.
What I know for sure is, my initial reaction was a delusion.
That brings us to David McRaney and the human condition. He’s written two best-sellers, You Are Not So Smart (2011) and You Are Now Less Dumb (2013).
McRaney writes about “why self-delusion is as much a part of the human condition as fingers and toes.” It’s all because of the way our brains work.
***This is not new information. Back in the 1960s in a social psychology course, I encountered the concept of “cognitive dissonance”. I still haven’t recovered.
The basic concept is this: if we encounter information that is different from what we believe, that difference causes mental (cognitive) discomfort (dissonance).
We are hard-wired to reduce discomfort. In order to reduce discomfort, we are not likely to change our beliefs to match the facts. Instead, we reject the facts.
When I first heard about cognitive dissonance, it scared me. I looked around and saw lots of evidence that it was true. It was frighteningly easy to see examples in government, in business, in my community…it took me longer to recognize areas of my life in which I clung to false beliefs rather than face reality. Too much cognitive dissonance!
***What’s new since the 1960s is that we now have additional proof–MRI scans–that cognitive dissonance is real.
Brain scans show that parts of the brain responsible for rational thought get less blood when shown statements that oppose our political stance. As McRaney says, “Your brain literally begins to shut down when you feel your ideology is threatened.”
This scares me. All of us are more likely to cling to false information rather than change our beliefs. That means that many decisions in our personal lives and in the world are based on false information.
***In our COVID-19 era, we’ve seen lots of evidence of this. The editorial pages of this very paper have included letters with opposing views of the same topic–masks versus no masks, isolation versus no isolation, for example. Since The Booster began in 1952, letters to the editor have included arguments on opposing sides of many topics.
When presented with information that doesn’t match our beliefs, do we stop to consider the possibility that we could be wrong?
Nope. We cling more fiercely to our beliefs.
McRaney calls it The Backfire Effect. He says, “Studies show that when a person sees corrections to stories that spread misinformation, if the person already believes the original story, the correction deepens that person’s convictions instead of correcting them.”
In other words, you can never win an argument intended to change someone’s mind!
***This paragraph stopped me: “We now know that there is no way you can ever know an ‘objective’ reality, and we know that you can never know how much of subjective reality is a fabrication, because you never experience anything other than the output of your mind. Everything that’s ever happened to you has happened inside your skull.”
I read that and thought, “Good grief! That means my entire life is a figment of my imagination.”
But then I thought…if everything I believe is a figment of my imagination, I might as well imagine things that make me happy. We’ll see how that works out.
***I’d love to hear from you! If you have comments about this column or suggestions for future topics, send a note to Bonnie@BonnieHutchinson.com. I’ll happily reply within one business day.