by Howard Rankin || The current Coronavirus situation confronts us with one of our most taxing challenges: uncertainty.
As a matter of survival we are made to seek control and when we don’t have it, all manner of mechanisms creep in to allay our fears, or in some cases increase them.
“Human beings aren’t logical, they are psychological, often with the emphasis on the psycho,” I wrote in my book Power Talk: The Art of Effective Communication. The fact is we are story-tellers, more interested in consistency and emotional comfort than the “truth”. And we use a variety of defenses and what are now known as “cognitive biases” to justify our opinions.
There are dozens of these cognitive biases, which we all use, to justify how we feel and think.
One of the most common is the confirmation bias in which we only seek out and attend to information that confirms our views and disregard, dismiss and diss evidence to the contrary. The use of face masks is a good example. Some people ridicule, dismiss and lambast the use of masks, largely on the grounds that they don’t want to wear one. So, they’ll cite the opinion of one amongst thousands of experts who disagrees that masks are valuable protection, and focus only on the news that supports their feelings.
These biases arise from our psychological defenses, designed to protect us from facing up to harsh realities. There are broadly four groups of these defense mechanisms: pathological, neurotic, immature, and mature. The first three consists of all kinds of elaborate excuses designed to shun responsibility. Mature defenses consist of virtues, like compassion, humility, forgiveness, gratitude, respect and acceptance. It is clear to me, that these virtues are the basis of wisdom, as several sages of the past have asserted.
Another default setting of the mind that can be misleading and even damaging is the tendency to automatically connect two things that we hear about at the same time, or happen around the same time. So, 5G was being rolled out around the time the virus emerged so hey presto! — they must not only be connected, but causally connected. In such a way are conspiracy theories born.
Then, there is the natural tendency to think in a binary fashion. It’s either this or that. Yes, that can be energy-saving and quick when the output of your thinking, i.e. decisions, are trivial but it is hopelessly simplistic in a complex world. It is not just a case of whether we save lives or open businesses. The question is what are the many different ways that the virus can be managed, and businesses opened and how do they intersect.
As a new and fatal situation collides with the presence of social media and changes how we get and receive information, it has never been more important to understand the default settings of the mind and our thinking processes. Surely this should be a major focus in everyone’s education.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Howard Rankin PhD has vast experience in psychology and neuroscience as well as being a coach, consultant, speaker and award-winning and best-selling author. He has written 12 books in his own name, co-written 8 others and ghostwritten 30 more, all non-fiction in the health and self-development niche. He is the author of I Think Therefore I Am Wrong: A Guide to Bias, Political Correctness, Fake News and the Future of Mankind.
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