How to Develop Personality and Confidence
I know, noone ever claimed that knows everything. But have you thought if sometimes we may act like that? And I don’t exclude myself. Anyway, I am not writing this article in order to blame anyone. In fact, I take for granted that all of us exhibit this behavior, of course not in the same level. And you know why? Because it is a natural tendency. Human beings contain specific efficient mechanisms that were valuable in order to adapt in the environment that we evolved, the African savannah. These mechanisms, although valuable, when not taken into account cause serious misunderstandings about our whole life perception. For example, it’s is not difficult at all to become overconfident in situations that the facts don’t allow us. Especially by taking into account that our bodies are not made for the city environment that most of us live so the needs are totally different.
At the same time the people that are aware of these mechanisms can exploit the majority of other people, leaving them with the impression that it was their own choice. I don’t consider control as something metaphysical or as a conspiracy theory but just as an intelligent and exaggerative use of psychological techniques. But at the same time it’s everyone’s duty to try to understand how these mechanisms work in order, not only not to be controlled, but also to come to better judgements and decisions.
Dr. Daniel Kahneman is a senior scholar in Psychology in Princeton University. He is one of the fathers of Behavioral Economics. In 2002 he became the first non economist to win the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on decision making under uncertainty. Steven Pinker said he is one of the most influential psychologists of all time. In his best seller and too much awarded “Thinking Fast and Slow” he summarizes all the research he has done together with his great colleague and friend Amos Tversky who unfortunately is not alive. He describes that humans have two ways of thinking:
–First is the fast road or system 1. This mechanism works automatically meaning that we are not conscious when it happens. All the time the brain traces the stimuli that come from our environment or from inside the brain and then checks for associative memories and makes the respective decisions. Then we may become conscious only through the impressions that it creates to us and are expressed through feelings. When, for example, someone asks a question that starts with “Is your mother..” there will immediately be elicited a reaction from the listener because the mother is associated with emotions. Or when you are in a new environment you may feel stressed even though you may not want to be or you don’t admit it. These basic assessments play an important role in intuitive judgment, because they are easily substituted for more difficult questions—this is the essential idea of the heuristics and biases approach.
–The second way of thinking is the slow road. This is the cognitive road and has two obligations. First is needed to make cognitive calculations or to solve problems. When you consciously check the facts at a time you want to come to a decision. Or when you want to calculate 23X69. Secondly is needed in order to supervise behavior. When it recognises a mistaken judgment or decision from system 1 it puts the brakes in order you don’t do something wrong. This is conscience.
The problem is that most of the times system 2 is busy, tired or not well-trained so the system 1 hijacks it,and in fact it enslaves it. This is when we are biased. The reason behind all this is the law of minimum effort. System 1 works approximately 10-100 times quicker than system 2 and doesn’t require mental effort. System 2 is connected with attention and control. That’s why it’s difficult to focus on 2 things at the same time. So when there is a difficulty for system 2 to come to a conclusion (through lack of facts , emotional bias or boredom), it accepts what system 1 says. When for example employees return home from a tiring day at work, it’s very easy to accept the messages of cheap political speeches. The truth is that most of our lives we work on system 1. Through habits. Most of the time it works fine because it is an evolved mechanism through millions of years and simultaneously we are used to these things so we don’t require cognitive capacity. Like when we are driving.
However, there are plenty of times when, as aforementioned, reason is not there when needed, system two for some reasons cannot be in control. I’m sure all of you see other people do unreasonable things every day. Errr, most people wonder how the others behave irrationally. Here is the explanation but use it to think about yourselves, too.This is when we need to recognize the mistakes of system 1 and consciously control them through system 2. For example, if we notice that we become personally affected in discussions that concern us, we should have it in our minds and try to control it when it happens. But Kahneman isn’t so optimistic that people can do that very effectively… In fact what most of the times happens is that the strong emotional intuition towards a behavior finds system 2 engaged and controls it. Then, after the behavior, system 2 creates a comfortable explanation according to what you perceive as preferable. This process is called backwards rationalization and is NOT conscious.
How to develop personality and confidence
Jumping to conclusions is efficient if the conclusions are likely to be correct and the costs of an occasional mistake acceptable, and if the jump saves much time and effort. Jumping to conclusions is risky when the situation is unfamiliar, the stakes are high, and there is no time to collect more information.
Neglect of Ambiguity and Suppression of Doubt
I will use one example of Kahneman’s book.
Look at the following sentence:
A WOMAN APPROACHES A BANK
In your mind came a woman who has money in her mind that is going towards a building with secure vaults. But if the previous sentence had been “They were floating gently down the river,” you would have imagined an altogether different scene. When you have just been thinking of a river, the word bank is not associated with money. Due to the fact that there wasn’t any other associative information, your system 1 jumped to the conclusion I described and the system 2 accepted it. The most important thing about the mechanism is that you weren’t even aware of the alternatives so you made a definite choice. System 1 does not keep track of alternatives that it rejects, or even of the fact that there were alternatives. In order to enter in the situation of doubt you need to activate system 2 which requires mental effort and focus.
Exaggerated Emotional Coherence (Halo Effect)
One example of ambiguity neglect is the Halo Effect. The phenomenon has been explored since 1920 but unfortunately it hasn’t been so used among scientists until the last few years. The halo effect is a cognitive bias in which one’s judgments (even for things he/she hasn’t observed) of a person’s character can be influenced by one’s overall impression of him or her. The stubbornness of an intelligent person is seen as likely to be justified and may actually evoke respect, but intelligence in an envious and stubborn person makes him more dangerous. And this triggers a lot of discussion on first impressions. It is proven that indeed there is never a second chance for a first impression. Actually our judgments are too much influenced by the emotional response of first impression. The immediate decision one makes towards the other creates so strong (because of the halo effect) associative biases that subsequent information is mostly wasted.
There is a study of people listening to sentences while their brain was being monitored. The voice speaking was an upper class british male voice and what it said was “I have launched tattoos all over my back.” At that time there is a characteristic of the brain surprise recognising the voice as an aristocrat bringing up the stereotype so you don’t expect them to have large tattoos all over their back. System 1 detects the incogruency automatically. Also, if you like president Obama’s politics you probably like his voice but if you don’t, you may find his ears very large, Kahneman mentions in a speech.
We are naturally inclined to believe everything we hear. The psychologist Daniel Gilbert proposed that understanding a statement must begin with an attempt to believe it: you must first know what the idea would mean if it were true. Only then can you decide whether or not to disbelieve it. So System 1 tries to create the scenario and then it’s the job of System 2 to decide if the statement is true or false. Even if for example I tell you that I saw yesterday a yellow elephant from Africa in the TV, first you will imagine the yellow elephant and then you will disprove me after System 2 processing that there aren’t any yellow elephants. But System 2 is busy, untrained or lazy sometimes to disprove the scenario projected automatically by system 1 so it accepts it. That’s one way the media can influence the readers towards or against the people they want. Even by stating unproven compliments or accusations, they find people’s system 2 out of work and create the relevant impressions.
Coherence and Confidence
A very important feature of system 1 is that what matters to it is the information activated and only. If a memory cannot be retrieved (even unconsciously) then is like it had never existed. System 1 produces coherent stories even with little evidence. The brain is a machine for jumping to conclusions. Even with minimal amount of evidence, if it fits into a story, you generate that story.
Coherence explains the feeling of confidence we have in judgments, opinions and preferences. Normally you should be confident if the evidence is enough. But confidence doesn’t seem to work like that. Confidence has to do with the coherence of the stories that mostly system one creates. If you create a simple coherent story even for times that you know that information is limited, you feel confident.. So we make patterns and we believe them. The world we have in our minds is much simpler than the real world, it’s a coherent world. We pick simple stories and tend to ignore facts about the story that would change our judgments.
The measure of success for System 1 is the coherence of the story it manages to create. The amount and quality of the data on which the story is based are largely irrelevant. You have often found out that knowing little makes it easier to feel confident…
And let’s take it a little further and think about the people who are competitive. That want to be first in any context they participate, even though sometimes they don’t have the appropriate skills. For these people it’s much easier to follow their intuition that are better than the others and appear overconfident. Or think about your self perception. The things that you consciously believe that you are competent and you have committed to. In these sectors it is much more difficult to accept any mistaken judgements that you may make. We often fail to allow for the possibility that evidence that should be critical to our judgment is missing—what we see is all there is. Furthermore, our associative system tends to settle on a coherent pattern of activation and suppresses doubt and ambiguity.
This means that many people have a confident perception about their lives and the reality they experience. But this perception comes from beliefs that have just been taught since birth and are not products of thorough study and criticism. There is a belief that life will teach us. However it seems that what we learn from society are social constructs that lead us in the direction the ones that spread the information prefer and are reproduced from generation to generation.. And the worst thing of all is that these people aren’t even aware of the alternatives. On the contrary they perceive their perception as adequate enough.
Neither the quantity nor the quality of the evidence counts for much in subjective confidence. The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little. ~Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow.
How to Develop Personality and Confidence