I talk a lot about self-delusion. My purpose in hammering on this concept is that we (all of us) truly underestimate just how powerful and unconscious self-delusion is. What makes this so insidious is that our thought processes have at least some aspect of delusion almost all the time, in everything we do. But we don’t realize it, so we think we are being reasonably rational and thorough.
My favorite example is what I refer to as reverse decision making. When faced with a decision, our preferred choice pops into our minds. Why not? We want to at least consider this option, don’t we?
But that is where the “reverse” part happens. Most decisions have way too much information available for us to consider all of it. So which attributes do we consider? The presence of our preferred choice in our mind nudges our attention towards the attributes for which our preferred choice has an advantage – whether or not these are really the most important.
So our decision making process can feel very thorough – considering many attributes. But since we considered the ones where our preferred choice is strong, guess what happens? Our preferred choice wins! That is why I call it “reverse”. We start with the answer and that influences the process just enough so that the answer seems rationally determined.
For simple decisions, a similar process occurs. In this case, we simply don’t feel obligated to put much concentrated attention into the decision because it is so simple (or so trivial). So again, our preferred answer is our starting point and the attributes we consider are the ones where this option is strongest. We don’t notice it with simple decisions because we aren’t paying attention to the process.
If you think you are immune, think again. Study after study show that even for people who are 100% positive they don’t do this, they actually do. Much of the time. And they don’t realize it, even while it is happening. Much of what happens in our brains is not consciously accessible. Do you sense the signal that your brain is sending to your heart, reminding it to beat? It is largely the same thing. We just don’t like to admit it when it comes to decision making.
There is evidence that this is innate. Children ages 5-7 have been studied extensively and they are all full of these reverse decision making processes.
There is some evidence that one category of people who do this less are the autistic. The reasons are complex and just being discovered now. So I will have to report back when the results are more clear. Otherwise, I might be reporting the reasons I hope to be true – some reverse thinking of my own.