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You Get What You Expect

The mind often takes the path of least resistance when it comes to processing information; it’s hardwired to hone in on information that generates minimum inconsistency with existing beliefs. To put it simply: people see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear to support their beliefs. This phenomena is called the confirmation bias. While the mind has good intentions, this bias can have negative repercussions.

The clip above is an example of the confirmation bias at work. Nik thinks his pending vaccination is going to be extremely painful. He hears and sees lots of things to contradict this belief (his sister says it’s not so bad, his mom reassures him, the last patient walks out with a smile on her face and popsicle in hand), but he only notices things which support his belief (a muffled “Ow!” and a syringe on the table). The confirmation bias gives Nik tunnel vision.

This phenomena may seem harmless, but the bias can in fact significantly affect the resilience of a child. Think about it – if a youthling only sees what they want to see and ignores other facts and opinions, they live in a distorted reality. Distortions are dangerous, humanoid. Distortions can lead to pessimistic thought patterns which cause negativity or worse, conditions such as anxiety and depression. Kids exhibiting a strong confirmation bias are also difficult to reason with – they’re stubborn! Remember Nik? Nothing you could have said to him in that moment would have convinced him he was going to be okay. Again, he only saw what he wanted to see.

Everyone is susceptible to the confirmation bias, even adultoids. You’ve seen parents adopt an always-never framework where a mom might say, “My daughter never cleans her room.” She then looks for data points to confirm her belief – a dirty sock on the ground, papers strewn around. It’s even harmful when the belief is positive. For intstance, when a teacher holds a strong belief that a student is gifted, he may fail to notice when they need help or support.

What can you do to thwart the bias?

Accuracy is a cornerstone of psychological resilience, so teach your youthlings how to maintain an accurate perspective in any situation. Make a habit of collecting as much evidence as possible to support or negate strong beliefs. In the GoStrengths! resilience programs, we have youthlings GoCollect! evidence. Ask your youthlings to be a detective for the day; have them find clues which support and go against their beliefs.

Make a commitment to cultivate an environment of curiosity. If you’re watching TV with your youthling and you hear a news headline, open up a discussion around that subject. Help your youthling explore facts rather than taking things at face value. Curiosity is a wonderful habit which can teach youthlings to be more inclusive of different types of information in their surroundings. Finally, remember – never say never (or always): instead of thinking in extremes, try to find the middle ground!

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3 Responses to You Get What You Expect

  1. John Ernest October 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

    They say that everything happens for a reason, I say that everything happens because of your expectation. True or not, our expectations will always define how things turn out to be. Negativity will only brood negativity and positivity will always brood positive things. We should learn how to always expect the best and prepare for the worst, it is a basic rule for surviving here in this world.

  2. Will Will October 27, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    “The confirmation bias gives Nik tunnel vision.” So well put! And seeing the confirmation bias at work like this-visually-made it that much more relevant and personal. Interesting that in the animation, there was more evidence to the contrary but Nik didn’t see any of it! I think I have done this a bit more than I would like to admit LOL

  3. Cathay November 2, 2012 at 10:40 pm #

    Yes! I needed the name for “seeing what you want to see” – confirmation bias. Of course, I have heard of it, but I’ve never seen it demo’d like this. My kids don’t do this, my husband does it! He doesn’t have a balanced view of the world around him. I wonder if there’s a way I can show him this video and kind of nudge him. Lol

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