Be not swept off your feet by the vividness of the impression, but say, “Impression, wait for me a little. Let me see what you are and what you represent.”

—Epictetus, Discourses

It is increasingly apparent—as I happily consume the newest neuroscience scholarship while unavoidably observing the behaviors of people around me—that our brains are social. What happened to rational? Not so much.
     Our social thinking may be a whole lot more interesting, in fact, than any other kind of thinking we do. Since people prefer a predictable world, we try to make sense of other people (as well as ourselves, on rare occasion). When we focus on the words or behaviors of other people, we pull out our favorite Yardsticks to do some measuring. Here’s two yardsticks I’m becoming increasingly familiar with:
     The What-I-Imagine-I-Would-Have-Done Yardstick: We adore comparing the behaviors of others to our sense of what we would have done under like circumstances. [Neglecting to account for the fact that, based on someone else’s personality and life, we likely would never be in like circumstances.]
     The Attribution-Error Yardstick: Why did she say that? Why did he do that? How come some people are so rude? Interacting with people presents events to us that require explanation—about causes. Especially when they deviate from what we think is appropriate. The Fundamental Attribution Error explains that when WE make a mistake, our brain automatically sees valid external reasons for that error, but when someone else makes a mistake, our brain quickly notices internal reasons. I wasn’t given a fair chance, you didn’t try hard enough.
     The thing about our cognitive yardsticks is that we’re largely unaware that we’re using them and they hardly ever get the measurements right. (Or at least YOUR yardstick might not.)



07/06/2011 6:35am

Fascinating subject! I have found that I am often wrong whenever I am impatient to speak or take action.

01/17/2012 3:32am

A predictable world would get to be boring, It is the unexpected things that bring excitement. Although it might be a painful thing. But pain is one of the major sources of ,learning, It is sad that some ignore the opportunity to learn. Most at least learn to avoid that source of pain in the future. I think the best is to be open to what ever life has to offer. An easy life doesn't always mean a good life. Thanks for posting such enjoyable thoughts.


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    August 2011
    July 2011