Imagine you got to hear from your friend about this guy who secretly likes you, suddenly every one of his moves seems like an attempt to get closer to you, his text messages look like him trying to flirt with you, and you start to look for all the little clues that point towards his attraction towards you. He takes forever to reply, but it’s understandable, he’s busy sometimes. Then one day, you get to know that he doesn’t feel the way you thought he did after all.
This can be a classic example of confirmation bias.
We cherry-pick ideas and evidence that support our initial beliefs (the misinterpreted moves and intention to flirt that indicate interest towards you) and ignore the disconfirming evidence (late replies that indicate lack of interest). Confirmation bias is just one of the examples of many cognitive biases that we humans undergo. They are an error in thinking that occurs when people are taking in and making sense of the information from the world around us. As amazing of a tool our mind is, it has limitations, and in an attempt to try to simplify the information, cognitive biases happen.
As helpful it can be, it sometimes leads to poor decisions and judgements and even worse, have some detrimental consequences on your relationship with others. In this article, we will explore three cognitive biases that can do so.
1. The Halo Effect
Have you come across someone incredibly attractive and for some reason you also thought they’re smart and kind without any evidence to back up the later claims? That is the halo effect at work. Just like how the ‘halo’ that you find above the head of saint bath them in heavenly light, your positive perception towards other people due to this one good quality baths them in superficial tendency to also have other good qualities.
The problem with this is that we tend to easily judge people’s personality and characteristics without getting to know them just like how we judge books by their covers. For instance, let’s say you meet someone at a party that you deem to be less attractive. With halo effect in play, you might end up with a conclusion that they might not be a good fit as a friend to you as well, as you assume, they might not be smart or open-minded as you are. This restricts you from exploring and getting to know them completely as a person and treat them based on your biased judgments.
Thus, to overcome the halo effect, be conscious of your judgments towards other people. Always give your first impressions another chance, to see if all the positive traits you assign to a person comes from your observations or just assumptions. Remember that each of us has an entire universe within, so always take the time to get to a person for real before drawing any conclusions about them.
2. The Actor-observer Effect
The next cognitive bias at play that can have an impact on your relationship with others is the actor-observer effect. It is the tendency to attribute our actions to external causes, such as circumstances and others’ actions, to internal causes, such as dispositions. If your friend arrives late for a meeting, you’d probably say that they’re just someone who isn’t dedicated to their work (dispositional) but if the tables turn and you’re the one arriving late to the meeting, you’d probably blame it on the bad traffic (circumstantial).
This usually happens because we are not aware of the situations and circumstances other people are in as we’re just observers of their actions. But in our case, we are the actors, who are more aware of the external challenges and problems present around us. This, too, can be disastrous because it siphons the understanding that should be present towards other people. Instead of being understanding towards your friend who is undergoing depression that prevents her from performing well at work and give her emotional support, you might just easily judge and accuse her of being lazy and irresponsible.
To prevent this bias from taking over and destroying your friendships through lack of understanding, ask questions. When someone does something that makes you form negative judgments towards their characteristics, ask them questions and give them a chance to explain themselves. Only then can we be more aware of the situations they are in and subsequently help them out in ways that we can.
3. Pessimism Bias
The last one is the worst of all: pessimism bias. If you know someone who always has something negative to say about everything, you know what I’m talking about. Pessimism bias is when one overestimates the likelihood of awful things happening. Often people who exhibit pessimism bias hide behind the façade of ‘only being realistic’. Every opportunity will seem like a huge risk and only comfort zones remain as a haven for such people.
The problem begins when you internalize this until it becomes a part of who are and you channel this habit towards other people. Imagine your brother being so excited about the idea of wanting to venture into business and start his brand. But you, in the name of being realistic, point out all the negative aspects of the decision to do so instead of being supportive and happy for him. As much as rational and realistic judgements are important, these people tend to overdo it where the cons always outweigh the pros. That is why many people who exhibit pessimism bias are labelled as being toxic to the people around them.
To overcome this, we can positively use pessimism instead! Rather than making them as a source of anxiety and reasons to not try new things, use them as a guideline to prepare for all the possible downfalls that might occur. Make sure your negative statements work as precautions and are followed by solutions and suggestions. Cognitive biases are very common. We humans as social beings can’t help but have these biases influence our social lives and our relationship with others. But just like how solving a problem requires one to be aware of it in the first place, dealing with cognitive biases requires us to be aware of their presence and their impact on our daily actions. Although they cannot be completely eradicated, necessary actions can be taken to reduce them. Every relationship takes work, so I hope this article can help you in identifying the underlying problems that are straining yours and take actions to better it.