Believe What You Want; Perceptions, Part Two

Last week, I told you that the sky isn't really blue, due to the fact that it is just the way the air molecules refract sunlight. And explained some of the mental processes our brain goes through when making decisions, specifically decisions about society, our perceptions of social situations as well as precepts of other people's actions and being.

We learned that the human brain has a tendency to autonomously make assumptions based on past experience, as opposed to present evidence. And also, how we link the traits of a person or persons with traits that are descriptively similar while not truly meaning the same thing.

But, we also discovered that every person is different and uses a combination of different processes to formulate opinions. So, this week, we are going to look at alternative functions, as well as summarise the group mentality of perception and truth.

And, explain why the sky is actually blue.


Attribution, for better or worse

Now, we all know that we can be affected by different things at different times. Sometimes, when we're very hot we can become bothered and thus more irritable. Or, when we've had a luck day, we can find ourselves more forgiving, and less inclined to make negative assumptions. This is what we call mood.

But, while we might be able to justify our own actions taking circumstance into respect, can we say that we do the same for others? Attribution theory is the method by which we attribute certain characteristics or opinions of a person's actions based on traits or factors that we perceive, being unable to perceive things in the exact same way to the person/thing we are attempting to understand.

These attributions can be broken down further into what makes two alternative methods of analysing a situation.

The first of these is a Dispositional decision. Basically, where we understand a person's actions through their inherent personality traits. The other being situational, where we have to tendency to perceive things based on the situation the person is in. Now we use a combination of these at any given time, though most of us tend to lean more towards one side depending on who we are, and our past experience with understanding others.

Essentially, we decide subconsciously, 90% of the time, whether we believe in what is known as entity theory, or on the other side of the coin; incremental theory.


Personality vs. Context

If a person makes their decisions/assumptions based on another's entity. It means that this person is of the belief that traits are fixed. Meaning that; a person cannot, and does not, change their personality. Regardless of situational factors. These people tend to lean more towards dispositional decisions. Making out that another person acts the way they do simply because “that's who they are”

On the flip side, another person could believe that people do change. And that their personalities are influenced by their own experience and surroundings. These people tend to put situational factors above personality traits when trying to understand another's actions. So which are you? Do you think people can change, or do you think we are rigid in our disposition? And that people are just who they are. Or, have you already worked out what I'm getting at here?


We like, what we like

Before you answer that, there's something you should bear in mind. Studies carried out on disparate individuals in a controlled clinical setting have proven that statistically human beings inherently resist change. We're not just talking about situational change but also attitudinal. When faced with two opposing viewpoints with no other evidence to go off but a persons own opinion and experience we will welcome the evidence that confirms our own opinion and ignore, or explain away evidence that conflicts with our own notions.

In fact, we may even ignore it if the evidence is overwhelmingly against our already fixed opinion. We will find some situational factor which justifies our previous thoughts in ignorant of the newly stated fact.

Essentially it is our own belief structure which not only determines how we perceive situations, but also, how we perceive others actions in those situations. But I didn't really need to tell you that did I?


True Change

So what do you think; can people change? Or will we resist change to a point of being blatantly wrong, while still confirmed in our belief that we are in fact correct?

Think about your own experience. Think about the people you know, especially the people you are close to. Who are they? What do they believe? Have they changed since you've known them? Or are they inherently the same person who has just learned to adapt to different situations?

There is NO CORRECT ANSWER to this. Sorry to disappoint anyone who was hoping for a definitive conclusion over human perception. Because the fact is, perception depends on the person. And no two people are exactly alike, no matter how we may perceive them to be inherently same.

Some people can and do change, while others, submitted to the same experience may merely confirm their original hypotheses and continue on. It doesn't make you a better or worse person, your simply a person. And honestly, what we say we believe, may not actually what we believe in the first place.

People can act in a variety of different ways influenced by the people they are with at that moment. And what a group decides is the truth, to that group is the truth. And our perception Shouldn't be allowed to judge them in the same way they shouldn't judge us.

It is a simple fact, we are all different. No matter how much we may want to be the same, to fit in, and to have others conform to our standards, they can't and we can't. It's so straightforward. Our differences separate u; and divide us into categories. But we shouldn't allow this to effect our opinion of a person to the idea that they are good or bad. We should instead focus on those dividing lines that bring us back together again.


It's All Relative

Ask yourself; why is the sky blue? Why is that the universal truth of the matter? What your feeling is called cognitive dissonance. It is the state of mind we enter when faced with two conflicting ideas, wile simultaneously believing both to be true. The sky is and is not blue.

IN the same way, it is said that time is relative to the object tor person experiencing it, thus so is truth. All truth is relative to the person perceiving it. And thus almost all reality is fluid. I've already outlined how this construct works. But, what does that say of us as people? Do we simply relay truth as it is relative to us, or can we step outside these bounds and see truth for what it really is? Or does truth even exist, is it merely a concept? An ideal by which we may aspire but never truly attain?

As usual, this depends on the person, our perception of truth belongs to us. No one else. And what we want or believe to be true is exceptional to another persons. And like wise their truth should not cloud ours, it should clarify. Because, as is very clear from the way we form these thoughts, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.


Affecting Others

Now, don't take me for a fully-fledged neo-liberal, while I do believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and are entitled to act based on that opinion, regardless of what it may be. I do not believe that anyone's opinion should be taken as far a to negatively effect the life of another, no matter how right you believe yourself to be.

You see, if we inflict pain through our precepts, we are trying to prevent others having theirs. And so we broaden the divide between reconciliation of these ideals. And education on the unviresal truth of the matter at hand. This goes not only to people who act on homophobia/racism/ageism but also people who become violent towards those who harbour these ideas. You are both overreaching with your perceptions. It is not our place to punish people for their opinions, as it is not their place to inflict their opinions on us.

We have to try and understand, because only through understanding, and learning where differences come from as what makes us the same can peace and equality be found.



Our perceptions define who we are, they are created by us, about us, and rarely have a route in how another person actually perceives themselves. We must allow these perceptions to exist, in agreement with our own or not, but likewise we cannot force other people to bend to our ideas. We can merely ask them not to inflict those ideas in times when it does not really effect them, and as we cannot inflict our ideas onto them when the result is not relevant to us.

With this in mind I am to embark on a series I will simply call “Perceptions” keep a look out for these articles as they will be examining both sides of world-encompassing arguments, not looking towards what the truth is, but analysing instead how these arguments are formed, and what the middle-ground for communication of these ideas is.

For, after all, we all sleep under the same sky, whatever colour that sky may be.

image source: Fine Craft Guild

Jumping to Conclusions; Perceptions, Part One

The sky is not blue. Almost everyone knows this, it's part of primary education. The blue colour we see during the day is simple air molecules refracting the colour blue from the spectrum of light emitted from sunlight. But when asked what colour the sky is; almost everyone will respond by saying “blue”. Because that's how it appears to be, and thus that's how we as people perceive it.

I've chosen this example for a very good reason. The sky is one of the constants that applies to every human. A universal truth if you will. You are familiar with the turn of phrase “we all sleep under the same sky”. And yet on a daily basis that truth lies to us, and we say “the sky is blue”.

The point I'm trying to make, is that if a fact that we view as unshakeable is a lie; then what else are we wrong about? And importantly, why do we insist on calling it blue, even when we know it isn't?


Consume, Consume, Consume

Human perception is a delicate thing. The way our mind processes the information given to it by our senses and turns them into what we see, hear and feel is tremendous and complex. But what is equally tremendous is our ability to lie to ourselves through these processes. Every day they can go a bit screwy. You hear a shout, and for a second think you heard your name being called. The blood pumps a little faster in your leg; and you convince yourself it's your phone vibrating.

Our brains are fascinated by input, they're obsessed with it. They seek it out even when we are asleep. Human beings live by the way they perceive the world around them. But what is perhaps more fascinating, at least to me, is how our minds turn that input into decisions and opinions. And how once we've decided what they are, how rigid we become towards altering them.


Social Perception

Now, there is no single way in which every person comes to these decisions. Each individual creates their own impressions in their own way. That is to say, we are all at a point on a scale. And while we each go about how we make decisions uniquely, we all use the same tools, and thus there are systems for how we do that.

What I'm going to talk about here is Social Perception. Essentially it is what;

allows individuals to make judgements and form impressions about other people”

But crucially these impressions are what leads to our judgement about situations, news, art, politics, and of course, the other human beings who share this world with us.

There is a number of ways different people form these different opinions. We are going to look at them here in some detail. And show not only why we think the way we do, but explain why the sky is in fact blue.


What Matters

It is important when assessing our perceptions that we classify the subject into categories. These categories are;

1. Purpose, why are we making a judgement.
2. Social context, what situation is the behaviour we assess is exhibited in.
3. Memory, how are recent memories relating to our perception influence what we are currently experiencing. (for more information on how we form memories please see The Nature of Selective Memory, my previous post.

So let's begin.


Craving Consistency

Much of our Social Perception comes from automated responses bases on opinions and decisions we've already made. It is rare that we will come across a situation which we cannot immediately link to something familiar we have experienced or that is directly related to something we already “know”. This is known as Consistency Theory, and can actually be quite scary when you look at it in detail. For when we see how quick our minds are programmed to jump to conclusions, you can't help but call into question any conclusion we make.

It is significant also to note, that the personality modules I'll be describing apply to almost all of us, and those that don't apply to you, undoubtedly correspond to how another would form their opinion. So don't beat yourself up if you notice that you fall into these categories. Because everyone does, in one way or another.

SO, how to we decide what we think about something before we even know we've decided it? Well, for example, if we feel strongly about an action a certain person made, we are more likely to feel the same way about their next action.

Put it like this; you support a football team. And the manager buys a player whom you love, he plays football exactly the way you like to watch, and in your mind, before you've even seen this player on the pitch in the colours, you think its a good signing.

Now, two weeks later the manager signs another new player. They're from a different corner of the world to the previous signing, they play the sport in a completely different manner, they even look totally different. But, because you liked the previous signing, your brain is automatically programmed to like this one as well.

This kind of opinion is usually the easiest to change. And usually a quick snap to reality, ie watching that player play. Will allow you to form your own opinion again. But what is your don't get the chance to watch? What if you miss the news? (though that's a near impossibility in this day and age) Will you go on thinking you agreed with someone's decision simply because you agreed with it last time?


Evaluating “Evidence”

This goes even further, though. Because our brains like tying things together into neat little bundles, if there are two traits which are descriptively similar we will associate them anyway despite their intrinsic differences:

An example of two traits that are descriptively similar are "sceptical" and "distrustful".An observer using descriptive similarity to form an impression of a "sceptical" person would most likely also believe that person to be "distrustful", because these two traits similarly describe a person who questions what other people tell him.

So you see, as much as society abhors “jumping to conclusions” our minds are programmed to do just that automatically. And oft times we do so without even realising we've done it, and simply continue on, utterly oblivious to our knee-jerk reaction.

This goes a step beyond, as when we have already seen proof that a person behaves in a certain way. We immediately form other opinions about them based on these conclusions. For a stark example; lets look at refugees.


Opinions and Decisions

Many people have grown concerned that with the influx of migrants moving into Europe from the Middle-East that many of these people may have “terrorist sympathies”. Specifically related ISIL or the “so-called” Islamic State. Now, it is undeniable that the men who have committed these acts of war against European cities are from these places. And so, many people end up supposing that many of these refugees are in fact “terrorists”.

Now while we liberals may be outraged by this mode of thinking it is important to note that the people making these assumptions aren't entirely to blame. Their brains are programmed to make these links and jump to these conclusions based on past evidence. (Not to mention the emotional sway of our memories. In a crunch, we are more likely to call upon facts that scares us, than one that has no emotional value.)

Another way of putting it on a day to day basis is this; a person starts a new job and is late a few times. We infer to ourselves that this person is lazy. Simply because they didn't push hard enough to be on time. It is only after getting to know this person we may learn that there commute is a nightmare, or maybe their car broke down, or they missed their bus. There are so many possible reasons, but humans will jump to the one which can be confirmed by their past experience. Even if that past experience is wholly incomplete.

Our brains make assumptions based on the evidence we already posses not on evidence we might receive but haven't yet. So similarly a person who has no Muslim friends or acquaintances, will make assumptions about an entire race based solely of the evidence they have been exposed to.


Observing the Categories

Now, I have chosen quite an extreme example, but human beings work on extremes most of the time. And it is important to note that most of the time, people will make assumptions based on descriptive similarities first. Being, sceptical = distrustful. But, in a crisis, or while making a kind of snap decision, we will rely on our evaluative process first, ie late therefore lazy.

Not everyone makes decisions like this all the time however, it all comes back to the categories I listed above, and that will decide which method of opinion forming we fall into. There is, however, another side to this coin, another form of decision making. And we uses both in our day to day lives.


Scratching the Surface

SO, while you may note that you have found yourself falling into these traps, remember everyone does it, and it is vital that you notice yourself making decisions like this if you are ever to educate yourself more on what the truth of what the matter is.

And, if you are thinking to yourself, I don't do that. I make every one one of my decisions based on tangible evidence, you need to start asking, where does that evidence come from? And am I really taking in every single “fact-of-the-matter”.


Next week, in Part Two, I will look at Attribution. We'll see how our brains come to conclusions based on 'evidence', and how we have a tendency of molding that evidence to suit what we already believe, in ignorance of what it truly represents.


The basis for everything I say in the above article is from research in the field of Social Psychology, anyone unclear or in doubt of what I've said should pursue the topic in more depth, and of course, wait until next week's conclusion; Believe What You Want; Perceptions, Part Two.