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Why Our Preexisting Beliefs Are Misleading

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Belief bias: we are tended to rely on beliefs we have acquired with experience.


When you hear somebody say “all vegetarians are pretty” how would you evaluate the validity of this conclusion? You could take into account the logical strength of it: is it logical that all vegetarians are attractive people? But actually, we are much more tended to either accept or reject something depending if it is consistent with our everyday knowledge. In other words, our preexisting beliefs often distort logical reasoning, sometimes by making invalid conclusions seem valid, or valid conclusions seem invalid.

This so called “belief bias” is also present when it comes to our emotions. For example, we naturally rely on beliefs we have acquired with experience when we try to predict how an event will make us feel. Unfortunately these prior beliefs about the way our emotions operate cannot be applied to all situations.

Psyblog published three examples of common beliefs that can be misleading, and contrary to our expectations, might not lead to happiness:

1. We believe: a good experience will be more enjoyable when it follows a bad experience.
In fact, research on jelly bean tasting shows that this so called contrast effect can be a complete mirage created by our expectations. The same is true when bad experiences follow good – there is an expectation that the bad experience will then be even worse, although often it’s not. Perhaps this is part of the reason people think Mondays are more depressing than they really are.

2. We believe: more choice is better
People expect that having more options will make them happier, but often it doesn’t. Research with gourmet jams has found people can be happier, and even better motivated, when they have fewer options to choose from. In some situations, no choice at all may be better than choosing between two options – even when both options are equally enticing.

3. We believe: new experiences give more pleasure than things we already know
People often expect that repeated exposure to an experience will lessen the pleasure it gives. Research on ice cream, yoghurt and music showed that most people adapted to the taste, either coming to like it more, or at the very least dislike it less.

So be aware of this pervasive bias, and put some effort in fighting back. It might make you more happy!

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