Home > Ideas and Philosophy > Biases, Assumptions, and Critical Thinking

Biases, Assumptions, and Critical Thinking

December 21, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

I noticed from my own experience and the experience of others that we have the tendency to see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, and think what we want to think despite evidence that shows otherwise or the lack of such that supports our position.

I was starkly reminded of this reality last December 5 when I asked my team to compute how many “Pogi Points” I had as part of a Christmas basket raffle.  Despite giving clear guidelines, many people got it wrong.  Some gave a wrong count of points when the instructions were very clear about how many points should be awarded for a particular category.  One even read what he wanted to read and computed for his own “Pogi Points;” that was hysterically hilarious but also hysterically wrong.

I’m not immune to this; I found myself jumping to the wrong conclusions based on my own interpretation of a particular situation.  The other day I was told the story of someone, who happened to be going on a diet, and who suddenly contracted tuberculosis.  By some leap of logic, what crossed my mind was that it doesn’t make sense that someone would incur tuberculosis because he went on a diet.  Of course it didn’t make sense, as there’s no connection between the two – but that wasn’t the point.  I noticed that I assumed there was a connection being made between going on a diet and getting tuberculosis, when in reality no such implication was being made.

The biases and assumptions that we have are based on our perception of life and our understanding of the world.

These biases and assumptions can influence the way we perceive people.  If we like someone, then this person can do no wrong even if he actually does something wrong.  And if we don’t like someone, then this person can do no right no matter how much he tries.  It’s not fair either way, but it happens.

These biases and assumptions can influence our reaction to what happens to us in life.  For example, an initially bad impression, true or false, can linger long after the facts have proven such to be incorrect.  We can sometimes interpret a situation in a very stark light and thus become very negative and worrisome about it when in fact the situation may not be as bad as it seems, and such happens because of our preconceived notions of how bad the situation can be based on previous experiences which may no longer be true.

The danger with biases and assumptions is that we have a tendency to either close our minds to the possibility of something else, or not accept the actual reality of how things are.  Because we only see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, and think what we want to think, everything that we see, hear or think just reinforces our biases and assumptions even more.  It’s a feedback looped in on itself where no further input, potentially differing and dissenting and what-not, comes in to our lives.  That’s not good, because we’re not growing and learning anything new, and we’re stagnating ourselves in the process.

For the most part, I’d like to think that there’s nothing malicious about having such biases and assumptions.  It’s part of what makes us human, after all.  There’s probably some evolutionary reason why we have such tendencies.  The best that we can do is to be aware of such, and to always try to keep an open mind to consider other opinions and possibilities.

Critical thinking is crucial.  Finding the time to stop and think and test and validate if what we have is correct or if we understood the situation appropriately will help us avoid seeing only one perspective or making decisions based on incorrect notions of the situation.

Remaining open to different possibilities helps a lot, too.  Be willing to receive feedback from others, even if such isn’t the same as what we have in mind – and this is precisely why we should be open to receive such feedback in the first place.  A second opinion helps increase our breadth of insight.  Seeing a different perspective of a situation helps us respond rather than just react to it, too.  Being open to other ideas also helps us to adapt better to always-changing situations.

Be humble to accept the reality that we could also be wrong.  Without humility we will not learn anything new, and will never be able to correct the wrong biases and assumptions in our mind.

We all have our personal biases and assumptions; critical thinking will hopefully save us from unnecessary pain.

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Categories: Ideas and Philosophy

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