Like our impulse to taste inedible things that smell nice (because we’ve eaten something that smelled similar), it is natural to have “perception bias” towards people, places, and things that appear similar to (but are not the same as) our prior experience.
And since our process of organizing and interpreting information is primarily influenced by our experience and environment, perception bias is a very common problem we must learn to overcome.
What Is Perception Bias (With Examples)?
Perception bias happens when your narrative about someone, something, or a situation is skewed either by your assumptions or sentiments.
For example, in the past, my mother forbade me from going to the snooker clubs because she believed all snooker players were drug addicts.
The question is, what made her think so – was it an experience, assumption, or fact? If you’ve ever been to a Snooker club, you know her worries were not factual.
Another example is when an employer employs based on gender, race, or tribe. They may have strong emotional backing behind their decisions, but it is far removed from reality.
Almost everyone is guilty of this – of having the wrong notion of something based on what they think, rather than what is real.
All around us are influencing factors
And, if we are not aware of how this affects us, we become victims of faulty thoughts…consequently actions.
The challenge starts in our minds, as psychologist Herbert Simon suggested: Thinking critically consumes a lot of mental resources (and takes time), so to reduce the burden, our brains resort to “mental shortcuts” (I.e. the quick and easy way to make decisions)
The problem is, as much as mental shortcuts can be helpful to us, it has dreadful side effects.
Why Is It Important To Be Aware Of Your Own Biases?
Imagine how my mom would have felt if she had by some happenstance found herself in a snooker club, but instead of seeing boys and girls with crimson eyes, charred lips, and tattoo ridden bodies, she found a group of courteous, easy going, and honest kids playing.
Perception bias can cause us to
- Become Confidently Wrong: It is common to be ignorant or unsure about something. However, a victim of perception bias isn’t ignorant, or unsure, they are rather certain and wrong. Perception bias cuts us off from the opportunity to learn.
- Make Wrong Decisions: Now convinced of something wrong, perception bias drives us to make ridiculous decisions, which might hurt us or others in the long run. And leave us feeling stupid, guilty, or troubled after discovering the truth.
- Miss Opportunities: Sometimes people never figure out how biased their perception is, ever. The result is that they may never talk to certain people, do certain things, or visit certain places, ever. The result is that they cut themselves off from a lot of opportunities and experiences without ever knowing it.
To protect ourselves from such horrible consequences of perception bias, here are some steps that can help you sharpen your perception.
How To Recognize Your Own Biases And Overcome Them
- Practice Being Objective: Nudge your mind to look at things with clarity – for instance, “A grilled fish is nothing more than a dead animal. A vehicle is nothing more than a chunk of metal.”. This strategy helps you to explore the core of people or situations. Instead of judging someone by their appearance, tribe, or country, you can look at their true character and their values. Instead of assuming the worst, look deeper to find the fact.
- Embrace Changing Your Mind: Always remember no two people or events are identical. You can’t always make accurate judgments based on your experience or sentiments. Aim to nurture a dynamic mind – a mind that is ready to think, acknowledge being wrong and is willing to learn. The ability to unlearn is key in our personal development journey… But this is impossible to achieve when overwhelmed by emotions, so…
- Become A Master Of your Emotions: Your Emotions are natural. Feeling miserable, cheerful, motivated, doubtful, excited, or anxious is human, yet, when we do not curtail these feelings we might speak or act irrationally (and rationalize such behaviors). To maintain a strong perception when overwhelmed by emotions, disengage from the situation (by either physically removing yourself from the situation, or simply pausing till you are stable). The goal is to short-circuit the feelings that could blind us to our prejudice so that we can then…
- Think Logically: You can do this by engaging yourself or another in a logical dialogue. The dialogue can involve a series of “why?” questions. If at a point you can’t find a concrete/verifiable reason behind your held notion, then it is time to investigate.
- Investigate/Test/Explore: Depending on the situation, you can intentionally break your biases by talking with people you wouldn’t usually talk to, testing/doing things you wouldn’t usually do, or going places you’ve never gone before.
Indeed, when it comes to the way we perceive the world around us, our senses and feelings can easily fool us. Our assumptions or sentiments can also mislead us.
Hence it is important to cultivate the thinking process of a scientist who first comes up with a hypothesis and then is willing to test, or source for relevant information to support or disprove the hypothesis. And whenever the hypothesis doesn’t align with the facts, they let it go.
How much more abundant and pleasant do you think your life will be if you could overcome all your perception biases and see reality for what it is?
A mindful self-help writer and photographer