The mind does not always accurately perceive the environment. There is too much external stimuli for the brain to take in all at once so instead, there are instances in which it jumps to a particular conclusion based on a previously determined mindset. Put more simply, over a lifetime the brain creates shortcuts to help it process information more quickly. These shortcuts can sometimes lead to perceptual misunderstandings about the outside environment. For example, some people have egocentric biases. These people may choose to avoid unpleasant information to avoid an internal struggle. This struggle, called cognitive dissonance internally motivates the individual to see reality incorrectly, so to speak. Cognitive dissonance occurs when the brain struggles between the individual’s reality and his/her perception or feelings about that reality. Rather than taking in a situation at face value, egocentric cognitive biases cater more to how the individual feels about his/her circumstance (Birch & Bloom, 2004).
To best understand this concept, it is helpful to consider how it develops over time. Egocentric bias, for example is particularly susceptible to social input. This can be seen through how the concept develops in children. Initially children are not easily able to experience or empathize with the emotions of others. This is because they have not developed schemas in which to approach others. In the case of adults, these skills are more developed because adults have had more practice in managing their own thoughts and feelings compared to others. That is not to say that adults never suffer from cognitive bias. To the contrary, people are driven by past experiences in even subtle ways. In debating with an individual who may have very different thoughts and feelings on a particular issue, it would be naïve to assume that individual opinions do not come into play. Instead, the best way to combat negative instances of this bias is to understand where it comes from and then manage situations accordingly.
- Birch, S. & Bloom, P. (2004) Understanding childrens’ and adults’ limitations in mental state reasoning, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, (8)6.