Warning: Things Your Brain Does That You Do Not Want

Warning: Things Your Brain Does That You Do Not Want

The moment we see something we instantly judge whether it is positive or negative. We do this all the time, automatically and preconsciously, to everything around us.

All input is directly classified as either good or bad. Whether we appreciate specific input as really good or good (or really bad or just bad) does not really matter for this classification.

This has enormous implications. If you want it or not, everybody you encounter is immediately classified as either good or bad.  The impact on your subsequent judgments is huge, and this influences how you behave towards a person or object.

Most people want to be unprejudiced about differences in race, age, or employment.  The problem with automatic judgments is that they are not based on what we want to think, but on what we have experienced over and over again. All the negative news in newspapers, all the jokes and remarks made by people around you: they all weigh in on your experience. This means that we cannot escape having stereotypes about most people.

Sometimes I am aware of my own negative judgment. One way to experience this is by doing an Implicit Association Test. It is horrible to feel my own prejudice in the slowness of my response. Go see if you have prejudice on gender and race. You can find an Implicit Association Test here.

Why is it so hard to change your automatic judgments? This is because the amount of times you – or others around you – judge something outweighs by far the value that we give such a judgment. So even when you consider your judgment ‘that women are inferior’ as negative, this is not outweighed by the number of times this judgment is affirmed around you.

Efforts are made however to gain a better understanding of this issue.  Research has been done to find out how individuals can influence their automatic judgment through exercises.

One way is to make use of the messages that our bodily movements convey to us. Whenever we move an object or person towards ourselves we automatically reinforce a positive judgment. Whenever we create distance between an object or person and ourselves, this is automatically interpreted as a negative sign. Knowing this, pictures on a mobile phone can be used to train new automatic responses. Imagine what would happen if you moved the picture of a cigarette away from you a 100 times: you would slightly change your way of thinking about cigarettes through using your body.

Automatic judgment is great: in general, it takes care of adequate responses. It, however, also shows how vulnerable we are to judgments that are incorrect and how influential this vulnerability can be. Prejudices are kept alive exactly because our automatic judgment is sometimes mistaken and not corrected. When this happens in public, in the media for example, it can really harm people. So if you are a writer, next time think twice about assigning negative attributes to a person: you are influencing other people’s thoughts.

In order to turn your automatic judgments to your advantage, write a note saying something like ‘work is fun’ or ‘I love breakfast’ and put it up on your wall to see it again and again.

For more information on automatic thoughts check Bargh’s chapter on automaticity.

Image courtesy of Samuiblue/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

judithmartens

judithmartens

Innovation and Research Officer at Sugar Habits
Judith studied behavioral change (applied social psychology) and is currently finishing her masters in philosophy with special attention for philosophy of action and intentionality. She works for SugarHabits a social media platform that helps people unlock more of their potential through learning new habits.
judithmartens
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