Brainstorm

Posts by Psychology Today Editors

The Right Way to Be Wrong

Some mistakes serve us beautifully, and that's why they persist.

There is such a thing as the right way to be wrong. The contemporary American couple, it seems, is wrong about what derails sex in long-term relationships. Look to children, not chore wars, for starters. This is a big theme in our current issue, as explored in "Love and Lust" by Virginia Rutter and "Childolatry" by John Gartner. (We'll post Gartner's full article online as soon as the August issue is off sale.)  We're also frequently wrong about statistical odds, underestimating math's utility while overestimating our ability to deploy it correctly. Jordan Ellenberg, author of How Not to Be Wrong and Barbara Oakley, the author of A Mind for Numbers, both have some ideas about how to buck this trend, which I explore this issue in "Math: The Extra Sense." 

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Then there's a wholly different class of error, one that serves us beautifully or it would not persist. In parenting, unlike math, people are frequently "wrong" in ways that are adaptive. A belief that your child is more talented than average, or, as an adult, is still desirous of your wise counsel is a bias that at first glance serves nothing more than a parent's ego. But as John Friedman clarifies in "Parents Just Don't Understand," there is deep utility in this stance, which is why beliefs about one's own kids' uniqueness evolved to become a human universal. (Luckily most parents also know to keep these biases to themselves!) Positive illusions about a child make sense not just for the parent but for the entire species: Parental investment, if not helicopter parenting, allows the next generation to flourish.

Maintaining illusions of control about our own abilities can be equally adaptive in the right circumstances, as the tales of several "supersurvivors" make clear. (Again, full text online later).

Self-deception is the dark matter of the emotional universe. Sometimes it pays to know when it's in play, other times you're better off with the push of a positive illusion. By definition, you may or may not see self-deception in your own life; but you'll find many instances of it in our July/August issue!

 

Kaja Perina is the Editor in Chief of Psychology Today.

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