Eye of the Beholder: The Brain Sabotaging Love
Frequency illusion and confirmation bias
Posted Aug 02, 2015
Have you ever considered that it may be the way your brain operates that is preventing you from finding true love or healthy relationships? We mistakenly believe our opinions and judgments are based on rational thinking and objectivity. Actually, our opinions are a result of our brains selectively paying attention to things that confirm our beliefs and ignoring those that do not.[1-6]
Have you ever thought about purchasing a specific type of jacket? Then suddenly you start seeing it everywhere. How many times have you said or thought, “then I saw so and so wearing one in a movie, on a billboard, and in a magazine ad. The Universe was sending me a sign.” The Universe is not in the sign-sending business. You were experiencing frequency illusion. On any given day, your brain takes in much more information than it needs to remember. You see many people wearing jackets, in movies and ads. You don’t remember all of them because your memory would become bogged down with useless information if you remembered everything you saw. Thus we only remember what is relevant[7-9] If you’re thinking about buying a specific jacket, that jacket becomes relevant. You do not see it any more than you would if you weren’t thinking about buying it, or any more than a jacket that you are not considering buying. You are just noticing it more, which creates frequency illusion.[10-14]
When frequency illusion goes from being a passive phenomenon to an active quest, confirmation bias occurs. Confirmation bias filters reality to match your expectations by selectively paying attention to the things that confirm your expectations.[1-3, 6, 15-18] This is problematic when it causes us to stop investigating life and seeking truth. Examples include journalists selectively reporting facts or scientists compromising the integrity of research paradigms to achieve outcomes that confirm their expectations.[19, 20]
Conversely, political pundits and sports analysts depend on confirmation bias to make a living. Truth is not important where they are concerned because audiences do not look to them for information, but confirmation of things they already believe. We love the pundits and analysts who filter information according to our belief system and hate the ones who do not. [2, 3, 15, 16]
How does confirmation bias affect love and relationships? Well, if you believe that pretty women are gold diggers and a light comes on in the back of their throats when they open their mouths, you will pay attention to the evidence supporting only that expectation. If you believe you need a particular type of man or a woman to be happy, you will notice only the things about that type of man or woman that make you happy. [2, 21]
If you believe that you could never fall in love with a person who is of a different religion, race, educational background, national origin, or is the same sex or a different sex than you are[22-28] – you will not recall a thousand reasons suggesting you could and remember the few reasons you cannot.
If you believe that you are not good enough, or beautiful enough for someone – then you will find every reason not to be, and never notice the reasons you are.[29-32] Plus, you will pay attention to every thing that they do that confirms that expectation, and not remember things to the contrary. If you believe you don’t you deserve happiness, you’ll step over happiness to get closer to sorrow, while never remembering evidence of former, or forgetting proof of the latter. If society tells you come from nothing because you grew up poor, you will learn to see nothing and ignore everything. [31-38]
Trying to survive under the cognitive load of our complex world is nearly unbearable for the old brain. It is constantly calculating trillions of commands.[39, 40] Therefore, changing its expectation is added work. The brain is resistant to additional work. It likes to consolidate and simplify for the sake of efficiency. That's not as easily accomplishable if expectations are not met.
The problem is compounded by living in a curious world that will give a woman a million dollars to see her breasts, but only a penny to witness her soul. If Madison Avenue and Wall Street did not tell us that men must be this, and women must be that, this has worth, and that does not, you are too this, you are too that, you can go here, but you cannot go there – expectations in the brain might be less harsh and unforgiving. However, they are not. Thus, a very unconcerned world shapes our expectations.[41-50] In turn, this subdues rational thinking and objectivity by applying filters to reality and replaces the thirst for information with a hunger for confirmation. [2-4, 6]
So what then to do? Stop, back away from television, the video games and the computer screens (after you finish reading this of course). Go investigate life, not expecting to find anything, but just to see what is there. Do not go out knowing who you are, but rather go forth as you are, with the willingness to become anything in a world where people, places or things could or could not be just about anything. Most of all… Remain fabulous and phenomenal!
Or visit me at:
1. Wills, A.J., et al., Attention, predictive learning, and the inverse base-rate effect: evidence from event-related potentials. Neuroimage, 2014. 87: p. 61-71.
3. Bronfman, Z.Z., et al., Decisions reduce sensitivity to subsequent information. Proc Biol Sci, 2015. 282(1810).
4. Decker, J.H., et al., Experiential reward learning outweighs instruction prior to adulthood. Cogn Affect Behav Neurosci, 2015. 15(2): p. 310-20.
5. Doll, B.B., et al., Instructional control of reinforcement learning: a behavioral and neurocomputational investigation. Brain Res, 2009. 1299: p. 74-94.
6. Mercier, H. and D. Sperber, Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. Behav Brain Sci, 2011. 34(2): p. 57-74; discussion 74-111.
7. Barnes, T.D., et al., Activity of striatal neurons reflects dynamic encoding and recoding of procedural memories. Nature, 2005. 437(7062): p. 1158-61.
8. Nairne, J.S., et al., Adaptive memory: fitness relevance and the hunter-gatherer mind. Psychol Sci, 2009. 20(6): p. 740-6.
9. Bruel-Jungerman, E., C. Rampon, and S. Laroche, Adult hippocampal neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity and memory: facts and hypotheses. Rev Neurosci, 2007. 18(2): p. 93-114.
10. Block, R.A. and R.P. Gruber, Time perception, attention, and memory: a selective review. Acta Psychol (Amst), 2014. 149: p. 129-33.
11. Brown, A.S. and E.J. Marsh, Evoking false beliefs about autobiographical experience. Psychon Bull Rev, 2008. 15(1): p. 186-90.
12. Chialvo, D.R., How we hear what is not there: a neural mechanism for the missing fundamental illusion. Chaos, 2003. 13(4): p. 1226-30.
13. Cohen, P. and J. Cohen, The clinician's illusion. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 1984. 41(12): p. 1178-82.
14. Dubord, G., Part 8. Cognitive illusions. Can Fam Physician, 2011. 57(7): p. 799-800.
15. Paperno, D., et al., Corpus-based estimates of word association predict biases in judgment of word co-occurrence likelihood. Cogn Psychol, 2014. 74: p. 66-83.
16. Munro, G.D. and J.A. Stansbury, The dark side of self-affirmation: confirmation bias and illusory correlation in response to threatening information. Pers Soc Psychol Bull, 2009. 35(9): p. 1143-53.
18. Downar, J., M. Bhatt, and P.R. Montague, Neural correlates of effective learning in experienced medical decision-makers. PLoS One, 2011. 6(11): p. e27768.
19. Smith, D.F., Cognitive brain mapping for better or worse. Perspect Biol Med, 2010. 53(3): p. 321-9.
20. Duarte, J.L., et al., Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science. Behav Brain Sci, 2014: p. 1-54.
21. Horn, S.S., Adolescents' reasoning about exclusion from social groups. Dev Psychol, 2003. 39(1): p. 71-84.
22. Ross, M.W., Typing, doing, and being: sexuality and the internet. J Sex Res, 2005. 42(4): p. 342-52.
23. Koblin, B.A., et al., A randomized trial of a behavioral intervention for black MSM: the DiSH study. AIDS, 2012. 26(4): p. 483-8.
24. McKenzie, S., Queering gender: anima/animus and the paradigm of emergence. J Anal Psychol, 2006. 51(3): p. 401-21.
25. Birksted-Breen, D., Phallus, penis and mental space. Int J Psychoanal, 1996. 77 ( Pt 4): p. 649-57.
26. Berkowitz, D., L. Belgrave, and R.A. Halberstein, The interaction of drag queens and gay men in public and private spaces. J Homosex, 2007. 52(3-4): p. 11-32.
27. Hatzenbuehler, M.L., S. Nolen-Hoeksema, and J. Dovidio, How does stigma "get under the skin"?: the mediating role of emotion regulation. Psychol Sci, 2009. 20(10): p. 1282-9.
28. Vrangalova, Z. and R.C. Savin-Williams, Psychological and physical health of mostly heterosexuals: a systematic review. J Sex Res, 2014. 51(4): p. 410-45.
29. Link, B.G., et al., Understanding the importance of "symbolic interaction stigma": How expectations about the reactions of others adds to the burden of mental illness stigma. Psychiatr Rehabil J, 2015. 38(2): p. 117-24.
30. Munnelly, A., et al., The transfer of social exclusion and inclusion functions through derived stimulus relations. Learn Behav, 2014. 42(3): p. 270-80.
31. Weinert, C., S. Cudney, and C. Winters, Social support in cyberspace: the next generation. Comput Inform Nurs, 2005. 23(1): p. 7-15.
32. Twenge, J.M., et al., Social exclusion decreases prosocial behavior. J Pers Soc Psychol, 2007. 92(1): p. 56-66.
34. Nurmi, J.E., et al., Social strategies and loneliness. J Soc Psychol, 1997. 137(6): p. 764-77.
35. Strauss, R.S. and H.A. Pollack, Social marginalization of overweight children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 2003. 157(8): p. 746-52.
36. Agroskin, D., J. Klackl, and E. Jonas, The self-liking brain: a VBM study on the structural substrate of self-esteem. PLoS One, 2014. 9(1): p. e86430.
37. Osgood, N.J., Psychological factors in late-life suicide. Crisis, 1991. 12(2): p. 18-24.
38. Del Rey Calero, J., [Poverty, social exclusion, social capital and health]. An R Acad Nac Med (Madr), 2004. 121(1): p. 57-72; discussion 72-6.
39. Zenke, F. and W. Gerstner, Limits to high-speed simulations of spiking neural networks using general-purpose computers. Front Neuroinform, 2014. 8: p. 76.
40. Kovac, L., Bioenergetics: A key to brain and mind. Commun Integr Biol, 2008. 1(1): p. 114-22.
41. Eastwood, J., et al., Social exclusion, infant behavior, social isolation, and maternal expectations independently predict maternal depressive symptoms. Brain Behav, 2013. 3(1): p. 14-23.
42. Bhanji, J.P. and M.R. Delgado, The Social Brain and Reward: Social Information Processing in the Human Striatum. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci, 2014. 5(1): p. 61-73.
43. Benn, S. and R. Jones, The role of symbolic capital in stakeholder disputes: decision-making concerning intractable wastes. J Environ Manage, 2009. 90(4): p. 1593-604.
44. Davis, E.M., et al., Racial and socioeconomic differences in the weight-loss experiences of obese women. Am J Public Health, 2005. 95(9): p. 1539-43.
45. Richard-Davis, G. and M. Wellons, Racial and ethnic differences in the physiology and clinical symptoms of menopause. Semin Reprod Med, 2013. 31(5): p. 380-6.
46. Beyene, Y., G. Becker, and N. Mayen, Perception of aging and sense of well-being among Latino elderly. J Cross Cult Gerontol, 2002. 17(2): p. 155-72.
47. Mulley, G., Myths of ageing. Clin Med, 2007. 7(1): p. 68-72.
48. Kuyper, L. and T. Fokkema, Loneliness among older lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults: the role of minority stress. Arch Sex Behav, 2010. 39(5): p. 1171-80.
49. Myhre, A.M., E. Gjevik, and B. Groholt, [Life leaves its marks]. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen, 2006. 126(7): p. 909-11.
50. Caouette, J.D., et al., Expectancy bias mediates the link between social anxiety and memory bias for social evaluation. Cogn Emot, 2014: p. 1-9.