Friday, May 25, 2012

Subjective Validation, or Why you see more than you should

Evaluation scale
General evaluation scale.
Do you ever evaluate yourself fairly?
Or are you tricking yourself into believing
whatever you yourself believe in?
(Photo credit: billsoPHOTO)
Subjective validation is a variant of confirmation bias, and it's nothing new.

Few if any people are capable of proper self evaluation. When exposed to statements possibly describing oneself, one's mind started to make associations for validation, and often such associations turned out to be completely bogus. Basically, one's mind looks for meaning that may not be there.

This fact had been exploited by the Oracle of Delphi, and every psychic and guru (such as Nostradamus) ever since. They issue extremely vague prophecies and people reading their own meanings into it.

People who wish to change your mind (for better or for worse) are exploiting this mental bias. Self-help people from Dr. Phil to Joel Olsteen use the messages to compel you to improve parts or your life, and less scrupulous people are using the same mental bias to compel you to do some things that may not be good for you.

Psychologists have long performed experiments on students. One classic experiment gave a personality test to every student in the class. However, teacher then gave the SAME EVALUATION RESULT, obtained from one of those newspaper horoscopes, to all the students (who are not to share their results). He then asked the students to evaluate how close do they think the evaluation result is to their personality. The answer is 84%. And this experiment had been repeated year after year, with roughly the same results. Students just believe in the evaluations, no matter what was given to them.

The same mental bias is why tarot cards, palm reading, psychic, and so on are still prevalent today. When the evaluation came (which is often quite vague), the recipient managed to associate SOMETHING in his or her mind with the evaluation, and thus, managed to validate the evaluation.

"Mentalist" is someone who plays a psychic for entertainment, but employ the age-old technique of "cold reading" just like regular psychics. Cold reading works by various techniques to solicit information from the audience without them realizing it with vague words, then reveal such information and amaze the audience. Each member of the audience found his or her own meanings from the words, even if they are vague. The subjects managed to find SOMETHING in the evaluation that matches his or her expectations.

There is another factor. If the evaluation contained some "positive prophesy", such as "you have vast untapped potential" or other positive phrases, it is even more likely to be rated accurate. In other words, there's quite a bit of wishful thinking.

There's another factor at work, known as selective thinking (a subset of confirmation bias), where you simply drop the parts that you think don't fit you, but remember very well what parts that you think *do* fit you. In this case, the people receiving the info read over the evaluation, but instead of checking every sentence, they basically honed in on the parts they think applies to them and glossed over the rest.

In other words, if you WANT to believe (EX: affirmation messages like "you are powerful"), you will see signs of what you WANT to find everywhere, as your mind manage to associate facts and info that are actually NOT related to you with some thing of significance. In other words, you are seeing patterns that are NOT there, but you THINK are there.

I want to believe
I want to believe (Photo credit: Theis Kofoed Hjorth)
Fox Mulder of the X-files, has an UFO poster in his FBI Office "I want to believe", and he went out looking for such things. If you believe in something, you will go out to find that something (whether consciously or unconsciously) and see meanings in regular things that somehow confirms your belief, even when they actually don't.

This is the reason I consider "law of attraction" to be psycho-babble. "If you believe in success, then you will attract success" is just reworded subjective validation, albeit as "motivational message". It's nothing more than "I think, therefore I am". However, it's not doing harm (other than burn a hole in your wallet).

The possible harm are people who want to recruit you into whatever opportunity they are pushing, by pushing YOUR buttons to make you believe they know you  and what you want far better than they actually do. Then they can use that to make you believe other stuff, like handing over $$$ and such.

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