Saturday, March 3, 2018

Cognitive Distortions, i.e. when your brain is lying to you

You can trust your brain... in general. You have to, since your brain controls everything. But there are occasions when your brain will lie to you. Not intentionally, but call it... "miswired" or "misprogrammed". It's been fed some garbage data and it formed some connections that should not have been made.

And scams are basically intentional signals to encourage your brain to form a connection it should NOT have, to reach a decision that will hurt you, usually financially.

Our brain was created to form connections between vast sets of data and memories, and see patterns in every ing: thoughts, ideas, actions, and consequences, even when they make no sense whatsoever. Athletes and gamblers often have lucky tokens or special rituals, because they associated "winning" with those tokens and rituals. We did A, we get result B. That's the power of correlation. But we've been told time and time again "correlation is not causation".

Yet a cult (and by extension, MLM), and scams are very fond of presenting partial facts as a part of their mind modification techniques to increase your devotion to "the cause".

Here are sixteen of the most common cognitive distortions, and how they apply to cult mind modification. (NOTE: This list is long, so it will be continued in the next post).

1) Extreme thinking

Ever heard the expression: "you're either with us or against us"?  That's polarized thinking. There are no shades of gray. It's either good, or bad. It's great, or awful. There is no in between. This sort of thinking makes it impossible to discuss things with any rationality, as the real world is full of shades of gray.

Commercial cults often treat anyone who questions their favorite company/product as evil to be either avoided at all costs, or as objects of derision, when all the other side wanted is some honest answers. Commercial cults often throw out terms like "dream-stealers" or "naysayers" and use that to describe anyone who doesn't agree with their narrative, even when those narratives are full of holes. They don't want to deal with ANY questions about their own narrative, either you believe, or you don't. 

2) Overgeneralizing

Taking conclusion from one data point, and apply it to everything, is an overgeneralization. Get one "C" on a test, and the student is considered a dismal failure. Get paid once by a suspect scheme, and it must be a "good program". It's obviously not logical, yet you'd be surprised how many people do it.

Commercial cults members are often very fond of citing their own experience in trying out the product as if that validates everything they presented. They can't seem to see that it's just ONE datapoint... their own individual experience, they are are presenting, as if it's the universal truth. Commercial cults are often fond of asking its members to go after the low-hanging fruit first, i.e. friends and family, because those are the easiest to get, thus giving the members a false impression of "how easy it is", thus reaching "overgeneralization". When the members ran out of the easy pickings, they started to find out how the business is REALLY run.

On the other hand, it's more likely for the negative experience to linger and become overgeneralized, i.e. "I failed here, I'll always fail".

3) Filtering

You've probably seen or heard about mothers who insist their son or daughter is the sweetest child and can't possibly be the monster others insist that the child is when out of her sight. That's a mental filter at work. It can go both ways. in a romantic relationship, a single instance of indiscretion or even a badly worded remark can lead to the dissolution of the relationship, even though the couple had months, even years of positive experiences.

Commercial cult members often have mental filters and debate as if they are in a reality distortion field. Facts have no bearing on their reasoning because they are ONLY focused on their fact, ignoring your facts that run counter to their facts. They mentally filtered out everything except their "facts".

4) Mind-reading

This is a form of "jumping to conclusions", and it happens often when two sides are discussing an issue, and one side pretended to know the other side's thinking, and proceed to debate that, instead of asking what the other side's REALLY thinking.

Commercial cult members often dismiss questions and criticisms by engaging the "sour grapes" argument, as in "oh, you must be bitter from prior failure to hate (insert scheme)".  They engage in mind-reading and proceed to argue that strawman instead of asking you.

5) Fortune-Telling

Another form of "jumping to conclusions", but also mixed with over-generalization. This basically is predicting the future based on the flimsiest of evidence.  This can go either positive or negative.

A man who joined a suspect scheme, got his first payout and predicts he'll be financially independent in only a few years would be fortune-telling.  On the other hand, you can flip the situation and have the guy, who lost the money in a ponzi scheme, declare to himself he'll be poor forever. That's fortune-telling as well.

6) Zooming

Zooming is the effect of making something either way more or less important than it really is (zooming in or zooming out).  You've probably met people who go into a total panic at the slightest reason? They're engaged in zooming. One minor detail not going the way they expect, and they think the whole thing is coming off the rails. The opposite can be also true... something really is coming off the rail but everything thought it's just a minor glitch.  Both are zooming.

Commercial cults are very fond of zooming when they debate people they don't agree with, by zooming the evidence. Anything they mention for their side is utmost importance and meaning (even though there is no verification), and anything the other side mentioned was dismissed as irrelevant and otherwise dismissed. Arrests made in a foreign country about the scheme? "It's just local fraud." "It's just a few bad apples."

7) Emotional Reasoning

Do you think with your heart, or your brain? The latter of course. But let's be blunt, we all are guilty of thinking with our hearts sometimes, and made our decisions based on feelings, instead of facts.  But if you can't admit to yourself the truth, that you made an emotional decision, then tried to think of some reasons to justify that post-hoc, then your brain is lying to you with the cognitive distortion.

Victims, while grieving, are often guilty of emotional reasoning, as they go through the Kubler-Ross 5-stages of grief (denial, anger, bargain, depression, acceptance). Scam victims realizing they've been scammed will go through the phases ("No it can't possibly be a scam", "How dare they scam me!" or "It's those critics! They ruined my moneymaker!", "Can I get a little back?", "OMG how do I tell my family?", "I have to accept it and learn from it.") During these stages, they are often vulnerable to additional manipulations for reload scams ("we'll do it right this time"), recovery scams (pay us $$$$ and we'll get your losses back), and more. They can even be encouraged to NOT press charges or NOT testify in hopes of either getting a private settlement or getting into a reload scam.

Next post will go into the rest of the cognitive distortions. 

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