A key aspect of achieving more attentive and higher quality life is regularly checking our perceptions. Much like optical illusions, perceptual biases exist in all our lives, often limiting the power of our choices and leading us astray. A good example of natural bias comes from research just published by Harvard University, this time involving the newly re-ignited topic of wealth distribution in the United States. In the study, researchers surveyed people to see what they thought would be an ideal wealth distribution and the country’s actual wealth distribution, and also asked questions about their background and behavior. As the summary chart shows, people’s perceptions of actual wealth levels were significantly at odds with reality. But there is more here related to perceptual bias than this simple misjudgment.
In addition to revealing popular perceptions of society that are significantly at odds with reality, the study surfaced at least four of many underlying natural biases or blind spots we all are subject to: 1) overuse of information that is at hand or easy to obtain to assess reality (judging the world by what we immediately see around us), 2) stated preferences at odds with actual behaviors (since many in the survey reported not voting for parties favoring redistribution), 3) a consistent and likely innate intuition of what social conditions “ought” to look like (spanning respondents from different backgrounds and countries), and 4) the more subtle belief that our intuitive sense of fairness is roughly optimal (with the research team cautioning eager readers that an objectively optimal wealth distribution is still being researched and not yet known).
If you would like to look for and check these and other perceptual biases in your life, especially in important areas that may affect your health and quality of life, there is a fairly reliable way to start. It involves examining specific outlooks and choices that have one or more of three critical qualities:
- Importance – actions and outlooks with important consequences, which often involve complex issues and promote oversimplification
- Frequency – choices and behaviors that recur regularly, potentially leading to the repeating of past interpretations and decisions without considering better alternatives
- Certainty – outlooks and choices where we feel we are acting ideally, which are often good places to look for bias since this is rarely true
In checking your perceptions, you can start anywhere, even with the next few choices you make or actions you take, and gradually develop a new intuition for and control over your natural biases. Importantly, this process can and should include the essential self-awareness strategy of looking for evidence that both supports and counters our views and plans.
Read about the new wealth perception study at What We Know About Wealth and consider practical ways to get around perpetual bias via the popular HumanaNatura article Understanding Personal Empowerment. You can also begin to move toward more deliberate and optimal life via the Natural Living section of HumanaNatura’s comprehensive Personal Health Program.
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