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This One Thing Will Make You Smarter

This One Thing Will Make You Smarter

 

Last week, we cleared some space in our brains by unfollowing people or accounts who take up a lot of our emotional energy without adding much value to our lives. Now let’s flip that around and consider a better use of our time on social media, which also happens to be my very favourite activity for building intelligence.

 

Built-In Bias

Our brains evolved to employ a huge number of cognitive biases. These shortcuts are there for a reason, and we couldn’t function well without them. But they can also be the source of serious errors in thinking. While we can’t get rid of our cognitive biases, we can improve our thinking by being aware of a few key thought patterns that we may be relying on too heavily.

Interestingly, we have a much harder time noticing and questioning our cognitive biases when we’re under a heavy cognitive load, which is why we “made space” last week before moving on to this week’s activity. 

 

A Few Common Biases

There are too many types of cognitive bias to list them all here, but a few that can prevent us from having a balanced understanding of many topics are:

Confirmation Bias: We favour and pay more attention to information that confirms what we already think we know.

False-Consensus Effect: Because we often spend most of our time with people who hold similar values and opinions to ours, we tend to think more people agree with us than actually do.

Fundamental Attribution Error: When observing others' behaviour, we tend to attribute it too much to their underlying personality, and too little to the context of that behaviour (which is the opposite of what we do when we observe ourselves).

So, for instance, when someone says something rude, we'll often assume it's because they're a mean person who doesn't care about others, when in fact, it could be that they're ill or under a lot of stress, which is causing them to be irritable and say things they normally wouldn't.

Which brings us to the Hostility Bias, which causes us to assume others’ actions have hostile intent, even when they’re ambiguous or benign.

 

Hack the Algorithm

Social media algorithms reinforce these biases by showing us content that is similar to things we’ve already viewed, from accounts similar to those we’ve already interacted with, and which tends to be rife with the Fundamental Attribution Error and the Hostility Bias.

But you can also get them to start showing you content that helps combat these biases, by seeking out people and pages who are intelligent, self-aware, and open to discussion, but who hold beliefs and values that are at odds with, or just completely different from, your own.

For example: As you may have noticed, I love skin care products that emphasize natural ingredients. I've built my livelihood around them, and I'm passionate about making the best of them available to you. However, a while back, it came to my attention that some very smart people (including many cosmetic chemists and toxicologists) did not feel the same way about natural products as I do.

I started seeking out thoughtful, respectful folks with intelligent criticisms of natural skin care and following them, and worked on moving past my knee-jerk reactions to their posts, caused by the above biases. I have learned so much. Not only did I start to understand what motivates them (which was very different from what I assumed motivated them), but I also came to see how some things I took for granted about natural products did not take into account the whole story.

Have I stopped loving skin care with natural ingredients? No. Are we going to stop carrying it? Nope. But thanks to "the other side," I'm making better product choices, and learning how to better communicate those choices in a way that (I hope) inspires balance and joy.

 

Choose One Thing

There are so many topics you can do this with. You could start small and follow someone who has criticized a book you recently enjoyed. Or you could go big and follow someone on the other side of the political spectrum from you. The key is to seek out those who are committed to rational thinking and respectful discourse (that is to say, not shamers or extremists).

I’ll admit this can be extremely uncomfortable, especially at first, and also tiring (there's that cognitive load again). If you really get into this, you might consider setting up a second profile or feed so you can dip into this type of content only when you’re feeling rested enough. It's hard work, questioning your assumptions - you're interrupting your brain's automatic responses and forcing it to do something it's not used to doing.

But I also think it’s important and worth it, especially in an age where we’re growing more and more fragmented and divided with each passing day. 

A person's intellectual humility is thought to be correlated with their level of knowledge in general, and this is a way to cultivate both, if we're willing to put in the effort. Learning how to listen respectfully to those we may not agree with enriches our lives, expands our understanding of the world, and allows us to maintain more balanced perspectives.

 

This week, choose one opinion, big or small, that you hold strongly. Do a search and find some smart folks who have criticized this opinion. Choose one who is engaging respectfully with readers or viewers from both sides, and follow them on the social media platform of your choice. Over the next while, listen to what they say, and pay attention to your reactions. Do you notice any cognitive biases at play? Interact with their posts regularly so the algorithm continues to show them and similar posts in your feed. You might be surprised by what you learn.

 

 

Debra Purdy is the owner of ShopEco, a voracious reader, and a bona fide skin care fanatic.

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Comments

Debra Purdy - January 20, 2021

Kathy, thank you for the kind note and the order. Always a pleasure!

Kathy M'Closkey - January 20, 2021

Hi Debra,

tx for your wisdom – & for dropping off my order yesterday – i really appreciate it.

in good health/kathy

Debra Purdy - January 17, 2021

Ooh, I’ll have to check that out, Darlene! Thanks for reading!

Darlene Panganiban - January 17, 2021

Thanks Debra! This topic was clearly on my radar since I chose to watch The Social Dilemma last night! Definitely saving your email as a quick reference and reminder.

Debra Purdy - January 17, 2021

Melissa, thank you! I value your insight while thinking through some of these mind adventures. Thank you for always being open to discussion.

Melissa - January 17, 2021

Excellent article! I’m right there with you. So much to be learned if we can quiet ourselves to receive.

Debra Purdy - January 17, 2021

Linda, thank you for reading! I mentioned Irshad Manji last week – her book ‘Don’t Label Me’ is excellent if you want to dive deeper. For more on cognitive bias, check out ‘Loserthink’ by Scott Adams.

Debra Purdy - January 17, 2021

Patricia, thank you for your thoughts. Your compassion for people and your passion for helping them shines through in everything you do. Honoured to know you.

Patricia St Pierre - January 17, 2021

(Ooops Debra, I have definitely gotten off your topic somewhat, but I appreciate reading your wisdom, insights, you have excellent common sense & reasoning skills, & I enjoy reading them.)

Hello Debra: I enjoyed your writing, … just finished it. A lot of ‘going underneath the layers’ of deeper wisdom. I appreciate that. It makes me think of listening to my clients, all the anger, venting, fear, anxiety, loneliness, absolute fear of being destroyed by what is happening, sometimes putting others down, all kinds of expressions of indignation, consternation, unhappiness, pain, grief, loss, etc. My assistance is to help people to put life into perspective: i.e. we are human beings living a life process of learning, growing, changing, progressing, building character, becoming wiser, stronger & more courageous, as well as learning more about human nature, both their own & other’s.

So, all of this is within the realm of being a human being, through this process, many people learn how to have more love & compassion for others, thereby contributing to making the world a better place. In the long term of it, & without trying to sound religious, (I do not have that authority) we are each one of us, here to fulfill our destiny, whatever that is for each. Mine is different from yours, is different from…etc. You are so correct in saying that we learn from those words of disagreement, criticism, anger, jealousy, judgment, condemnation, that we hear or see expressed by others, there is always some wisdom in it, it tells us where they are coming from, which is different from where we are coming from, perhaps a lot of insecurity. I believe that those who really put something or someone else down, are at times displaying a certain amount of low self-worth, low self-confidence, jealousy, in those times. A person who is really fine with who they are as a human being & what they believe & know, does not need to resort to putting others or things down, in order to make themselves think that they are superior, have more power or control, knowledge or understanding than others. Any one of us can look back in our lives and say, "Oh my, if I had known 10 years ago what I know now, I would have done differently, behaved, thought, etc. differently. And in another 10 years, we will be able to express the same thought again. Life is like a great big school room, we are all learning, & both the good & the difficult that we have experienced, have helped us to become who we are, wiser & stronger than 10 years ago. No one has arrived yet, we continue to grow throughout our lives, my 90-year old deceased Papa used to tell us so. :) Sorry for the long expression. I love talking about this ‘stuff’, I love the learning, I love people, no matter what, and I believe & hope that is why I can help them.
Whew!, love ya, take care, thank you again for your gentle, kind & very compassionate, benevolent words of wisdom. Patricia

Linda Labute - January 17, 2021

What an interesting article Debra! Very thought provoking. I actually read it twice so it would sink in. I’m going to be thinking about this one for awhile, especially the common bias. Thank you!

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