good-looking people

Why are good-looking people always so s#*tty!

The general consensus seems to be that good-looking people are mostly mean and ugly-looking people, mostly nice. But is this true?

 

The answer is, as is often the case, grey. It’s partly true, namely that SOME good-looking people are mean and SOME nice people, ugly. The reason our views get skewed in a particular direction so that we land up thinking ALL good-looking people are jerks and ALL nice people sloth-faced, depends on what we pay attention to. 

  
good-looking
Photo credit: bittermelon via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

As this video by AsapScience makes clear, we only pay heightened attention to people that we are interested in. That means we tend not to involve ourselves with ugly jerks, leaving only nice uglies, mean hotties or nice hotties in our scope of focused awareness. Thus, because we exclude an entire group from our conscious attention, the only group of uglies that we tend to notice are the nice ones. Because nice hotties are usually taken, we only really experience mean hotties which skews the hottie pile, making hotties seem mean (also, don’t forget we are ignoring the ugly meanies which would act as a counter-weight). Thus we view hotties as jerks and uglies as sweet as these are the two extreme groups we pay attention to, simply because others don’t feature in our precepts.

Along with what informs our knowledge based on what we pay attention to, the reason this information tends to stick and leads us to inaccurate conclusions is a result of our own faulty cognitive mechanisms.  As Daniel Levitin explains in his book The Organized Mind, “Our fore-brains have evolved to notice co-occurrences of events but not a lack of occurrences.” This is also known as the Illusory Correlation. What this means is that we tend to only pay attention to the ‘hits’ of our beliefs or understandings about the world.

This happens all the time in life. For example, take the belief that vitamins help ease symptoms of colds and flu. Let’s assume I believe vitamin X helps with relieving my cold symptoms because I remember that every time I take it, I don’t get a cold.

 

But what about the info I am not paying attention to, namely:

 

  1. When I took vit X and nothing happened
  2. When I took nothing (or a different pill) and the cold went away (or even more disconcerting, perhaps I don’t ever not take vit X when I feel a cold coming along and thus this bit of information is never actually experienced!)
  3. When I took vit X and still got a cold

 

The reason we only pay attention to the “hits” happens for a number of reasons:

 

  1. Illusory correlation or confirmation bias – we take in and remember things that support our view or theory
  2. a number of other biases that I wont go into here

 

This also happens with rare phenomena which we hold in place of ordinary, everyday phenomena. For example, some people won’t fly on airplanes because of the few airplane crash incidents they’ve heard of.

The reason for this is our cognitive tendency to give novel or threatening stimuli extra and heightened focus and remembrance, overpowering the positive or mundane.  Paul Slovic calls this the denominator effect- “we imagine the numerator – the tragic story on the news about a car crash – and don’t think about the denominator – the overwhelming number of automobile trips that end in safety.” (The Organised Mind).

This, paired with our confirmation bias for stories that confirm our belief that cars/airplanes are dangerous, makes this belief tend to stick.

What all of this hopefully illustrates is how inaccurate our observations can be simply because we are not aware of how our minds work as well as of the other pertinent information to the conclusions we draw. This becomes even more worrying when we consider the scientific endeavour, whose apparent aim is the discovery and maintenance of the truth. We can only hope that such discovers are aware of the many biases that might be clouding their observations and are clued up enough about other areas that don’t form the area of their focus (or, at the least, are aware of, and take into consideration when formulating their results, the things they don’t know and how this might influence their conclusions).

 

So, what’s the solution?

 

  • Get clued up about our own biases and the way our minds work as human beings (generally) and also the way we operate because of the lives we’ve lived (specifically).
  • Research and learn about things which might expand the information we have available so that we can try to understand what’s really going down.

 

 

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Whale’s Eye

– a different perspective –

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