Get ready to question reality! This week we cover the fundamentals of biased thinking, some common ways that it can show up in your relationships, and how you can get around them in order to have happier and healthier connections to your partners and to yourself.
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Jase Lindgren: On this episode of the Multiamory podcast, we're talking about cognitive biases and how they affect your relationships. We'll be talking about the fundamentals of biased thinking, some common ways that it can show up in relationships and how to get around them in order to have happier, healthier connections to your partners and to yourself.
Dedeker Winston: Can I just say this topic is so left brained and so Vulcan and I love it so much except, I'm Vulcan, I don't get excited.
Emily Matlack: That would make sense.
Jase: There's a little conflict there.
Dedeker: I've already painted myself into a corner.
Jase: Why don't you start us off then by telling us what is cognitive bias.
Dedeker: Yes, what is a cognitive bias indeed? It's really a fascinating subject. Basically, a cognitive bias is a mistake in reasoning, in evaluating, in remembering, or in any other process that your brain takes part in which often happens as a result of hanging on to a preference or hanging on to your beliefs regardless of information to the contrary.
Emily: Yes, and our biases can affect things like our memory or our reasoning or decision making. Also, our unconscious biases are often so strong that they lead us to act in ways that are inconsistent with reason as well as our values and beliefs. That's really interesting and scary thought.
Dedeker: Yes. Basically, it's this idea that we all come with these little filters baked into our brains or that develop over the course of our lives that literally change the way that we perceive the world or the way that we interpret information from the world. Our biases are like this fundamental part of how our brain functions to a certain extent.
Emily: Is that nature or nurture?
Dedeker: That is the age-old question, isn't it?
Emily: Indeed. We get into that later on.
Jase: Yes, we're going to get into that a little bit. I think though that to start off, it's definitely our biases are something that we learn through our life based on our experience, which we're going to talk about later, based on your gender or your socioeconomic class or what types of experiences you've had or what your family is like or what religion you were raised with. There's a lot of different things that you're not born with those things or at least not with most of those, but you learn them from living your life as the person you are and in the culture that you are.
Whether there are some that we're more inclined to or something, that's a little bit harder to say and something that scientists would love to argue about. Speaking of scientists, one of the common forms of bias is called confirmation bias. That's something that we've talked about before on this and I wrote a blog post about it a couple of years ago. Essentially, what that means is, it's the tendency for our brain to find evidence to support a conclusion that we already believe rather than looking at the evidence in a neutral way and then trying to draw a conclusion from that.
This happens a lot in research. This is something that in the book Sex at Dawn they talk about how, as one example, there were studies that the conclusion of the studies said that there were no matriarchal societies in the world. Then, people later came along and looked at those same studies and were like, "Wait a minute." You've just shown a number of civilizations around the world that would fit the definition of matriarchy. The reason why the original researchers hadn't come to that conclusion is because they assumed that a matriarchy had to involve the oppression of men. That it had to be the opposite of the type of culture that we have now.
Things like that, that it just they weren't literally were not able to see the fact that the evidence was saying something different because they went into it with assumptions about the way people work and about what a society would look like. Things like that.
Emily: The opposite of the type of culture we have now? Don't we still live in a oppressive matriarchal culture?
Dedeker: Yes, they're saying that the researchers were looking for matriarchal cultures, but assuming that matriarchy must mean also oppressing men rather than women holding power or property or inheritance rights or whatever.
Emily: Okay, so that it's only one or the other. Somebody has to be oppressed in order for a culture to occur.
Dedeker: Basically, even though there are a number of cultures around the world where women hold things like inheritance rights or operate positions or your family line is tracked matrilineally. That's a word.
Jase: Or they're the ones who own property in some societies.
Emily: Yes, but I get the point. Okay, I see what you mean now. Thank you.
Jase: This is a really interesting. Example of this that actually came up recently, I guess recently, gosh, it was a couple of years ago. There was a small study that was published in a journal about men and masculinity. Basically, what the study showed was that it did surveys of small sample of men and found that compared to previous generations that college-age men were much more comfortable with having very close emotionally connected relationships; non-sexual relationships with their male peers, with their friends or the bromance, as the researchers called it.
Because of this, they leaned on those relationships for support getting through hard times rather than just relying on their romantic female partners for these things. What's interesting about this is I read about this first because it came up as a headline in my newsfeed from the Telegraph. The Telegraph, the headline was something along the lines of the rise of bromance is destroying heterosexual relationships.
Dedeker: No, this didn't come up pretty recently. This was within the last year or so that that came out.
Jase: The study came out in 2016, but that article was in 2017 so it was just during this last year. Meanwhile, in the Time website, probably not in the actual magazine, it came up as exact same study, exact same information, but just talking about how they found this was very beneficial to men especially in getting through trauma and hard times in their life because they found they were able to share more honestly and perceived less judgment from their male friends than from their romantic partners.
This is just an example rather than going into that study, but just how two people could take the same set of data and come to very different conclusions. It's not opposite necessarily, but very different meanings that they put on to it and the different pieces of that data that they're going to look at.
Emily: Yes, and it's really important to note that as we go on further in this discussion there are a million different biases out there. It's really difficult to avoid them. That's probably not going to be something that you're going to ever completely do, but it's at least important to think about them and to say like, "Hey, I have this," or, "What are those cognitive biases that I do continually go to," then, "How can I change my thinking based off of what I know about myself regarding these."
Dedeker: Yes, that's the thing is when I started digging into this and actually honestly any time I've ever started digging into learning about cognitive biases, it really makes you start to question reality. I know for me I'm just like, "Oh my God, I have no idea what reality is. What is my worldview? What is it that I actually believe or don't believe?" I don't even know what's real, oh my God.
Like I said, at the beginning, cognitive biases, they're there at this really fundamental level in the way that we process the world. They're not necessarily by default a bad thing, but it is good just to be able to be aware of it. Of course, I always want to go really deep with it. If you really start to think about it, you never directly experienced reality. Your sensory organs like your eyes, your skin, your ears, they feed information to your brain and then your brain interprets it for you.
Always, essentially, your sense of reality is just an interpretation that is sometimes imperfect which is not so. It's not so to think about. The thing is also your brain like I just said, doesn't always spit out that information back to you in a perfect way, in a way that actually reflects what reality is.
That's why in court cases eyewitnesses can actually be very unreliable because you can have three different eyewitnesses who saw very different things all of whom are convinced that they saw what actually really happened when in reality, if it's something traumatic or things happen very quickly or a long amount of time has passed by, that's just more time for the brain to chew on all that information and try to come up with an interpretation that's going to be different from somebody else's. I don't know. That just starts to make me dizzy when I start to think about it too much.
Jase: I think rather than maybe zooming way out like that and looking at it as this, "Oh God, nothing's real. Everything's in the matrix," kind of a thing. If we wanted to just be really practical about it too you could even just think about something as simple as our vision. That our eyes are essentially the equivalent of maybe an eight-megapixel camera in the middle, which if you know anything about megapixels and cameras, that's the first digital camera that my brother got 15 years ago or something. This is not a good camera. What our eyes are doing, we perceive the world as a very sharp detailed thing, but really it's that our eyes are looking around picking out details, then our brain is constructing this and retaining it as one image even though we're only seeing small parts of it at one time in any amount of detail, which is exactly how magic works. This is how magicians do cool shit is because--
Emily: We're magic, is what you're saying.
Jase: We allow magic to happen.
Dedeker: You create your own magic in life. Is that really what you're trying to say?
Emily: With your cognitive biases.
Dedeker: With your cognitive biases and your imperfect vision.
Jase: Exactly, but not to despair because aside from this allowing magicians to wow and amaze us, by recognizing this we can find ways in which we distort reality. We can find ways that others do that and it can help us to bridge these gaps in our communication. It can help us to make better choices about how we react and can allow us to be better at understanding other people. Rather than thinking of this as, "Oh God, this is a problem I need to overcome," because, as Dedeker was pointing out, that's literally not possible because we don't perceive reality absolutely and perfectly.
Rather than thinking of it that way, it's this by understanding you have those limitations, you can do things to become better at it. My favorite example of that is people get upset about stuff like this sometimes being like, "No, I can understand things perfectly," they don't like that idea that anything is out of their control. I always like to say, "Cool," but like gravity is a thing that's real and is a limitation on you.
People have tried to will themselves to fly and that doesn't work, but once people understood gravity, they could use those principles that they understood to then create airplanes and create hot air balloons. That we were able to overcome that limitation once we actually understood it, rather than just trying to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that it doesn't exist or we can just overcome it with willpower.
Dedeker: That's a good one.
Emily: We made ourselves fly?
Dedeker: We willed ourselves to fly.
Emily: Yes, with a lot of hard work.
Dedeker: It's not actually a bias is that we always think that we're the most objective person in the room generally, but we tend to overestimate how objective or how neutral we can be, but that's interesting.
Emily: Usually we overestimate.
Dedeker: I like that metaphor a lot. For this episode, as Emily said, there's a billion cognitive biases and also loosely related to logical fallacies, there's just so many of them that obviously, we couldn't cover all of them in the episode.
I picked out five that I feel come up really commonly in relationships both that I've experienced in my own relationships, in friends' relationships, and the relationships of my clients so that you can maybe start to have a little bit of awareness of what's going on in your brain. Maybe what's even going on in your brain or your partner's brain when you're having a communication break down. With that awareness finding a way to be able to work around it and to be able to communicate and connect in a much more effective way.
Emily: Yes so the first one we're going to talk about is the empathy gap which is where happy people-- No, sorry not happy people, just people.
Dedeker: It could be happy people.
Emily: Just human beings; happy or unhappy, but in one state of mind fail to understand people in another state of mind. If you're happy, you can't imagine why people would be unhappy, but when you're sexually aroused you can't really understand how you act when you're sexually aroused. If you're not sexually aroused, you can't understand that you act when you are sexually aroused.
It's that idea of like let's say I'm in a fight with Jase and I'm super upset and he's very calm in the moment. I'm like, "How are you calm right now? What the hell is happening? Why are you having these emotions and I am having separate ones?" It's my inability to empathize with him in the moment or vice versa.
Jase: On the other side of that, I'm sure this line might be activating for some people, but that, "Why can't you just be rational about this?" Is the other side of that because you're feeling detached from something and you can't imagine how anyone else could feel anything besides that same thing.
Dedeker: Right, that's a big one. Just to clarify really quickly. In last week's episode, we talked about the difference between empathy and sympathy. In this case where we're talking about empathy, it involves not just you having directly had the experience that your partner has had, but also the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes and your ability to try to imagine what it is that they're feeling and what that might be feeling like.
Again, it's in this in-between space where it's not quite sympathy where it's just like, "I see you're having a hard time and I feel really bad for you," but it's actively trying to put on and understand what it is that your partner's feeling and how that would feel to you if you're in the same situation. Something like that.
Jase: Yes, or at least to attempt to or to imagine what it might be like in their situation since we can't actually understand completely what another person is feeling at any time, but it's like in this case, the difference is that empathy is you're at least trying to understand what it might feel like to that person rather than just seeing them feeling what they're feeling.
Emily: Yes, and overall maybe I'm just going to speak for myself here, but I think we're not particularly great at that overall. Just as humans, humans aren't amazing at imagining how other people would respond to things because we just assume that they're going to respond in the same way that we would. It can present as a projection, so we take our own emotional or mental state and then we project it onto the other person. I definitely have done this in a lot of my relationships.
It's so frustrating in the moment because you sit there feeling as though you're going to get a reaction from a person and then they astound you when they give you something other than what you expected and it's simply because maybe in that moment, you can't empathize with what they're going through so you are, therefore, surprised at what you get in that moment.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely. This can show up in relationships in so many different ways. Projection is just one of them. One that I know has come up in my relationships a lot is times where I found myself changing my behavior because I assume that my partner would respond the same way that I would if the tables were turned.
That's a little bit of a weird, confusing turn of a phrase, but to give an actual example, it would be something like for most of the time that I've been polyamorous and honestly, just in my life in general, it's not just with my partners. I tend to avoid talking about more specific sexual details of what I did with a partner to another partner. That started as a habit not because I ever went to my partner and asked like, "Do you want to hear this?" "Do you not want to hear this?" It started because I made the assumption like, "Well that would make me uncomfortable, so I'm just going to assume that it would make them uncomfortable too, so I'm just going to avoid talking about it".
Operating with that as a bias to a certain extent like sure in some relationships that ends up being true and it ends up being okay, but in some, it doesn't end up being okay, because I made an assumption about how a person thinks and feels just based on what it is that I think and feel.
I think what I've seen happen a lot is also a sense of like, "Well, I feel really happy and fulfilled in my relationship with my partner," so I have a really hard time empathizing and understanding how, for instance, my metamour could be complaining or feeling left out or feeling hurt. I see that a lot especially a partner who's maybe getting more time, or more affection, or more of something from one partner has a really hard time understanding if their metamour is feeling like they're not getting enough. That can definitely cause a lot of tension or dissension or arguments or fall out in that particular scenario.
Jase: I feel like I also see this one come up in a place where say you don't see a partner terribly often, but that's okay for you and you're perfectly happy with it and then you have a matamour, your partner has another partner who sees them much more than you do, but they're upset about not seeing them enough and you're just like, "How could that possibly be? What a jerk." They must be being selfish, because we think they must feel the same I do, and if I'm happy with what I have, how could they not be happy with that.
Dedeker: Yes, I think I've seen that one a lot too.
Jase: There's another big one is a cultural empathy gap regarding gender. This is like we talked about that growing up as a person of a certain gender or growing up as someone who has changed that later in life or who's never felt at home in that one, that all of those things change your biases because you've learned the world a certain way. You've learned that the world works a certain way for you and it's easy to ignore the fact that that might not work that same way for someone else.
We just did our whole episode about gender a couple of weeks ago. As an example of this is as a man, if I'm dating a woman and I'm interacting with a woman, I might assume that she feels as empowered as I would feel to tell me what she wants and she doesn't want whereas in reality she might, from her experiences, not feel that that's a safe thing that she can do. In my mind, I'm interpreting her communication one way whereas to her it's a very, very different experience.
This is a really good example of one that a lot of people are just entirely blind to. I definitely was as well that this is something that you have to learn that you're not seeing things. You have to learn that you're not able to understand the way the world works for everybody else and it's not something that you're born with. Like we said, you can't avoid these things. You can't avoid having these biases, but by learning that you have them, you can do better to communicate better with other people, make them feel better, which in turn makes all of your relationships better. This is one I definitely wish that I had learned a long time ago.
Emily: There are ways to work around all of these. One of them is exactly what Jase just said is that empathy is really something that you can develop over time. I know within certain relationships that I've had, it's something that I've had to stop and tell myself, "Okay, you're very upset right now. You may be really stubborn right now about what you're feeling," and that that's the truth and that that's all that matters and that the other person is just dead wrong.
If you take a moment to really stop and look at what they're potentially going through as well, then it might offer it variably some perspective and push you into having empathy for them in addition to yourself because I think that that's really important, otherwise we just get stuck in this never-ending cycle being like, "I'm fucking right. Fuck you, we're done."
Then just to go along with that, you can imagine a time where you were in your partner's shoes or you felt similar emotions to what your partner seems to be experiencing in that moment. Again if the tables were turned in a previous fight or a previous confrontation, you can remember that time and say like, "Hey, I've been there. I need to remember that and give my partner maybe a little of the benefit of the doubt in this moment."
Dedeker: I think the most important thing here to acknowledge is just that is the fact that you can develop empathy if you want to. If you want to put the time and effort into it. Honestly, if you do it's probably going to make your relationships better in general really. Another way to help develop empathy is to do compassion training or some kind of meta or loving-kindness meditation and I know this is definitely going down the route of being more woo-woo.
Loving-kindness meditation and compassion meditation is something that actually has been studied, it's not just like, "This sounds like a nice thing so let's do it." It has been studied multiple times and found that it does yield a difference in the way that people treat other people. There is a specific study where they compared it with a different group of individuals who received memory training instead of compassion training, but the individuals who got the compassion training were more likely to help out a stranger, for instance.
It actually does make a difference. I know in my own life in meditation practice that being able to do some kind of loving-kindness meditation, not just toward myself, but specifically towards someone that I'm having a difficult with. Whether that someone who hurt me really really badly and I never want to talk to them again, or if it's just my partner who I'm arguing with about the dishes on that particular day, being able to-- Emily is pointing at Jase right now for those of you who aren't watching the YouTube video.
Emily: Just because he is quite literally the dishwasher nazi.
Dedeker: I don't know about literally.
Dedeker: You do have some opinions about dishwashing. You love it like that.
Jase: I have strong opinions on dishwashing, yes.
Emily: He loves his dishwasher.
Dedeker: Anyway, to bring it back around. Even being able to do that when you are in the course of an argument with a partner, it really can work wonders. It doesn't mean that you're automatically just going to roll over and be like, "They're right and I'm wrong," but it's still being able to come to the discussion from a more constructive and compassionate place rather than a combative place.
Emily: Yes, I did that recently. I was having a bad fight with my partner and I talked with my mother and she was like, "Listen, maybe just look at this from his standpoint and maybe just say you're sorry and be like, "Hey I hear you. I understand you. I know what you're going through in this moment." It was amazing. The difference in the way in which he approached me after that just being acknowledged and accepted and I was like, "Fuck, I should listen to my mother more often."
Dedeker: Actually some of the best advice I got was actually a surprise, surprise in a meditation class with Jessica Graham where she was also talking about arguing with her partner. For her, it was about in the moment, even though she was feeling upset still being able to see her partner's pain and to be able to recognize like, "He's hurting too," and like, "I'm hurting too and so I understand how that feels like." From understanding that point, we can then talk and we can discuss and we can try to take care of each other as we negotiate, rather than me seeing you as just the bad guy.
Jase: Right, assuming that because I'm hurting you can't be because I'm the one who has all the hurt here.
Jase: With that, we're going to move on to our next cognitive bias here which is the halo effect or the horn effect. This is, obviously, a halo coming from angels and horn like a devil. Here, what we're doing is we're taking one attribute of someone and then extrapolating everything else about that person from that one thing. This is the bias that's behind things like people assuming that attractive people are also good people or-
Dedeker: More skilled people.
Jase: - more skilled at their jobs, I was just going to say. Yes, exactly.
Emily: All those quarterbacks.
Jase: Sure, yes. It can also lead us just to looking at people as black and white assuming that, well, because someone did this thing they must be all bad, or because they did this thing they must be all good. If they do something bad, that must have been out of character, so we're not going to judge them for that. On either side, you can look at something that way and start to box someone in to just one role. This happens, we do it with celebrities, we do it with politicians, as well as with our friends or a lot of times with our friend's partners. They're an easy one to put this on to because they've maybe done just one thing and now you've decided that they're all good or all bad.
A way that this shows up in relationships, and this is a topic that we talk about a lot, is NRE, is New Relationship Energy. Is that because I'm so excited about something about this person, maybe it's I'm so excited that I finally found someone who likes me. Maybe it's that I'm so excited because I finally found someone I have good sexual chemistry with or I've found someone who I have these things in common with that I never thought I would find with anybody. Stuff like this, that because of that we can easily be biased into thinking that they're great and completely ignoring putting on those blinders like we talked about with confirmation bias. Completely being blind to potentially very destructive things or at the very least stuff that's like, well--
Dedeker: Red flags, I think.
Jase: Yes. "This isn't great," or even just yellow flags where it's not like a red flag like, stay away from this person, but a yellow flag like, maybe don't sign a lease with this person.
Dedeker: I think they call those pink flags these days.
Emily: We're talking about soccer?
Dedeker: [laughs] No, we're not talking about soccer.
Jase: I can tell you that much.
Dedeker: Yellow flag in soccer, yes, but no, I think in the relationship advice sphere, people call it pink flags these days.
Emily: Interesting. I didn't know that.
Jase: I feel like I would have a hard time with that.
Emily: I think because you love the color pink?
Jase: I do love the color pink first of all.
Dedeker: I do like the color pink and so I am always a little bit hesitant to use the pink flag thing.
Jase: Also, I will say though that my two favorite colors are pink and yellow, so either way, the flags are in that territory.
Emily: Actually, you're just a power ranger.
Jase: [laughs] Yes, exactly.
Dedeker: You're the lady power rangers.
Jase: I'm both of them, yes. Is that in Japan, that pink is used for adult things. You know how like in English we might say, we don't really say it anymore, but our parents might've said like, "That's a blue comment," or like, "There's a blue theme," to mean it's a little bit adult, a little bit not for polite company. In Japan, it's pink. That's the one they use for that sort of thing.
Dedeker: Yes, it's true.
Jase: I think for me, the pink flag I cannot think about something sexual. If you're talking about it in terms of a relationship, to me that's going to be like a pink would be some sexual problem or something like that.
Emily: Sexual flag.
Dedeker: Like a sexual good thing, or a sexual bad thing?
Jase: Either one, I don't know. That's why I would be confused and I don't like it.
Emily: Okay, moving on.
Jase: Moving on.
Emily: Another way that this cognitive bias can show up in a relationship is that you're potentially going to judge your dating partner based solely on their appearance. This can be the basis for a lot of body shaming, fat shaming, fatphobia stuff like that. You see a person and you think you know everything about them just based off of their appearance, which is bullshit and fucking awful. Something to think about.
Dedeker: It goes beyond that, because studies have shown specifically often when people see someone who's overweight, that they then associate all these really unrelated character qualities to that person as in they must be lazy, they must not be a good worker, they must not be as smart. That is this halo effect/horn effect 100% in play. It's not even just judging a book by its cover, it's taking one aspect and then extrapolating it to every aspect about that person.
Jase: Have you two seen how they do some of those studies where what they do is they'll show a type of person and then throw up a bunch of words on the screen and you have to pick them or say yes or no whether you think that word applies to that person? They do it very quickly so that people don't have time to counteract to be like, "That's the wrong thing to say." These studies show things like the fact that racism or sexism--
Dedeker: I was going to say I know they've done that with skin color.
Jase: It's in us, it's a bias that we have. It varies depending on the culture you grew up, like how mixed your culture was when you were growing up in terms of race. What's interesting about it though in the context of this conversation is that it's not like you take that test to find out if you're a bad person or if you're racist or something like that. To do that, like we're saying, is to uncover your biases so you can realize, "I've got that going on let me take some steps to counteract that." I feel like there's this myth that whatever our natural reactions to things are, are our true selves.
The thing is that for the most part, we don't get to choose those. That those, we just got based on the circumstances of our lives, but what we do with those biases are what matter. Those are determine what kind of a person we are.
Emily: Yes, that makes sense.
Dedeker: Another way that this comes up in relationships is when we can make the decision to stay with a partner who maybe makes us unhappy, but does have good behavior sometimes. This is something we covered in the science of happy relationships. This is, of course, also related to confirmation bias and to status quo bias which is something that we'll get into later. It is this idea of maybe my partner's being a jerk to me, but he does always make me dinner and do all these acts of service for me, so I guess these things don't matter as much, or I think he's overall a good person. That's a big topic. It's related to a lot of different ways that people can think about relationships.
Jase: Once we've decided someone's a good person.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely. Now, go ahead take it away.
Jase: [laughs] Our next one on the list here is making judgments about someone's character based on their relationship choice or their STI status. There've, unfortunately, been studies about both of those done showing that people will be more likely to think that polyamorous people or non-monogamous people are less likely to floss their teeth. That it's an entirely unrelated thing.
Emily: Guilty as charged though.
Dedeker: Not guilty as charged. I will provide some empirical data to combat that, because I floss my teeth every single day.
Emily: I'm just talking about myself. Good job.
Jase: We just did a study right here. Two out of three polyamorous people floss their teeth, which I would say is more than most. [laughs]
Emily: Hey, I didn't even have braces and I have never had--
Jase: All right, that's enough.
Dedeker: How many out of how many dentists are non-monogamous?
Emily: Most of the ones that I've come across are married.
Dedeker: That doesn't mean a thing. You don't know.
Emily: You're right, good point. I haven't discussed that with them.
Jase: What I'm saying is that yes, there've been those studies showing that things entirely unrelated to relationship style will be associated just because that goes along with thinking that a person is less responsible or something like that. Similarly, with STI status that people are much more likely to think of that person as selfish or as irresponsible or something like that even when given an explanation that counteracts that they'll ignore that that confirmation bias thing. With these in mind, how do we get around these? How can we work around this bias?
Emily: Really the best thing to do and the best way to work around this particular one is just to have an awareness of it. To realize like, "Hey, this is out there this is ingrained within us. This is something for me to think about, so that I don't make the mistake of just every time I see so and so or every time I hear about a certain thing in a person, that I automatically make an assumption about them."
Dedeker: Yes, so definitely when you find yourself either making judgments on people, whether there's a good or bad judgments, it can be really useful to try to back those up with data. Data sounds like a very, obviously scientific word, but it doesn't have to be observing them with a clipboard for a certain amount of time. It can just be like, "Well, this person rubs me the wrong way, but hey, actually, why is that?" Have they done something? Have they said something or is this just something that I'm extrapolating based on the way they look or what I saw them do once.
Just being able to re-examine your assumptions around people. I think this is a really fascinating exercise if you really want to get heady with it is to examine if you're on a dating app who you're swiping left and right on and why.
I'm not telling you you have to change what you're doing. Doesn't mean that what you're doing is wrong, but it can be really fascinating just to take a step outside of yourself and just examine based on this person's picture, why am I swiping them left or right? What are the individual things there and what are the assumptions that I'm making about this person based on that. It's really fascinating and potentially uncomfortable exercise, but have fun.
Jase: Yes, another one is to give your first impression a second chance. Give your first impression a second impression, give your second impression a first chance. I don't know.
Dedeker: No, no you're losing the thread
Emily: Just make another impression maybe or think. Don't let your first impression be the only impression.
Jase: Right, and I think that, ironically, this is one that is especially easy to fall into for people who think of themselves as good judges of character . Because usually, those people do have a certain amount of skill at picking up on subtleties of behavior or of body language or of word choice, things like that. They do tend to have a skill that, but it can often lead to a sort of arrogance that will lead you to make snap judgments about people. Even if you happen to have a bad first impression of that person and every other thing they've done is good, those people I've found are much more likely to stick with their first impressions because they're like, "No, but I'm a good judge of character and I didn't like them at the beginning so that must be the truth."
Just something to be aware of for those of you out there being like, "That's not me. I'm a great judge of character." Just give it a second chance and see and if the data backs it up, then great, you can be more confident in that decision and know that you gave them a second chance. Maybe more than a second chance, but you've actually given it some real thought.
Dedeker: Okay, so this next one. This one's a doozy.
Jase: Give it to us.
Dedeker: Really a doozy. I'll give it to you. This is called reactance. Some people categorize this just as a psychological phenomenon. Some people categorize it as a cognitive bias. I wanted to include it in this episode because I feel like I see it as a cognitive bias and I feel like I see it also come up in relationships a lot. Reactance, to put it in really simple terms, is the desire to do the opposite of what someone wants you to do so that you can prove your freedom of choice.
For instance, they actually did a study where they found that when people saw a sign that said, "Do not write on these walls under any circumstances," then people were much more likely to draw graffiti on the walls versus when they saw a sign that said, "Please, don't write on these walls." The theory is the idea that the first sign that had the much harsher language, it imposes a much greater perceived threat to your freedom.
I'd imagine this particular cognitive bias I feel like this might change depending on, of course, the context that you were raised in. It may change depending on your culture. I feel like people in the West and specifically Americans, I feel would be-- This seems like a very American thing. The idea that if someone's treading on my freedom of choice even a tiny bit, I really want to lash out and get back. A lot of parents will recognize this in their toddlers, but it's something that we don't grow out of in the toddler phase. It very much stays with us even when we're adults.
Emily: How does this show up in relationships? It's when we impose something, like a rule, or we deliver an ultimatum to a partner. Which is interesting, because I would think that once you deliver an ultimatum, the partner maybe like, "Shit. I want to do the opposite of that." Or it's setting themselves up for failure in a way because it's a rule that is meant to be broken. That's what we say about rules. These rules occur, and they're just there because you may eventually break them. That's a problem.
Dedeker: Something that I want to point out, though. If I go back to this original study about people defacing walls, is that, it wasn't that they needed to have no rule whatsoever, it was just the wording of the rule was what changed people's behavior to it.
Emily: An ultimatum or a rule is generally this definitive thing of like, "You do this or else I will leave. You will be in big trouble, mister," or something. Which makes us want to lash out or want to do the opposite or just show like, "How dare you impose this thing on me, because I should be allowed to do what I want then, I guess."
Jase: Yes. I'd even take it another step to in that case where it says, don't write on this walls under any circumstance or, to think about a relationship. It's like, you have to spend the night with me every night no matter what. Even if you do cooperate with that rule, you're like, "Damn, I guess I have no choice. This is frustrating. I feel stifled." Whereas, like you said the sign that says, "Please don't write on these walls." Could be somewhere like, "I'd prefer it if you would spend the night with me every night. Obviously I understand that you might not, but I would prefer that."
If the person does it, they feel like, "Cool, I just helped someone out. They asked me to please do something. I didn't write on their wall, I've done them a favor, now." In a way I feel like, that also, in addition to with the sign example, being more likely to have someone follow that, or at least to have them consider it, then when they do they are going to feel better about it. Not that I think you should use this as a manipulation tool to try to sneakily enforce rules on your partners.
Dedeker: I'm glad you brought that up. That's actually something I didn't write down, because something that did come up when I was researching reactants specifically is that naturally, this lead a lot of people to think like, "Well then, reverse psychology, right? Then I'll just tell you not what I want you to do, and then maybe you'll do it." Consistently people have found-- at least in the literature that I was reading is that reverse physiology is at best, ethically ambiguous and morally questionable.
Jase: I would say debatably not very effective.
Dedeker: And debatably not very effective, also. I just wanted to share my own experience with this, because I feel in my relationship experience, I've gotten some first hand at seeing what a low reactants agreement feels versus a high reactants agreement or rule feels like. For instance, one of my partner very early on in our relationship, he expressed like, "To be honest, I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of you dating someone that I work with, but I'm also really hesitant to tell you that, because I feel in telling you that, that that just sets off, like, people want what they can't have."
That's a different way of expressing reactants right? Is this idea of wanting what you can't have. For me though it's like, just having that conversation doesn't spark in me like, "Oh this is forbidden, so that means I immediately want to do it." It was just like, "Okay, cool. I understand that that's the way you feel."
Jase: It was him being vulnerable in the moment to you as opposed to giving you an ultimatum.
Dedeker: it never went like-- There was no rule about you can never do this, you can never go on a date with someone that I work with, or you can never talk to them. It was just like, "I'm uncomfortable," and so if that ever came up we would just need to talk a lot and there would be a lot of care and negotiations stuff like that. Versus. I would see that as like, I don't know it's hard, because like we even came up with a specific agreement but that seems like a low reaction situation, to me.
Versus, I've definitely been in very high reacting situations, where a partner has been like, "You cannot have any casual sex. I forbid you from having any casual sex." Then guess what? Me, a person who doesn't really go for that much casual sex anyway, suddenly the idea of casual sex becomes a lot more appealing, because it's no longer about casual sex. Now, it's tied up in my freedom of choice.
Emily: Was there a thing that was issued to you, like if you do X, Y will happen?
Dedeker: I'm sure it definitely was.
Jase: I don't feel these need to have that as part of it though.
Dedeker: I don't think they need to have that as part of it. I think as we get into when we're talking about how to work around it, it comes down to language, I think, and intention to a certain extent.
Jase: Yes. What can we do about this? How can we get around this? Essentially, we've talked about it already, but the basic principle is to show respect for other people, and to reaffirm people's autonomy. This comes up in the way you speak about things, possibly even the type of things you ask of other people. This can also be things like asking questions, finding out what it is that someone else wants, what their desires are, when working together to negotiate agreements, or talk about your own preferences, rather than it just being a one way street of like, "I'm going to tell you how this goes, and then you are going to listen to me."
I think that TV shows often lead us astray in this, because there's often that scene in TV shows and movies where finally the person comes along, and it's like, "Look, this is how it is." Then everyone falls in line because they are the hero of the movie, when in reality that's probably the least effective thing that they could do, in that situation. Another thing is to be careful about this. I think it's also worth thinking about what it is that you are trying to impose on somebody else. That, how important is it to you to take away somebody else's autonomy?
I know people don't like to think about their agreements or their relationship rules that way, but that is what you are doing. Any agreement or contract or a rule is giving away some autonomies, giving away some choice in exchange for something else. I would just say that, in addition to changing your wording around that, and trying to be more respectful that if someone else is going to go along with something you want, they are going to do it because they want to do that for you. They want you to be happy. They want to improve that relationship. They are not doing it because you hold some power over them, or because there is going to be some negative consequence.
If that is the reason they are doing it, that's not a very healthy relationship.
Dedeker: Yes it's not good.
Jase: It's ultimately not going to be good for either of you. Even if that get you what you want in the short term, that's not going to be good for you in the long term of your relationship.
Dedeker: Well so we go to the next one?
Emily: Yes let's move on to status quo bias, I'm sorry. Status quo bias. This is the tendency to prefer that things stay the same. It's similar to loss aversion bias. It's where people prefer to avoid losses instead of acquiring gain. It's a way to stay in something, or stay with something because the potential loss, you are more worried about the potential loss than the things that you may gain in losing said thing. How this happens in relationships, we often prefer the familiar, so prefer staying together with someone, to the unfamiliar which is potentially breaking up with someone, even if we're currently really unhappy with our partner.
Dedeker: This is super common. We all understand the idea that human beings fear change to an extreme degree. I think at least in my line of work, this is how I've seen so many examples of someone whose been in a relationship for 20 years, but they've been miserable the entire time, and unwilling to change the relationship or leave it. I've seen people for instance, who've been in a monogamous relationship for 20 years, and they don't want to be monogamous, but it's scarier to leave than it is to stay.
I've seen vice versa, too, where someone has agreed to a non-monogamous relationship, thinking that it was going to be okay, and it's not been okay. Again all this time passes by that they've just been miserable.
Jase: Yes. How can we work around this one? I think for this, one of the keys I guess is to, like we were talking about with some of the earlier ones, is to actually write stuff down just to get some perspective on it and to-
Emily: A pros and cons list, as it were.
Jase: To get some data. Yes exactly. To actually get some data and look at what would that actually be like. rather than just focusing on, "God, the idea of something new or uncomfortable is just so awful I can't even imagine it, I'd rather just deal with this now." Or potentially, to focus on the fact that you might be losing more of the time you have on this earth being in an unhappy situation, being miserable or being unfulfilled that I think it's easy for us to sort of delay our happiness, assuming everything will get better someday, right? Were taught to think that about our jobs like, "Work really hard and be miserable because eventually it'll be better." I think we do with our relationships, we do it with a lot of things in our lives. If you really start thinking about that, it can help you to evaluate the choices that you're making.
Do you want to stay in this relationship or do you not? Do you want to continue in this job or do you not? When you really start to think about, this is your life, this is all the time you get, that while the discomfort of a change might be scary if you can really let yourself realize how uncomfortable it is to spend a significant portion of your life in a situation that's not good for you, perhaps that can help tip the scales toward that. Or, if you want to look at it from a more optimistic sort of way is, instead to shift your focus more to what could be gained. That perhaps you're afraid of the loss, you're averse to losing these things or to losing your comfort, or losing your status or something like that.
But instead, if you can focus on what could be gained from this, making a move to a relationship to leave a relationship sooner or later, could mean a big improvement in your life. Or changing your relationship style could be a big improvement in your life, or letting you actually explore the stuff that you want to know about yourself, to be able to have the kind of life that you want to have. Rather than focusing on the time you're losing, you could also focus on, "Oh my gosh, the sooner I start on this, the more of these experiences that I want to have I will be able to have," and that also might be able to help counter this in favor of making the choice that you actually want to make for yourself, and that's right for you instead of the one that you're not making out of fear.
Dedeker: It’s kind of related to stuff I know that you've talked about, Jase, about figuring out if you're a person who was more motivated by avoiding pain, versus if you’re person who's more motivated by going towards pleasure or positivity. I think if you can figure that out about yourself, that can also really help with this of knowing, "Do I need to change the perspective about how much pain I'm going to still endure if I stay in the situation, or do I need to focus on how many good things to come about if I leave this sooner rather than later."
Jase: Yes, definitely. It will help you communicate with other people as well, if you get a sense for what motivates them, or just talking about both sides of that can help you to understand other people, and maybe understand their decisions, too. You might be like we were talking about before, it's like, “God I can't understand why a person would put up with this shitty thing, I can't even imagine how they would do that," But if you realize, "That's because I'm very averse to pain, I can’t imagine that I'd be in that situation but maybe they're more drawn to pleasure, and there's something that that relationship gets them that's keeping them there," or something.
Or it could be exactly the opposite of that, it could be that they're so afraid of change, and you’re like, "I'm more focused on what improvements can I have, what can be next." That either way and there's pros and cons to both, we’re not meaning to say that one is better than the other, there are pros and cons to both, but understanding that about yourself can be really helpful.
Dedeker: Yes, let’s move on to our last one, this is the Ideomotor effect, or as Emily said, the idea meter effect.
Jase: I love it.
Dedeker: Or maybe it's Ideomotor effect, I don't know, it's something.
Emily: I read it as idea- ometer. But I was wrong. Clearly.
Dedeker: I’m going to say Ideomotor just because that's what feels right to me. The Ideomotor effect is often cited, when people want to debunk supernatural phenomena. It’s the idea that a suggestion or suggestibility can make us unconsciously move, and act, and feel, in ways that support the suggestion. To a certain extent this kind of the basis of hypnosis right, but this is also the idea that, if you and your friends are playing with a Ouija board, which I don't know if anyone's played a Ouija board in the last 40 years.
Dedeker: But the idea is that, even if all three of you truly believe that the Ouija board is a real thing and you’re actually talking to spirits, that suggestion of that is going to get you to unconsciously move the plank around, even if you don't think you're consciously doing it. However, in your relationships, we’re not talk about Ouija boards, we’re talking about entirely different things.
Emily: In an interpersonal context, it refers to the fact that our thoughts can make us feel real emotions. As much as I hate Stanislavski, I’m sorry--
Dedeker: I kind of hate Stanislavski, too.
Emily: Yes and actually later on all of this stuff was debunked. He himself was like, "This is a crock of horseshit. I'm not okay with this because it's harmful to people to relive things over and over to produce an emotion."
Emily: Yes, but that is the idea that we’re talking about, that an actor might like envision a terrible scenario such as the death of a loved one, in order to make themselves cry on cue. Activities such as cataloging what you're grateful for can have a separate profound positive impact, that I am all for. The other way of constantly going to an emotion, or going to think that you know will make you upset or cry, that can, over time make that thing not as effective, and not as good, in acting at least.
Jase: How does this one show up in our relationships? Well, I’d say this one shows up all over the place in our lives, I think it also has a pretty strong relationship to confirmation bias, but this one's a little bit about our own actions being determined by some beliefs rather than our perceptions of the outside world. But, this one is really important when it comes to things like, feeling insecure or feeling jealous.
That, regardless of whether our partner’s actions are ethical or not, or whether they were being nice or not, this could inspire a negative thought about ourselves which in turn generates negative emotions. Which in turn, leads us to do more things that cause us to then feel more negative about ourselves, which then -- see what I mean, we get caught in the cycle of getting reminded of some insecurity or some thought we have, or some belief we have, whether it's good or bad and then we reinforce it and then that just makes that stronger and stronger and it's hard to get out of.
Dedeker: Ways to work around this, like Jase was saying, this shows up everywhere in our lives, that our thoughts produce emotions whether they’re positive, negative, pleasant, unpleasant, whatever. Right now, I'm in the middle of doing some CBT training, like cognitive behavioral therapy training.
Emily: When I read that initially I thought it said CBD and was I like, "Yes."
Dedeker: I'm not getting high, sorry, I’m in Singapore right now and they would throw me out. Or maybe execute me, I don't know, possibly, but we’re not going to get into that right now. CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, and it's so interesting actually as I continue to study CBT because it's actually very similar to a lot of Eastern thought, and Buddhist thought, around psychology. Which is kind of just acknowledging that external stimuli can cause a thought in your brain, and then a thought can then produce an emotion, and then that can start that feedback loop.
It could be something as simple as just flicking through your social media, and seeing someone that you think looks more attractive than you. You see their picture, you have a thought of, "I'm unattractive," and then, that produces this negative emotion of, "I feel like crap, and I feel unworthy, and I feel unlovable." Then, over time those start to build up your worldview and your view of yourself. Where it’s like, your friend uploading that picture wasn't meant for the purpose of making you hate yourself, but that's what happened because your thoughts have produced this negative emotion within you.
I think even, again this is another one of those, where it’s like even having an awareness of it can be so helpful in helping you to get around it. Reading, researching into things like cognitive behavioral therapy, or similar traditions, or similar modalities can be really helpful in getting you to kind of examine your own thought processes. Again, learning how to get around them so they don't totally sabotage you.
Jase: Yes. And this one, if I can take my turn to be a little bit woo-woo about it, too.
Dedeker: Please do.
Jase: This one I think comes up a lot in our self-talk, as well. It's the kind of words that we use to describe ourselves, to other people, or just to ourselves in our heads. An example of this one is something that was suggested to me years ago about, if you feel like your someone who's bad at remembering names. So this is something that I have struggled with all my life. Like I'm just-- remembering names is more difficult for me that it seems to be for someone else like, Emily, for example who's really good at that.
Emily: Well, I'm just good at that. Positive self-love, here.
Jase: What I used to do was just in polite conversation. It's like, "Sorry I'm bad at names," "I forgot your name," or like, "I may not remember that." Right, you hear people say this it kind of just gets worked into conversations like, "Sorry, I'm bad at names." I remember years ago, I decided that I wanted to change that narrative about myself. Instead to-- if I don't remember a name and be like, "sorry, you know, I'm working on it, sorry that I didn't remember that." Or like, "I'm going to do my best to remember your name." Something like that. I'm still saying the same thing I'm not saying-- I'm not like secreting it, and just being like, "I'm great at remembering names." Then I'm just lying to everybody.
But instead changing my wording around it, I did find that, not only has it-- I think that it has made me better at remembering names. I don't want to say that like it somehow magically made me better at remembering people's names, just by saying I am. But because by not saying I'm going to fail, I'm actually going to try to remember it. I found that it has made a subtle difference in the way I feel about it. Also, when I do remember names I feel a little bit more like, "Hell yes, that's right." I am improving on this and it helps me focus more on that, too. That's kind of woo-woo example there.
Another example is journaling, which is something I'm a big fan of, and I feel like I talk about a lot on this show. It's just a way of getting those thoughts out of your head. It's getting yourself out from those feedback loops. You can actually jot it down on paper and see it. I've always been a big proponent of actually writing it down with a pen on paper. Although recently, I have found a journaling app that I like on my phone that I've been doing. I do experience the same benefits from that as I do from paper journaling. But whatever works for you, whatever's going to get you to actually do it, is the most important thing.
Dedeker: I found with the journaling thing, what's been really useful for me recently, is if like, a partner does something that upsets me or something happens in my life that upsets me or something disappointing, and if I'm having a hard time shaking it, that if I start journaling out my thoughts, but specifically coming to it with the question of, "What does this mean about you?" Because I think, those were the kind of thought that end up being the most upsetting, that we don't even realize that maybe we don't even hear.
The idea of like, "This opportunity fell through and I'm really disappointed about it." and, "I'm upset because I think what it means about me is that I'm unworthy" or that, "no one interested in me" or, "I'm never going to be successful." Being able to catch those kinds of thoughts about your own value, and write them out can be so useful because, often when you write them out you can see how ridiculous they are.
But it also gives you opportunities to then look at those thoughts, to analyze them, and to come up with examples to the contrary. If it's, "I'm never going to be successful" it's an opportunity, "Well no actually I've been successful in this arena, at that arena, and I'm very happy over here." Being able to drill down to those particular nasty thoughts, during your writing, I think, can be so effective in getting you to bounce back as it were.
Emily: I'm going to start doing that. That's great.
Dedeker: Report back, and tell us how it goes.
Emily: I'm terrible at journaling. I'm terrible of practicing things. I know, sorry, I just did it.
Jase: You're working on it.
Emily: I'm working on it.
Dedeker: You're working on it. Yes.
Emily: Going to work on it. On that note, in this cognitive bias, you can actually use it to your advantage. Again, like we talk about it if you're feeling down, do some gratitude or self-love exercises to create more positive feelings in your body, and just more positive self-love just in yourself, and in your heart, because if you tell yourself something you may start to believe it. That's pretty cool.
Dedeker: It could be, with the gratitude of self-love thing, or the generating positive feelings, it doesn't necessarily have to be self-love or just saying the good things to yourself. Even though that's very good. It could be just thinking of something that makes you feel good, or makes you feel unconditionally positive. Like a person, or an animal. Pets are great for that. It's just thinking about a pet that just generates positive emotions. The funny thing is like I've gotten some-- sometimes people will criticize this and be like, "This feels very fake, just to, in this fake way, make yourself feel good."
But, it's about as fake the way you make yourself feel bad, when you say negatives thoughts, too. All kind of in the same basket, there.
Emily: Definitely grab a pet because they're wonderful. That's what they're there for.
Dedeker: In that note, in conclusion, the best way to get over your cognitive bias is grab a pet.
Emily: Okay, well, that was awesome. Hope you learned something today.
Dedeker: Yes. Gosh. I feel like, yes, we are always like -- this is just scratching the surface of so many cognitive biases. If you want to find more, if you to really want to spend your afternoon questioning reality, just Google cognitive biases. Start reading and it will be great.
Emily: Yes. The greatest. Okay.