We cover the challenges of deluded thinking a lot here at Ergonomics in Design. Part of the reason is that I am fascinated by the psychological processes that lead to deluded thinking. Humans are remarkably capable at coming to the conclusions that we prefer rather than the ones that might be normatively optimal (whatever that means).
The other reason of course is that as human factors practitioners we need to be aware of when deluded thinking can impact performance. Deluded thinking is not always harmless. It can impact our health, our work performance, or lead to unsafe and potentially fatally conditions.
Here is a good example that I suspect will resonate with you. As you might expect, many people “airbrush” what they post on social media such as Facebook. Because of how public our posts are, it is only natural to put our best foot forward. We filter what life events we post to pick out the best. And then we avoid posting the events that we feel bad about, such as staying home alone on a Saturday night or failing at a task at work. Even with the filtered events, we embellish them to make them even better. Just small changes, otherwise we might feel bad about it. But we can maintain our self-image as an honest person by keeping the embellishments small, just like we know everyone else is also doing.
What makes it more interesting is that we start believing our own deceptions. The process of reconsolidation describes how recalling a memory from long-term storage can easily change some of its details. When the hippocampus re-encodes the memory and “puts it back” into long-term storage, it becomes a blend of the original memory and our current state.
The effect on social media is larger than when it occurs naturally. When we recall past events naturally, there is a rich visual image in our minds that maintains a great deal of its fidelity. But when we are reading words on a screen, even when they are our own, it is easier for falsehoods to become part of the blended image that we recreate in our minds. And then every time someone comments on our post, we read it again, reinforcing the embellished version that gets re-encoded.
OK, so now it is admission time. Do you embellish your social media posts? Is it just a vague suspicion of your own tendency? Or do you have a devious plan to take over the world (sorry for the old Pinky and the Brain reference there)?
And from a human factors perspective, what consequences do you foresee from this trend? On one hand, it could just be a mechanism for us all to lead happier lives by improving our reminiscence. But there are plenty of contexts where false positiveness could be harmful. Near misses become great happy hour stories when they could be opportunities for safety investigation and improvement.
Image credit: Eric McGregor