There are many biases that influence our way of seeing and processing the world. Be it visual, auditory illusions, social or other phenomena, our way of capturing the world is not free from manipulation.
But it is not only our way of receiving information from the outside world that can be biased, but also our way of retrieving information from our mind, our self-knowledge, our introspection.
The illusion of introspection is a psychological phenomenon studied by the sciences of free will, which basically means that we cannot even trust the mental states that we attribute to be behind our decisions.
What is the illusion of introspection?
The illusion of introspection is an expression coined by Emily Pronin which refers to the cognitive bias that makes people think, wrongly, that we have a direct vision of the origin of our mental states and of our present behavior . In other words, this illusion is the strong feeling we have when we believe that we can access the underlying processes of our mental states without any alteration, despite the fact that most mental processes are inaccessible to a purely conscious interpretation.
According to scholars of this phenomenon, the illusion of introspection makes people make complex explanations about our own behavior based on causal theories, that is, if we have behaved in a certain way, it is because we have thought in a certain way. concrete. We attribute a whole mental process that will result in a specific behavior, despite the fact that what actually happens between thought and behavior may be too complex to establish a clear and one-way cause-effect relationship.
This bias goes to show that people cannot even be sure of believing in what we think has led us to behave in a certain way. There have been many experiments that have suggested that our philosophical idea of "introspection", far from being a process that leads us to direct access to the thoughts, motives or decisions that lead us to carry out a behavior, is actually a process of construction and inference. People not only infer the thinking of others based on their behavior, but we infer our own as well .
One of the consequences of the illusion of introspection is to think that people are totally free to decide on our own behavior and that it is rationally founded. We infer our own mental states, believing that it is introspection and mistaking a mere inference made a posteriori as self-knowledge. In addition, we tend to think that others do get confused and that they tend to be more biased and more conformist.
Scientific investigation of this phenomenon
There are many investigations that have scientifically addressed the illusion of introspection. We could mention a whole list of experiments in which different components attributed to this bias have been addressed, such as precision factors, ignorance of error, choice blindness, blindness to change, changes in attitude, introspection focused on feelings ...
Among the most interesting investigations we can find the one carried out by Petter Johansson's group in 2005. This study has been very revealing when it comes to showing how biases even influence when it comes to attributing mental states to ourselves , conspiring and inferring mental processes that they have never actually occurred because, in the beginning, the final behavior was not planned.
Their main study consisted of a sample of 120 participants who were presented with two photographs with a different woman's face on each one. Participants were asked to choose one of these two photographs , the one that was most attractive to them or the one that suited them best. Some participants were asked to choose, but once they did, the researchers did a very interesting thing: they changed the photo. When the volunteer chose a photo, the researcher did a trick and showed him the other, keeping the chosen one.
After this, the participants were given time to think about why they had made their decision. Some were given only 2 seconds, others 5 and others were given a long time. The group that was given an indefinite time to think about their answer was the least aware of what their real choice had been, since only 27% of the participants with this condition noticed the change. The rest were convinced that they had chosen the photograph that the experimenter had actually chosen.
After this, the participants were asked to give their explanation of why they had "chosen" that photograph, asking them the reason for their preference. We could think that there should be significant differences between the participants who did not change their photograph and were not deceived and those who were, since this second group was asked to give an explanation of something that they had not really decided and Therefore, there should be no recollection that they had made that decision.
But the funny thing is that they did give an explanation, and very well founded . In his study Johansson analyzed the explanations of all the participants in terms of three dimensions: emotionality, specificity and certainty. Without going into too much detail about the experiment, it was seen that the subjects who had had the photograph changed and therefore had been manipulated gave explanations with the same confidence, degree of detail and emotionality as those who had not had the photo changed .
At the end of the experiment, the deceived participants were asked one last question, which was whether they believed that, if they participated in a study where the photograph they had chosen had been changed without notifying them, they would really notice the change. As surprising and even comical as it may seem, the vast majority (84%) said they firmly believed that they would easily detect change, even though they themselves had just been the victims of this deception.
The researchers themselves comment that this phenomenon is also connected to that of change blindness , and that it is closely related to a phenomenon that the authors of this study call choice blindness. The participants might have noticed the change in the first few seconds after the change, but as the minutes passed they became blind to the decision they had actually made, making the idea that they had actually chosen the right make more sense in their minds. photograph with which they were being deceived.
The experiment with the photographs was quite revealing, but it had the limitation that since what was taught in them were women's faces, it was possible to think that many participants thought they were the same or did not pay much attention to the details, with which perhaps some They did not notice the change. For this type, the same group of Johansson used another experiment in which another sensory pathway was involved: taste .
These same researchers went to a supermarket and set up a stand where they gave visitors two types of jams to try. Once his innocent experimental subject had chosen which jar he wanted to try, he was given a first sample, then a second, and finally asked to explain the reasons why he had preferred that particular jam.
However, there was a catch. In each jam jar there were two compartments with different jams whose flavors could be very different. Although the client saw that they gave him the second sample from the same jar that he had chosen, in reality what he was given was a different jam from the one he had tried first. Despite having different tastes, less than a third of the participants detected the change .
Introspection and confabulation
Seeing these two curious experiments, which go along the same lines as many more carried out in the field of cognitive sciences, we can affirm that the final result or behavior influences the way in which we give an explanation to its occurrence. That is, we attribute a mental processing that may not have occurred and we look more at what the end result is rather than remembering what really happened .
Collusion has been a cursed word in the history of psychology. Collusion is inventing stories, filling in the gaps in our memory, something traditionally associated as a symptom and strategy of people who suffer from some type of disease, disorder or syndrome that impairs the storage of memories, such as Korsakoff syndrome, various dementia or schizophrenia.
The scientific approach to the illusion of introspection, with the experiments of Johansson, Pronin and many other researchers, has come to show that conspiring is an act of a healthy mind and that it occurs when trying to recover mental states that we attribute as participants in decision-making and, consequently, our conduct. The participants in the two Johansson experiments are conspiring and healthy, inventing stories after the fact to explain decisions they have not actually made, making up memories despite not having memory problems.
But if we conspire to make sense of a decision that we have not made, do we also do it for those that we have made? That is, to what extent when we search in the depths of our mind for the explanation of why we have done something is introspection or remembering our decision-making and at what point does this become reality in the invention of memories, even of things what have happened? We may invent a posteriori explanation that will convince us, and once we have it, we stop trying to remember what really happened because that takes cognitive effort.
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