We are intelligent beings, and we tend to make smart choices, do smart things… up to the point where our brains start playing tricks on us. After all, it seems that we may not be as intelligent as we like to think we are.
If you look at it from another perspective, people tend to do a lot of dumb things. We tend to be irrational, led by superficial appearances and wild guesses or biased presumptions. And if you ask psychologists, it’s not really our fault.
Here are 5 brilliant experiments that explain why we do dumb or irrational things, without even knowing it.
1. Conforming to the Norm
The word ‘normal’ comes from the word ‘norm.’ So, it’s safe to assume that people who try to be ‘normal’ would conform to the norm, no matter how much they at first disagree with it.
This is what social psychologist Asch has discovered to be true for most people who would go against their judgment in order to conform with the false judgment of the group. In other words, we tend to accept that 2+2=5 if most people say it to be.
So, we find ourselves wearing the clothes that are this season’s fashion trend, and even if we didn’t like the style just two months ago, it seems more acceptable to us now that everybody’s wearing it.
The examples can go on endlessly, with us always succumbing to the peer pressure of the group we associate ourselves with – either because we start believing that their choice is the right choice, or because we feel uncomfortable to stand out of the crowd.
2. The False Consensus Effect
We tend to see ourselves as being good at judging other people’s characters. Starting from ourselves, we tend to think that our values, preferences, habits, and beliefs are normal and typical, or that others tend to think the same way as we do in most respects.
However, this is often far from the truth. The idea that there is some kind of unwritten consensus is what has been dubbed by psychologists as the False Consensus Effect or Bias. It is a result of our wish to conform and be liked by others.
It has been found that people tend to think that their beliefs are prevalent among the rest and that there is clearly something wrong with those who don’t conform to these beliefs.
So, whenever your opinion is supported by the group you associate yourself with, you will start believing that this opinion is something most people would adhere to, or in any case.
There have been several experiments explaining the same situation: people tend to perceive their opinions as the opinion of the majority and dissociate themselves from those who disagree.
3. The Halo Effect
Keats once wrote “beauty is truth” and many will agree. When we see someone as beautiful, we immediately attribute to them a lot of the positive characteristics a person can have. We see beautiful people as intelligent, trustworthy, warm, friendly, you name it.
The effect your ‘global evaluation’ of a person has on your interpretation of their individual characteristics is known as the Halo effect and was first studied by psychologist Richard Nisbett in the 70s.
If you meet someone who seems likable or interesting, your mind will start associating that person with all the positive traits that he or she can possess. However, the opposite is true when you meet a person who doesn’t seem to be leaning toward the positive characteristics so much at first impression.
But is this always the case? Of course not. However, we tend to stick to the first impression of a person and we tend to base our further evaluations on that general evaluation. No matter how they turn out to be later, your judgment of that person will be based on your first impression.
4. Cognitive Dissonance
We all try to function on the basis of our values, feelings, and beliefs. In fact, they motivate us to do the right thing. However, sometimes our decisions are based on things that conflict these prior beliefs.
Whenever we get to such scenario, Dr. Leon Festinger explains that we create a cognitive dissonance, a tension between what we think and what we do. Whenever this tension becomes too big to ignore, we try to reduce the dissonance between how we think we should act and how we actually act, by changing the first or the latter.
In other words, whenever you are forced to do something which is conflicting your beliefs and values, and you do not receive a proper incentive for it, your mind starts perceiving the activity as more acceptable – you change your beliefs in favor of reducing the dissonance.
We tend to lie to ourselves best when it comes to trying to do what we perceive in our minds as the ‘wrong’ thing. This way, we convince ourselves to do it and we start perceiving it actually better than we previously had.
5. The Bystander Effect
Perhaps one of the creepiest things we tend to do is stand and do nothing when someone’s in trouble when surrounded by people. This has been the case in many situations, with even news stories covering tragic events where nobody did nothing to help.
So, why do we freeze when someone’s in trouble when we know we should help? Psychologists call this the Bystander Effect, where, in cases where you see someone in trouble, you don’t do anything if you are surrounded by more people.
Several experiments have shown that people would react instantly when they are alone with a person in trouble. However, when there are more people, the responsibility the individual would feel is dispersed among the crowd and everybody waits for somebody else to do something until it’s too late.