You See What You Believe: How Thoughts, Beliefs, Emotions, and Desires Determine Your Perception

You’ve probably heard yourself or others saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it!”

I’ve said the same thing on numerous occasions, but research over the past 50 years is coming to the conclusion that we actually see what we believe.

Our beliefs, motivations, emotions, and desires affect how we interpret and perceive the world around us.

You can’t always trust your 5 senses, in other words, in telling you the full story of what’s going on.

In the article, Why We See What We Want to See: The neuropsychology of motivated perception, Dr. Marianna Pogosyan, discusses why our perception of reality is often biased, selective, and malleable.

Recent research published in Nature Human Behavior describes how our motivations and desires influence your perception in two ways:

  1. Perceptual bias: whereby your motivations have a top-down influence on your perceptions, and
  2. Response bias: seeing what you wish to see.

Part of the reason is what psychologists refer to as our ‘Attention Filter’. Our brain can only process a certain amount of information at a time, about 120-150 bits per second.

When you consider a conversation with someone else uses 60 bits per second of brain processing power, that doesn’t leave a lot left to process everything else that’s going on around us.

As Marianna Pogosyan says,

“Our desires and goals have an undisputable influence on our lives. As research is demonstrating, these influences taint not only our cognition, emotions, and behavior, but also—quite literally—how we see the world.”

The benefits of understanding this are two-fold:

  1. You can take steps to counter your own innate bias towards perception.
  2. You can empathise with others, knowing that others see the world differently than you because of their own biases, emotions and desires.

And that’s okay.

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