If you assume that human beings are fundamentally logical creatures, this can seem like an impossible question to answer. But when it comes to decisions around emotionally charged topics, logic often takes a back seat to what are called cognitive biases — essentially a set of unconscious mechanisms that convince us that it is our feelings about a situation and not the facts that represent the truth.
The origins of many of these traits can be traced back to the primitive conditions in which they were selected for millennia ago. Take pattern recognition, which evolutionary biologists like to explain through fables about our ancestors: Imagine a primitive hunter-gatherer. Now imagine he sees a flicker of movement on the horizon, or hears a rustle at his feet. Maybe it was nothing — or maybe it was a lion out hunting for dinner or a snake slithering through the grass. In each of those examples, the negative repercussions of not taking an actual threat seriously will likely result in death — and the end of that particular individual’s genetic line. On the other hand, the repercussions of bolting from what turns out to be the shadow of a swaying tree or the sound of a gentle breeze will likely be nothing worse than a little extra exercise.
Unfortunately, a byproduct of that protective instinct is a tendency to connect the dots even when there are no underlying shapes to be drawn, and when our yearning to feel in control and our ability to recognize randomness are in conflict, the urge to feel in control almost always wins. This helps explain why it can be so difficult to demonstrate to someone that their initial read on a situation — their instinct, their gut reaction, their feeling — is, in fact, wrong. They also show why two reasonable, intelligent people who disagree can be equally certain that the evidence supports their understanding of the “facts.”
Partnerships for R/GA Ventures. Raised in California, adopted by Texas. Opinions expressed here are mine and they are fantastic.