Seeing what we want to see

Just a few evenings ago I was at a meeting where I was picking out prospects to contact for a fundraising campaign.  I overheard two people talking a few feet away about an author and I thought I heard one of them use the word “Auburn” in the conversation.  I turned my attention to ask them if that is what they said, and they replied that I had somehow misheard their discussion.

Last week my wife bought a new book by the author Ace Atkins, a graduate of Auburn University.

Coincidence?  I think not.

Priming and Recency are two characteristics that author and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman talks about in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow“.  Let me give a brief description of each:

Priming occurs like this:

You see a photo of a dirty child and then someone flashes the following in front of you:  SO_P

When I see that group of letters, the two most obvious words for me are soup or soap.   Seeing the dirty photo just before “primes” our brain to consider soap first.

Recency works like the description I started this post with.  Hearing or seeing something aligns our brain into seeing or noticing this more often.  When I have something on my mind, I have the tendency to see examples or relationships of this all around me.  The media uses this strategy often when they repeat something often enough that we start to agree or believe this, even if the information is blatantly false.

Our brains often take us where we don’t want to go and we need to be more aware of how we are being hijacked.  Knowing more about neuroscience and how it affects decision making is one way to become more astute and alert to these phenomena.

Reading more about these issues also helps.  Work by Gary Klein such as “Streetlights and Shadows” will also give you greater glimpses into how our decisions are made and altered without our awareness.

A mind is a great and dangerous thing.  Learn how yours functions in order to be more effective.