You and I certainly think what we know is true for much of what pops into our minds. But do we check our facts? I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that millions, possibly even billions, of people seldom check their facts.
The citizens of the US, who wanted to believe the government, ignored journalists and experts who did their research and knew their facts. Why? Because the journalists and experts were not saying what they wanted to hear.
Let’s look at Ebbinghaus’s Illusion in the header image, which circle is bigger do you think?
The centre-circle with the small petal-like circles looks much bigger than the other which has big petals. Your brain tells you the little circle with the big petals is bigger than the one with the little petals, right? We are not seeing what is real.
Turns out both circles are the same size. Turns out our minds don’t think in terms of what’s absolute or universally valid or even real!
We can only make decisions based on relative information or what we know. When we look at something, we compare it to what we know (a relative reference point), not what is actually true.
Think of the petals as the reference points we see. The petals look big, the circle must big. The petals are small, the circle must be small. The petals create an illusion that we believe to be true.
Reference points and how they may affect your life
Judging the quality of your life by the reference point of a celebrity is, firstly, irrelevant. Comparing yourself to your peers on social media to feel superior or for fear of missing out (FOMO) and feeling inferior is, equally, irrelevant. Even though it may feel super relevant at the time.
Secondly, social comparison is a millennial habit but, like smoking, it is really bad for you. Comparing yourself is going to make you feel depressed or smug because you think you’re worse or better off than someone. Our reference points can be deceptive and dangerous to our health.
We judge what happens in our lives, good or bad, by irrelevant reference points. ~Karen Madej
To give you some more examples of how other people think and the reference points they use, we’re going to look a little deeper into the measuring sticks some Olympic athletes used after finishing a race.
Reference point 1
Michael Phelps is the most decorated Olympian in history. The photo in the link was taken at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. He looks happy.
Now take a look at Laszlo Cseh to the right of Michael Phelps on the medal podium. From the absolute position, the silver medal winner should be pretty happy, wouldn’t you agree? But he got silver so maybe he’s not as happy as Michael. In the photo, he’s looking as though smiling is difficult for him.
So the bronze winner, he’s got to be really unhappy, hasn’t he? Ryan Lochte’s smile is more radiant than Michael’s! What’s going on here?
Reference point two
Victoria Medvec and her colleagues claimed that each swimmer had a different reference point at the most conspicuous moment. Laszlo was a second, one second from gold, so he’s probably kicking himself and it’s showing on his face. Lochte’s joy is from having made it onto the podium; he could so easily have missed his chance.
The Medvec et al study was based on photos and the analysis of the video footage of the Olympic winners. Independent people viewed the medal winners when they knew their position and when they were on the winner’s podium.
The results showed the most joy was when the silver and bronze winners first found out their position, but there was a lower happiness rating by the time the athletes reached the podium. In both instances, the silver winners are a lot less happy than the bronze.
When you think you should have won gold but had to make do with silver, you’re beating yourself up with disappointment. But when you think you might not even have won a medal and you got the bronze, your joy is much greater than the silver medal winner.
We’re not all Olympian level athletes though, so our reference points are going to be very different.
Most situations in real life will, of course, present situations which are a mixture of opinion and ability evaluation. ~ Leon Festinger 1956
What we can see or have seen sways our decision-making process. Please bear this in mind when you are comparing yourself to someone inappropriate.
If you are young and just starting out, you could do a lot worse than seeking the opinion of people who you respect and admire. Being part of your life and having experienced life, they may have some valid points to share before you make an important life-decision.
Now you know to avoid being misled by multimedia lies you can check your facts. Save yourself a lot of time and disappointment.
You can use FactCheck, Philadelphia, PA; they check the facts on everything important.