“Facts Plain to Any Dispassionate Eye”

Funny how these things work: In a rant Friday morning, I wrote:

“Regular readers know that I despise political parties, believe partisans suffer brain damage — literally, they have the same cognitive deficits that ardent sports fans suffer. I have trashed both Bush and Obama, but moved to a bullish posture when despite either’s incompetence, they accidentally did something that caused a bullish set of factors to predominate.”

Later that same day, an emailer pointed me to an article at Smart Money looking at a similar phenomenon: Do our cognitive errors affect even our most fundamental perceptions of reality?

A new study in the journal Psychological Science offers compelling evidence that the answer is yes:

“In their paper, “Wishful Seeing,” Emily Balcetis of New York University and David Dunning of Cornell report the results of their research showing that people are not only biased in their reasoning but are actually biased in their visual perception — literally, how they see the world.

In a clever series of experiments, Balcetis and Dunning show that people reliably misperceive how far away an object is based on how much they desire it. That is, more desirable objects appear closer. In one study, the researchers had people sit across the table from a full bottle of water and then had them either eat pretzels or drink water from an eight-ounce glass. After being shown a one-inch line as a reference, the participants were then asked to estimate how many inches separated them from the bottle of water. Consistently, the thirsty participants perceived the water bottle as being closer than did the quenched participants.”

Fascinating stuff.

And it is more proof as to why you don’t want to become infected with bad ideas, poor analysis or bias from various quarters.

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Sources:
Do You See What I See?
Ryan Sager
SmartMoney.com, January 22, 2010
http://www.smartmoney.com/investing/economy/do-you-see-what-i-see/

Wishful Seeing: More Desired Objects Are Seen as Closer
Emily Balcetis and David Dunning
Psychological Science, 17 December 2009
http://pss.sagepub.com/content/early/2009/12/16/0956797609356283
(DOI: 10.1177/0956797609356283)

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