Friday, November 4, 2011

How We Justify Choice

Copyright SEGA

We rationalize.  Say, a man stole something.  His conscience will haunt him, but he will try to counter it with a rationalization.  Moreover for smaller things.  Say, you’re on a diet.  You see a piece of cake.  If you are inclined to eat it, your mind will come up with all sorts of rationalizations to explain why you can make an exception.

In the same way, we rationalize when we find ourselves in bad situations we can’t get out of.  The human mind defends itself in this way.  When you can’t fight against it, why bother?  You’ll fight only if you believe that you have a way out (incidentally, if there is a way out, you’ll want the better situation even more, making you fight harder for it).

If you take an example, divorce rates.  In the early 1900s, I’d bet there wasn’t even close to the amount of divorces as there is now.  (7% in 1900 and 50% in 1998)  Why?  Because divorce was not much of an option back then.  But more than that, how many old couples are unhappy in their marriages?  I can’t get statistics about that, but I’d wager it isn’t much.  Young couples?  Plenty.  Why?  Because they now have a way out.

There was a study done (can’t find it now) where people were given a choice of painting they could take home.  To one group was said that they could exchange their paintings the following week if they wanted to, while the other was told that their choice was final.  The next week, both groups were told that they could exchange their paintings.  The second group that had believed their choice was final ended up exchanging less than the first group.

When you made your choice and know there is no way out, your mind will rationalize that it was the best pick anyway.

Another example is the phrase, “Fake it ‘til you make it”.  If you pretend to be something, you will eventually become it.  Why?  You guessed it, you rationalize.  If you pretend to be an accountant for two years with no specific purpose, your mind will be asking, “Why am I doing all this if I don’t like it?”  Not wanting to look stupid, it then concludes that you do like it.  Unless you have a very strong dislike for it or another reason as to why you’re pretending that can be used to rationalize, you will begin to like it.

And finally, an example from Abe Lincoln.  Apparently, he had an enemy at one point who he wanted to make a friend (who needs more enemies, I suppose).  To do that, he called up the man and asked him a favour (to borrow a book, I think).  The man was so flattered that he lent Lincoln the book.  His mind was whirring in the “Why did I do a favour for Lincoln if he’s my enemy?” area, and concluded that Lincoln is his friend and so started a long and bountiful friendship.

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