The human mind is truly amazing. Not only because she is able to create and learn, but also because of the amount of ways she can deceive herself. We are more imagination and emotion… than reason. In part, this allows us to include various cognitive distortions in our mental processes. Distortions that are often conditioned by those who have, or want to have, the power on their side.
Thinking rationally requires effort, preparation and the availability of reliable sources of information. People tend to be guided more by their own likes, tastes, fears, etc. Many times we do not question an idea, especially if it is consistent with what we already thought, but we approve or disapprove of it because we “feel” that it is better this way. This is a clear example of how cognitive distortions work .
During political elections, and even in the exercise of power , many use these cognitive distortions to manipulate people’s opinion. They make believe that something that is only good for a minority is good for everyone. Or viceversa. Let’s look at 5 of these control mechanisms.
Cognitive distortions used by those in power
1. Distortion of karma
It is one of the most destructive cognitive distortions because it leads to great injustices. It consists of an erroneous and simplistic interpretation of the principle of action and reaction. It is thought that something cannot happen to a person if he has not taken any action to make it happen.
In this way, one comes to think that whoever finds himself in a bad situation, is there because he deserves it. The poor are guilty of their poverty, the victim of aggression, the sick person of their pain, etc. Although there is no data to confirm this, in a biased way there is a tendency to believe that “there is something” behind each person who finds himself in a bad situation. This distortion is favored because it gives us the feeling of living in a more controllable world, in which we can always do something to not end up like them. In other words, it is fed by an intrinsic reinforcement that tends to make it perpetuate.
2. Distortion of confirmation
Confirmation distortion consists in giving credit only to those data that confirm our already established beliefs. In this case the source of these data is not evaluated, nor are they compared with others that are different. Simply, more or less blind adherence is practiced. This distortion is also fueled by an intrinsic reinforcement: it favors, at least at first glance, our cognitive economy.
This applies in particular to the choice of a political party or religion. Generally speaking, these beliefs are inherited and are no longer challenged. No other positions or opinions are known, but it is assumed that the belief that belongs to us is the true one. For this reason, only the data that ratify it are considered valid.
3. Framing effect
It is one of the cognitive distortions directly related to the mass media. It is about the tendency to draw different conclusions depending on how we access information or how it is presented to us.
A classic example is: “More than 30% disagree with Carlo”. Instead of saying that around 70% of people share Carlo’s ideas, we focus on disagreement. In this way, it is given a more negative than positive connotation.
4. Illusory correlation
The illusory correlation is the tendency to establish links between two variables, even if objectively such an association does not exist. Two realities are associated starting from not very valid elements. In principle, one tries to justify a situation or to construct an illusion of truth.
A very frequent example of this distortion occurs when structural events are associated with precise facts that have no relation to the former. For example, to say that prosperity began when government “x” came to power, without taking into account that an oil field was discovered in the country during that time. The source of progress is not government, but the discovery of the mineral, and the reverse can also happen.
5. Sunk cost
This too is part of the most harmful cognitive distortions, because it is the basis of intolerance. We cling to ideas as if they were part of ourselves.
For this reason we take it for granted that changing your opinion has a very high cost. On the one hand, it implies stripping ourselves of something that we consider “ours”, we see it as a loss. On the other hand, it implies a great effort: destroying ideas and understanding new ways of seeing things presupposes a fascinating exercise, but on many occasions also arduous.
It is very important to know these cognitive distortions in order to identify them and regulate their influence on our flow of thoughts. And the best way to do this is to get well informed. This means seeking reliable and neutral sources and also analyzing and properly digesting everything that emerges from interested sources. In particular from the figures of power.