Why Does My Brain Deceive Me Sometimes?

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

Optical illusions

Do you sometimes get fascinated by what optical illusions can make you see?
Do you think they can't provide an accurate representation of your personality?

In fact, if you take the inkblot test, your perception of the shape that an inkblot takes can allow psychologists to determine your personality traits and emotional state.

How Do Our Brains Function?

In order to understand how this happens, you should know how our brains perceive things around us.

If you see a picture of man frowning, his mouth open and wagging his finger, you'll instantly conclude that he is angry and yelling. This is called fast thinking. It is subconscious, automatic, fast, and it doesn't require a lot of effort.

Most importantly, it relies on your emotional state, instincts and previous experience to make conclusions about the things you see or hear.

But if you see this mathematical problem: 21X28, your brain works in a different manner. Of course you instantly know that it's a multiplication problem and that you can solve it if you focus. But if you do try to solve it, your pupils will dilate, your muscles will tense and your heart-rate will increase.

This is called slow thinking and it is conscious. It depends on logic and reason and needs a lot of effort.

What Determines Our Perception And Reactions In Life?

Now what happens when your eyes see something that you want to analyze or when you are asked a question that you are supposed to answer?

Fast thinking tries to come up with an answer as quickly and easily as possible because its aim is to be beneficial to you in everyday life. But it does so only by finding connections and similarities between the things you perceive now and your emotional state, previous experiences and belief system.

Your subconscious mind creates a background and a context- that is not necessarily based on logic to anything that your brain takes in. If, for example, you are a person who has visited more banks than rivers in your life and you see the sentence "Mary approached the bank", you would most likely picture a woman going towards the place where she can withdraw money.

But if a person who has a passion for having boat-trips sees the same sentence, his brain would not find an association between bank and money, and he would rather quickly jump to the conclusion that Mary is riding a boat.

In the same way, if you hear a gunshot while you are depressed, you might think that someone committed suicide. But if you are a person who keeps worrying about being robbed and you hear a gunshot, you would probably think you are facing an armed burglary.

Previous experience and emotional states thus can make you have different reactions to the same thing and direct your thoughts in two unrelated directions.

How Not To Be Deceived By My Brain?

Your brain is quick to make conclusions from any available information so that your interactions in everyday life would go smoothly and fluently. That's why in trying to interpret different stimuli your mind subconsciously links them to things you have already felt or experienced before.

If every day activities like how to open a door or how to switch on the lights required slow thinking and lots of mental effort it would be impossible to accomplish or achieve anything.

However, we should know that our first impressions and quick answers sometimes deceive us and therefore we shouldn't trust or rely on them.

Your conscious system or slow thinking must make up for that by being aware that your initial interpretation of things can be faulty. Instead, you should look at facts and not believe your instincts or your intuition.

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Want to know more?

How Your Eyes Can Deceive You

How Your Beliefs and Concerns Affect Your perception

How Your Emotions Change Your Perception of The World

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