Sunday, February 05, 2012

Seeing is believing. However what you see isn't always what actually happens.

They say that "Seeing is believing," and it's a fundamental basis of a lot of science. Of course, "seeing" in a scientific sense doesn't always mean, "with your eyes," but can include doing statistical analysis on results, using objective measuring devices, using standard protocols, etc. Of course, we know (or ought to know) that the human eye isn't perfect, and that we can be tricked by having what we see manipulated by someone. Stage magic is a famous example of this perception manipulation.

However, according to new research from the University of Queensland (via MedicalXPpress), we learn that people's perceptions about their team's actions (see? a perfect topic for Super Bowl Sunday!) are unconsciously biased:
Lead researcher Dr Pascal Molenberghs said results showed the brain responded differently when people saw actions of their team members compared to the opposing side, but that this was not as simple as a bias in opinion.

“Our study found that people quickly identified with their group and that they consistently judged their own team's actions as being a fraction of a second faster than those of non-team members, when in reality the actions were identical,” Dr Molenberghs said.
Furthermore, this unconscious effect of biasing one's own team members' actions as better (or in this case faster) than the other team members' actions has serious repercussions on how one reacts to decisions made "against" one's own team:
“It's not simply that we decide to favour the actions of our team because we think they are the best. Rather, because we feel an affiliation with the team, our brain processes the actions of own team members more favourably.

“So next time you think an umpire has made an unfair call against your team, bear in mind that your team allegiance could be affecting the way your brain is processing what you saw.”
And this has further implications outside of sports:
“Our findings could help explain discrimination between all kinds of groups - including those of race, gender and nationality - because our study suggests that we see the actions of non-group members differently and what we see is what we believe.”
The evidence for this is known to exist: we see it every day when we point out hypocrisies that people hold about members of an "out group" compared to the actions of the "in group." Perhaps it's described as a parent being "blind" to the bad actions of the child. Research has shown, too, that many people (at least in the US) approach politics like sports: aligning with a team and having their team duke it out with the other team. This research shows that unconscious bias will play a role in the interpretation of actions of those who aren't on "your team" or aren't supporters of "your team."

Finally, remember, just because you believe that your team did something right and that the umpire's/referee's call against your team is wrong, your mind might be tricking your thoughts to see what you want to see. (Hopefully, though, the Superbowl - and other sporting events - doesn't fall to bad calls.)

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