Applying Knowledge and Not Understanding Ourselves

One of my favourite reads–the British Psychological Society’s (BPS) Research Digest–has recently published its 150th issue. To observe this occasion, Digest has asked what twenty-three psychologists still don’t understand about themselves.

I’ve mentioned a number of the featured psychologists here on Lone Gunman before,  including Robert Cialdini, Alison Gopnik and Richard Wiseman.

As Vaughan notes, many of those contributing to the article “bemoan their inability to apply their research findings to their own life”. An example of this, that I’m sure many of us can relate to, comes from David Buss: the inability to ‘override’ our well-known biases (related: the bias blind spot).

One nagging thing that I still don’t understand about myself is why I often succumb to well-documented psychological biases, even though I’m acutely aware of these biases. One example is my failure at affective forecasting, such as believing that I will be happy for a long time after some accomplishment (e.g. publishing a new book), when in fact the happiness dissipates more quickly than anticipated. Another is succumbing to the male sexual overperception bias, misperceiving a woman’s friendliness as sexual interest. A third is undue optimism about how quickly I can complete work projects, despite many years of experience in underestimating the time actually required. One would think that explicit knowledge of these well-documented psychological biases and years of experience with them would allow a person to cognitively override the biases. But they don’t.

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