Our minds are immensely complex and dynamic systems that, as we grow up, create beliefs, absorbs information, and through it we make decisions all the time. But the extent to which outside influences have an impact on our thinking may surprise you. While many of us tend to believe that we have absolute control of everything that impacts our minds, the fact is that we are continuously bombarded with outside factors that contribute to our way of thinking. You see, the human psyche is continually influenced by a wide range of factors, including peer pressure, advertising, and even our own biases. Today, as kick off the week, I want to examine the various ways in which our brains are influenced and show how being aware of these processes can help us make better decisions and create a stronger mindset.
The Power Of Persuasion
The art of persuasion is one of the most important ways our brains are impacted. We are continuously subjected to attempts to alter our beliefs and habits, from the catchy jingles on TV commercials to the compelling rhetoric of a captivating speaker. The first and most prominent area relates to advertising.
Advertising: A Billion-Dollar Science
Think back to your most recent shopping trip for a moment. How often did commercials affect your purchases? The fact that businesses spend billions on advertising annually is not a coincidence. They use psychological strategies to influence our preferences, including the use of color psychology to arouse feelings or the use of familiar characters to foster trust.
For instance, since red and yellow can pique desire, fast-food goliaths frequently use these hues in their branding. Using memorable mascots, jingles, and slogans, brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have created strong emotional bonds with their customers.
Social Proof: The Bandwagon Effect
The idea of social proof is a further potent persuasion technique. This is the propensity for people to do as the majority does. Consider the last time you chose to dine somewhere new because there was a line out the door, or it had hundreds of ratings with at least 4.5 stars on Google. You probably reasoned, “If there are so many people here (or ratings), it must be good!” The motivation behind that choice was social proof.
The laugh track used in TV shows (especially in the 90’s and 2000’s) is a well-known illustration of social evidence. Even if a joke isn’t amusing, the mock audience’s laughter might make it look funny. This is an excellent illustration of how outside factors can affect how we think and behave.
The Art Of Subtle Peer Pressure
Although we frequently identify peer pressure with our adolescent years, its consequences last throughout our lives. It’s not just about giving in to pressure; it’s also about the unintentional ways that people around us affect us.
The 1950s Asch Conformity Experiments provids evidence of the strong pull of conformity. Participants in these experiments were required to select which of three lines matched a reference line. Despite the fact that the right response was evident, several participants chose the wrong line when confronted with a group of people who were purposefully offering incorrect answers. This demonstrates how people tend to follow social standards even when they are obviously flawed. Think about the last years and everything that happened around the world. My question to you – do you recall a time when you made a restaurant or clothing choice to blend in with your friends? That is conformity at work. It is a type of social influence that is incredibly convincing even when it is subtle.
While conformity can support social cohesion, it can also contribute to the phenomenon known as group think, where a group’s quest for consensus leads to unwise actions. The 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger accident is a prime illustration. Because of peer pressure and an organizational culture that discouraged dissent, NASA engineers were aware of potential problems with the O-rings in cold weather but kept their worries to themselves. This terrible incident serves as a warning about the risks of unrestrained conformity.
We can make more independent decisions while still appreciating the advantages of cooperation and group participation by comprehending the mechanics of peer pressure.
The Cognitive Biases That We All Have
Our own prejudices as well as outside influences have an impact on our thoughts. These cognitive biases may influence the decisions we make, causing us to deviate from rational or impartial choices.
Searching for, interpreting, and remembering information in a way that supports our previous opinions is known as confirmation bias. This may cause us to confirm our preconceived notions and steer clear of information that is conflicting. Take a political dispute as an example, where each side interprets the same facts differently to support their respective positions. Confirmation bias is evident in this. By being conscious of this prejudice, we can actively look for different viewpoints and data that contradict our preconceptions.
The use of the first item of information considered while making judgments is known as “anchoring bias.” In a negotiation, for instance, the initial asking price may have a big impact on the final price that is reached. We can deliberately take into account several reference points and avoid being disproportionately influenced by the first one met by realizing this bias.
Those are in my opinion the 3 main areas that affect our thinking, the way we look at things, the way we make choices, how we see the world, and so much more. Persuasion, peer pressure and our biases are the three areas that we need to become more consciously aware of, however, there is one thing that my wife and I talk frequently about and how it is destroying the fabrics of our society and that is the entire digital age and information overload (disinformation and misinformation put aside, because that is a bunch of bull shit politicians use these days – I will cover that soon). You see, our thoughts are exposed to an incredible amount of information in the digital age. Particularly social media has transformed how we consume and interact with content, but it has also sparked questions about the caliber and reliability of the information we come across.
Algorithms are used by social media sites like Facebook and X, to filter information based on your prior interactions. As a result, you can find yourself in content-rich echo chambers where you’re only exposed to ideas that support your current worldview. As you are less likely to come across opposing perspectives, this might further promote confirmation bias. Imagine seeing posts on social media that only serve to reinforce your political, cultural, or intellectual viewpoints. It’s critical to actively seek out a variety of information sources in the current digital world and to be aware of the possible influence of these echo chambers. I meet many people who are in this trap and because digital does this so well, we do not even recognize it anymore. Our filters are broken and overloaded which is my next point.
Filter bubbles are produced by search engines like Google when they personalize search results based on previous queries. This essentially means that two people searching for the same subject could get very different results. As a result, these algorithms may greatly bias our perceptions of what is happening in the globe. The first step to escaping filter bubbles is becoming aware of them. Make a conscious effort to find other viewpoints and sources to provide a more rounded understanding of the world without shrugging them off immediately because they do not fulfill one of the three areas I listed above.
I only touched the tip of the iceberg here, but keep this some thought. For now, I don’t think we need to dive in deeper, however be honest with yourself and how you come across information, saok it in and process it. Are you open across the spectrum of information? Do you shrug off things that immediately are “off” to you without even considering it, going through it, researching or interacting with it to come to a better conclusion?
Strategies For Navigating Influence
Making better decisions and reducing the influence of outside factors begins with understanding how our thoughts are influenced. Here are some of my tips to assist you in maneuvering this complicated environment of influence.
Build Your Critical Thinking Abilities
Objective, logical analysis and evaluation of information are key components of critical thinking. It involves raising queries, looking for supporting data, and taking into account other points of view. By developing your critical thinking abilities, you can become more resistant to cognitive biases and persuasive strategies.
Media Literacy Is Important
Media literacy is an important skill in the digital age. It requires the capacity to critically assess, evaluate, and comprehend media content. Before accepting something as true, make sure it is factually correct, fact-check it (not through fact checking sites because these are also biased), and consider the reliability of the sources.
Awareness Of Oneself And Mindfulness
It’s crucial to comprehend your personal prejudices and how they affect your thinking. You can increase your awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and actions by engaging in mindfulness practices. Your increased self-awareness will enable you to make more thoughtful selections.
Seek For Different Viewpoints
And ultimately, one that I find extremely important is, just like stepping outside your comfort zone, is to actively expose oneself to various points of view and information sources. Talk respectfully with others who have different viewpoints. Read things you normally wouldn’t. By doing so, you can confront your own biases and extend your perspective.
Our complex minds are continually influenced by outside forces, including advertising, peer pressure, and cognitive biases. The abundance of information in the digital age makes it more difficult for us to understand the world. We can, however, better traverse this complex web of influence if we are knowledgeable and attentive. Making better decisions requires an understanding of the psychology of persuasion, the complexities of peer pressure, and our own cognitive biases. In the digital era, it’s crucial to avoid echo chambers and filter bubbles, actively seek out different viewpoints, and develop our critical thinking abilities. It takes all of us to be active in our own little world with our own little world views to, despite our differences, come together and humanly work through topics, situations and differences.
Make it happen.
- Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Harper Business.
- Zimbardo, P. G. (2007). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Random House.
- Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Science, 185(4157), 1124-1131.
- Sunstein, C. R. (2017). #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. Princeton University Press.
- Stanovich, K. E. (2017). The Bias That Divides Us: The Science and Politics of Myside Thinking. University of Chicago Press.