Snap Judgments of the Positive Kind

By June 6, 2011 culture No Comments

Our brains aren’t comfortable with incomplete information. But in our imperfect world, perfect information is rare. So our brains compensate by filling in the missing pieces with whatever would be most likely.

Herman Grid Illusion

Simple optical illusions demonstrate how our brains fill in missing lines and even add dots to make sense of what the eye is taking in. Take the Herman grid illusion1, included here. Do you see the gray dots in the grid? That’s your brain trying to make sense of what the eye is seeing. The dots are not really there. Your brain has added them.

Weird, huh?

Even more strange, my brain does this in regard to people. I see their actions (or inactions), and it’s as if none of it makes sense to my brain so it fills in the equivalent of the gray dots to makes sense of it all. With only imperfect information about the intentions of others, my brain fills the information gaps so I have a complete picture. But the picture I paint of the intentions of those around me can be rather negative, especially when people are not behaving in ways I understand.

For example, when someone is a bit gruff or is delayed on a project, I can assign rather negative judgments to the actions. Although I do not know the details, my brain fills in what’s missing.

It’s sort of sad that my snap judgments so rarely come in the positive form.

This week’s reading in Guy Kawasaki’s Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions for the High Calling Blogs book club included a small section about this very thing. Kawasaki says:

“Judge yourself by what you’ve accomplished and others by what they intended. This means you are harsher on yourself than others and embrace an understanding attitude like ‘at least his intentions were good.’ ”2

In our results-oriented society, Kawasaki’s words sound off-kilter. Now, he does advise that repeated poor performance should be dealt with appropriately. But that’s not the same as our everyday snap judgments. Too often we assign meaning to the actions of others, and it is rarely slanted to the positive.

If our brains crave perfect information, and we are likely to fill the gaps with a negative judgment, then we can be mindful to keep our snap judgments in check. It may be that the negative perception I have of someone’s action (or inaction) is merely an illusion.

Read other Enchantment posts from this week here.

1. Herman Grid Illusion,
2. Guy Kawasaki, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2011), 153.

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