What you see is all there is

‘Will Mindik be a good leader?

She is intelligent and strong….’


An instinctive answer probably came to mind – ‘Yes!’


But consider the difference between how easy it was to come to that conclusion and how much you know about Mindik. What if the next two adjectives to describe her are ‘corrupt’ and ‘cruel’?


‘Will Mindik be a good leader? She is intelligent and strong, corrupt and cruel’


Doesn't sound so clear-cut right? When you were given the first statement, your mind jumped to a quick, clear conclusion before any thoughts of needing more information. Because the thing is, we love to create stories with nothing but the information right in front of us.


Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning Behavioural Economist, calls this cognitive process 'What You See Is All There Is'. It's powerful because it's the way our minds make sense of a complex world. It's so powerful, in fact, that even if you tell people that you're giving them a biased, one-sided account of a situation they're otherwise unfamiliar with, they will still allow this to affect their judgement. We just can't help it.

Now apply this idea to the carefully controlled fragments of information that other people post online about their lives. You can see how all of us will be busy creating a very convincing story about how fabulous everyone else’s lives are compared to ours - even when we know that we're only getting one side of the story!


It doesn’t matter how often we remind ourselves that they are unlikely to post something about how bad their diarrhoea was this morning, or how they woke up in a cold sweat last night, terrified that no one likes them. It doesn't matter that we know we're given a steady stream of the accumulated highlights of everyone’s life, our mind is too powerfully attuned to creating stories just from the information right in front of us, right now.


So it's not hard to see how this could lead to depressing feelings about the state of our own lives compared to others’. In fact, a recent study which monitored the Facebook activity of 5,208 participants over three years found that the people using the site most reported the lowest levels of mental health.


References:

  • Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking, Fast and Slow. s.l. : Penguin Random House, 2011.

  • Association of Facebook Use with Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study. Holly, Shakya and Nicholas, Christakis. 3, s.l. : American Journal of Epidemiology, 2017, Vol. 185.