If you had to choose the most relatable subject ever, it would have to be Psychology, since it is literally the study of the human behavior – your behavior. So it’s no wonder that things you do instinctively or unknowingly in daily life– often things that don’t entirely make a lot of sense on the surface- surprise you when they appear as actual psychological phenomena that other people also go through. Get ready to exclaim “Hey, I do that too!” at every point of this article, because we’re about to take you through five mental processes your mind goes through in matters of everyday life.
You probably knew of this word and used it even before Olivia Rodrigo’s song was released, because that’s just how common a phenomenon it is. When you’re in a completely new place or situation, sometimes you feel as though you’ve been there before, even in the face of solid evidence that you haven’t. As eerie as this may seem, it is not merely a random glitch in our brain. There’s a chance that in order to feel some familiarity in an unknown situation, our mind picks out clues from the situation that we might already know of, and tries to connect a past memory with the present. Scientists are still trying to figure out how it occurs in healthy individuals, but it is fairly common.
The Bystander Effect
Perhaps showing a more negative and sadder side of human behavior, the bystander effect refers to a phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a stranger in distress or emergency. Think about it- how many times have you traversed a busy street and found someone facing, say, a minor accident, and while a part of you wanted to help, the other part said “there are others present. They can help too.” On the other hand, if you’re the only one around, you’ll feel a sense of responsibility to at least help as much as you can, even if you’re not going out of your way. Researchers Bibb Latané and John Darley have done extensive research on this topic and it’s pretty interesting to read if you want to understand how something like this occurs in real life no matter how much we might try to deny it if questioned.
The Pratfall Effect
I’ll say it as many times as I need to – absolute perfection is seriously overrated. I have great admiration for people who manage it, but honestly, who wants to be around someone who does everything right and unknowingly gives us an inferiority complex? If you agree, then you have experienced the widespread Pratfall effect. Why is it that we love to see bloopers of our favorite actors? Why is it that small mess-ups or ‘pratfalls’ by celebrities make them more endearing to us? Social Psychologist Elliot Aronson studied that people considered highly competent are more likable when they perform an everyday blunder than those who don’t. This better humanizes these seemingly ‘superhuman’ people and makes them seem approachable; in turn more attractive. What better example to take than that of actress Jennifer Lawrence, who is not only praised for her talent and beauty but also loved for her silly blunders like tripping over her feet when receiving her Oscar!
Maybe you have not experienced this phenomenon in its totality, but you’ve definitely found yourself a victim to its effects. Often regarded as the opposite of déjà vu, it is what occurs when you find yourself unable to recognize a situation that is actually familiar. It is a fleeting feeling and will leave you wondering if you hit your head or something to have felt something that weird. Its most common manifestation is ‘word alienation’ which functions on the principle of semantic satiation. Let’s see it this way- you write down a simple, familiar word, like ‘door’, on a paper 30 times in 60 seconds. When you finish the task, you will start to wonder if ‘door’ even is a real word, and if it is, it seems so peculiar! As much as you think I’m bluffing, I’m not. It has been tested in experiments and has happened to a lot of perfectly normal people (including me). You’ll experience something similar if you over-analyze a particular word or thing or repeatedly say or write it. The coolest thing is, you can check out self-induced jamais vu by just trying the activity above!
The Halo Effect
One of the most common cognitive biases that we employ subconsciously and so very frequently is the Halo effect. It refers to the tendency of our perception of a single trait of a person to influence how we perceive other aspects of their character. Answer me honestly, how many times have you seen a physically attractive stranger and thought that they must be nice, smart, and successful too, even though you know nothing about them? Basically, you’ll judge their specific traits based on your overall impression of them, which is in turn based on information of very few surface characteristics. But this bias doesn’t just apply to perceptions starting with physical appearance. If you’re told that Kid A is punctual and Kid B is not, you’re more likely to assume that Kid A is also hard-working, academically intelligent, and respectful towards teachers. The glow of the ‘halo’ that your first perception creates covers your overall judgment of their character, and this effect has more real-world implications than you can imagine.
Our brain does some truly astonishing things sometimes, and it’s always a delightful surprise to find that other people’s brains do the same! Which of these bizarre phenomena have you found yourself experiencing the most?
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