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About Everything Wiki » Productivity » What is "projection-related distortion" and how does it affect our decisions

What is "projection-related distortion" and how does it affect our decisions

29 May 2023, 13:57, parser
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What is the peculiarity of the distortion in connection with the projection

Every day we make decisions that affect our future. It may come in an hour (what to eat for lunch?). Or in a few months or even years (perhaps it's worth starting your own business?). Unfortunately, it is difficult for our brain to imagine what needs we will have in the future. Therefore, he takes a shortcut and makes decisions based on our feelings here and now.

This thinking trap related to our ability to predict the future is called Why do we think our current preferences will remain the same in the future? / The Decision Lab "distortion due to projection". Its essence is that we subconsciously believe that we will keep the same views on the world and the same feelings that we have now — and therefore make short-sighted decisions.

The term itself was coined G. Loewenstein, T. O’Donoghue, M. Rabin. Projection bias in predicting future utility / UC Berkeley economists George Lowenstein, Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin. A classic example of distortion due to projection is shopping on an empty stomach. In this state, we buy much more food than we actually need. This happens because we subconsciously assume that the feeling of hunger will last for several more hours. However, it is worth coming home, eating a hearty soup and drinking a cup of tea, as we understand that the three additional desserts purchased were clearly superfluous.

Which leads to distortion due to projection

External influence

Projection distortion may occur because we do not realize how significantly uncontrolled factors affect the decision-making process.

In the course of one study M. Conlin, T. O’Donoghue, T. J. Vogelsang. Projection bias in catalog orders / The American Economic Review scientists observed how the weather influenced people's decision to buy a winter coat and the decision to leave or return a new one after purchase. Oddly enough, the weather conditions turned out to be significant in both cases. Customers often bought coats on cold days and returned the purchase if it got warmer after delivery.

Of course, people didn't think about the weather consciously. But this study demonstrates how factors that we don't even think about can radically change our decisions.

Reassessment of the significance of events

When we encounter life-changing events, we think that they will have a serious impact on our lives. Imagine that you have received a big lottery win. How happy would this news make you? How long would your happiness last? Of course, the absence of problems with money will cheer you up for a long time. Right? Not quite.

The researchers collected P. Brickman, D. Coates, et al. Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? / Journal of Personality and Social Psychology people who won the lottery on average 480 thousand dollars, and asked the winners to rate how happy they are. These results were compared with the results of the control group. It turned out that a year after the victory, the level of happiness of fortune's favorites differed little from the level of happiness of ordinary people. In addition, unlike the study participants from the control group, lottery winners received less pleasure from everyday activities. So, the confidence that a large sum of money will solve all problems is another example of distortion in connection with projection.

The intensity of emotions

We often make decisions depending on our emotional state. When we are calm, it is easier for us to remain rational and think intelligently. However, bright and strong emotions make us act impulsively.

Imagine a couple who decided to get married two weeks after they met. These people succumbed to an emotional impulse. But love and passion, which are characteristic of the beginning of almost every novel, led them to a short-sighted decision. Most likely, in a few months, when emotions settle down, partners will regret their choice.

How not to give in to distortion due to projection

We usually schedule tasks for the day during rest. At this moment, it seems to us that we will definitely have time to hold three meetings, finish a project that we have been working on for a whole year, and go to a solemn event in the evening. However, by the middle of the day we realize that we have seriously overestimated our strength. Therefore, first we have to choose what we will still have time to do, and then look for internal resources so as not to fall down from fatigue.

Unfortunately, understanding how distortion works in connection with projection does not always help to avoid it. But its effect can be significantly weakened by using several simple methods.

Monitor the "emotional temperature"

Sometimes stress and anxiety drag us down and we lose the ability to make informed decisions. When you need to deal with a certain issue, take a moment to check your "emotional temperature". Perhaps you are "burning" with anger and are too impulsive. Or vice versa, they are "cold" and indifferent to their future. Try to even out the emotional state or postpone the decision until better times.

Be calm

If action is not required right now, give yourself time to calm down. Even if it takes hours or weeks. This will allow you to make the right choice, which you will not have to regret.

Study yourself

Monitor your energy levels throughout the week. At the end of each day, ask yourself:

  • When did I feel particularly energetic? 
  • When did I start feeling tired? 
  • Did I manage to work effectively in a state of fatigue? 
  • Would it be better if I took care of things at another time? 

Each of us has our own biological clock, and they do not always work from 9:00 to 18:00. When you find your rhythm, you will not only be able to better manage your energy and work productively, but also learn at what moments it is worth making important decisions, and at what moments it is not.

Now that you know how projection distortion works, it will be easier for you not to fall into the trap of thinking that makes it seem that your current needs perfectly coincide with future ones. You should also not forget that such a cognitive distortion affects not only you, but also the people around you — friends, family and colleagues.

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