Confirmation Bias and Word Thinking

My last post on word thinking got a lot of hits. Many people were positive but some people pointed out that this concept – word thinking – is just confirmation bias.

Word thinking is NOT confirmation bias.

Allow me to explain.

Confirmation bias is the process by which an individual seeks to confirm their own beliefs by paying attention to only those facts which confirm the a priori belief and ignoring, or giving significantly less focus to, the facts that challenge a belief.

Word thinking, in contrast, is the process by which an individual ascribes a label, definition, or word to a person, group, object etc… and substitute individual analysis for the pre-defined category being used as a label.

My example was a little confusing, and I think it’s fair to say that what I was talking about was more confirmation bias than word thinking but I think the example still works from a different perspective.

Radical Psychologists know that people are word thinkers. We substitute real thinking for easy go-to categories that LOOK like thinking. To use the example in my last post if we believe a person is “creepy” or a “stalker” we can then comfortable put them in the “bad” category and be done with them, no further analysis is needed on our part and it LOOKS like we have made a rational decision.

Hopefully this clears things up for the Radical Psychologists out there.

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On Word Thinking and Imaginary Rationality

Scott Adams, Dilbert creator and apparent political prophet is also a Radical Psychologist (though he probably doesn’t know it…).

Adams has taken an average-popularity blog tacked onto his comic site and turned it into a veritable gold mine of psychological tricks and knowledge. Adams has shown, repeatedly, that he understands human behaviour better than 99% of people you’ll ever meet (including me).

You see Adams introduced me, and countless others, to the concept of Word-Thinking.

Word thinking, according to Adams, is all about how we

Use labels, word definitions, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking. This group is 99% of the world.

Now its important to understand as Radical Psychologists that the idea of a rational person is largely mythological. That there exists people(s) who go about their day being 100% rational is, quite simply, nonsense.

Let me reiterate so we are under no illusions here; there is no such thing as a rational person. 

A caveat; we can use rationality in discrete bursts, what I am referring to is the idea that we can live rationally all or even most of the time. 

Now. Back to the Word-Thinkers.

Radical Psychologists know that human beings are pattern-recognisers. We don’t think in linear terms, but rather in a diffuse, inter-connected way. We use emotions, patterns, and imagined connections to navigate a confusing, incomprehensible universe without tipping off into the void of insanity.

Yeesh!

Word thinking is the manifestation of this way of thinking. We assign abstract qualities to people and things because actually figuring the truth out would be too much work.

An example; lets say I have a friend, we’ll call her Jane. You have never met Jane but at a party I introduce you and she, Jane, excuses herself to get a drink, I lean in to you and tell you, quietly, “Shes a lovely woman but unfortunately three of her exes have restraining orders against her, she likes to stalk them”. You immediately put poor Jane into the category “Stalker” and with it make a whole host of judgement based on this knowledge.

Jane returns to the conversation and we carry on as normal, a few minutes later I excuse myself to go greet another guest and you are left alone with our mystery stalker. You chat amiably, wary of her now, when she asks this seemingly-innocent question “Do you live around here?”. You answer “no”, she says “Oh i’m just asking because I knew a guy who lived around here once, he had a lovely home, I use to go there often”. You laugh this off, wondering… She looks at you again, and says “I’ll be honest I only ever come to these parties to try and meet a nice guy, I’ve had such trouble with boyfriends in the past”.

So. Creepy or what, right? She’s obviously sizing you up to be her next stalking victim. Undoubtedly you’d run in the other direction as fast as you can.

Lets look at this like a Radical Psychologist.

You are thinking this way because I told you she was a Stalker. You interpreted her action in the context of that judgement. Asked about this encounter afterwards you would undoubtedly tell me how strange she is, how intense, how she was trying to pry your address out of you, you could even see the glint of madness in here eyes!

But it was imaginary. You took a pre-existing category, ascribed qualities to her based on this category, and then judged every action she took in the context of those qualities.

But here’s the thing. I was lying to you. Jane isn’t a stalker. She has no restraining orders against her. Her exes don’t think she is a psychopath.

Go back and re-read her questions. Does she seem crazy now? or is she just a single woman looking to meet a nice guy?

This is the power (and danger) of word thinking. We are all susceptible to this type of thinking and it’s important, as Radical Psychologists, to be able to detect it.

Look around your life. How many people do you judge based on an assumptive category? You can easily stop this by recognising the error and looking for actual evidence.

The Power Of Attitude

We will be talking a lot about a radical psychologists approach to attitude but it’s a huge topic and we can’t cover it all in one go.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Attitude is mindset is philosophy is sense of life.

There are different words for this.

Carol Dweck talks about Mindset, Mike Cernovich talks about MAGA Mindset and Gorilla Mindset, Tony Robbins talks about Awakening the Giant Within, Scott Adams’ talks about Systems Vs. Goals.

This is the new science of human behaviour.

Forget the crap about about being “sceptical”, forget the nonsense about “rationality” or “education”.

It’s crap. All crap. Crap promoted by academics who never leave their enclaves and think in terms of equations and theories and published articles and impact factors.

Bah!

Radical Psychology is about saying “no” to that tame nonsense and realising human potential.

Look at your life. Look at it. Really look and see how crap it is. See the stuff you hate. See the overhanging stomach (I share your pain!). See the expensive house that seems empty. The fancy car that you fear being scratched. The expensive clothes that don’t fit right. The gluten free vegan diet that makes you dread your dinner.

You’ve bought into a lie. You’ve bought into a system designed to feed you through a consumer-led nightmare keeping you forever searching happiness in other things. It keeps you dependent on other people and other things to make you happy. You’re supposed to hate your life so you are always wanting more and more and more.

Enough.

To start on attitude do this; Look at your life. Really look.

Then start to turn away. Turn away from it. Question it. All of it.

Realise your life is your own to live and you can make your happiness without relying on all these fake-systems to please you.

That’s the beginning. That’s the radical psychology of attitude.

An holistic view of Human Behaviour

Radical Psychologists don’t view people as statistical artefacts. We see them as unique and individual. 

Standard – read: non-radical – psychology stakes it’s theoretical claims on something called statistical significance. Non-radical psychologists test large groups of people comparing one group against another and then see how many people in that group changed in some way by computing complicated statistical models to “prove” statistical differences between the groups at a .05 probability level.
Sounds like fun, right?

If you’re like me you look at mathematical models of human behaviour and just despair. Sure they have their place (pharmacology trials come to mind, and sociological and anthropological studies) but when you’re making a statement about an individual you cannot use statistical averages to prove a point.

A p = 0.05 value is often reported in psychology journals as a sort of gold-standard confirmation. In actuality it’s a rejection of a null hypothesis (I know…right? but bare with me…) stating that you on average the result you see is NOT a random event. In simpler terms it means if you repeated an event 100 times it an outcome would occur 95 times or more.

The key word here is average. Radical psychologists don’t see people as statistical averages distributed on a bell curve. We see people as holistic individuals unique to the world.

This does not mean you can’t derive generalised principles about human behaviour, or make predictions about what people will do, but it does mean we can’t conjure an imaginary “average” person out of statistical thin air to prove a point.

A radical psychologist sees each person as a unique object, unique to their learning history, their genetics, and their environment. Rather than trying to work out what mysterious unknowable forces may or may not be going on inside the person we instead look to the world around them, to the places they shop, the beds they sleep in, the friends they keep, the people they love, the food they eat, the games they place etc…

By looking at these things we can tell more about a person than any group experiment could ever do.

That is the Radical Psychologists view of a person.

The Beautiful Nuance of Human Behaviour

Human behaviour is a beautifully nuanced thing.

This blog and website will be all about that beauty. We are prone to thinking of our behaviour as a logical A —> B system, a nice, neat process whereby we view the world, judge it, come to certain conclusions, and then act on it.

This is all rubbish.

We are irrational creatures. Prone to emotions and bad thinking. We feel, then act, then rationalise it all later to make ourselves feel smart.

The beauty of this is just how clever we are at hiding it from ourselves. We’ve all been brainwashed into thinking we are logical. It’s a wonderful, self-perpetuating system.

I’ll be going over these systems more and more in the future. The beauty of human behaviour lies in these systems. When you understand the intricacies of how we move through the world you’ll be able to sharpen your own skills, understand how and why other people do what they do, and be able to affect the sort of changes in your own life that you want to see.