1. Cognitive dissonance
This is probably one of the eeriest and most disturbing discoveries in psychology. Cognitive dissonance is the idea that we find it difficult to hold two contradictory beliefs, so we unconsciously adjust one of them to make it fit with the other.
In the classic study, pupils found a boring work more interesting if they were paid less to take part. Our subconscious reasons in this way: if I didn't do it for money, then I must have done it because it was interesting. It is as if by magic, a boring task turns into something more interesting since otherwise a person can't explain his/her behavior.
The reason it's disturbing is because our minds are likely performing these sorts of rationalizations all the time, without our conscious knowledge. So how are we to know what we really think?
2. Hallucinations are normal
Hallucinations are sort of like waking dreams, and we seem to think of them as indications of serious mental illness. In reality, however, they are more common amongst 'normal' folks than we may imagine. One-third of people report having experienced hallucinations, with 20% of them experiencing hallucinations once on a monthly basis, and 2% once a week (Ohayon, 2000).
In the same way, 'normal' folks frequently have paranoid thoughts, as in this study that was reported previously in which 40% experienced paranoid thoughts on a virtual journey. The gap between individuals with mental illness and the 'sane' is a lot smaller than we would actually like to think.
3. The placebo effect
Maybe you’ve had the experience that a headache becomes better seconds after you take an aspirin? This cannot be the drug since it takes at least 15 minutes for it to kick in.
That's known as the placebo effect: your mind is aware that you've taken a pill, so you feel better. In medicine, it appears to be strongest in the case of pain: many studies suggest a placebo of saline (salty water) can be as powerful as morphine. Certain studies even suggest that 80% of the power of Prozac is placebo.
The placebo effect is counter-intuitive since we easily tend to forget that mind and body are not separate from each other.
4. Fantasies decrease motivation
One way individuals typically motivate themselves is by making use of fantasies about the future. The idea is that dreaming about a positive future aids in motivating you towards that aim.
Beware, though, psychologists have discovered that fantasizing about future success is in fact not useful for motivation. It appears that getting a taste of the future in the here and now lowers the drive to achieve it. Fantasies also fail to flag up the issues we are likely to face on the road to success.
So what's a better means to commit to our aims? As opposed to fantasizing, use mental contrasting instead.
5. Choice blindness
All of us know the reasons for our decisions, isn’t it? For instance, do you know why you're attracted to a particular person? Do not be so sure. In one study, individuals were easily tricked into justifying choices they didn't actually make about who they found attractive. Under certain circumstances, we display what is called choice blindness: we tend to have little or no awareness of choices we have made and why we have made them. We then make use of rationalizations to try and cover our tracks.
This is only one example of the general idea that we have relatively little access to the inner workings of our minds.
6. Trying to suppress your thoughts is actually counterproductive
When you are feeling down or worried about something, people often say: "hey, try not to think about it; just take it out of your mind!"
This is actually terrible advice. Trying to suppress your thoughts is counter-productive. Just like trying as hard as you can to not think about pink elephants or white bears. What individuals experience when they try to suppress their thoughts is an ironic rebound effect: the thought returns stronger than previously. Trying to find distractions instead is a much better strategy.
7. Incredible multi-tasking skills
In spite of all the mind's limitations, we have the ability to train it to do incredible things. Take our multitasking capabilities, for instance — did you know that, with practice, individuals could actually read and write at the same time?
There was a study of multitasking whereby two volunteers were trained over 16 weeks until they developed the ability to read a short story and categorize lists of words at the very same time. In due time, they could perform as well on both tasks at the same instance as they could on each task individually before the study began.
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