In the first part of this discussion, we explored two factors that can distort our assessment of the goodness of a change — circumstantial complexity and superficial simplicity. Let's now explore three social factors that can lead us to misjudgments just as significant.
- Aversion to coercion
- Some changes are thrust upon us. When the agent of change is another person, or a group of people, some of us experience resentment of the change agent. We sense the limits of our autonomy, and instead of focusing on the larger problem of expanding our freedom, or accepting and understanding its limits, we vilify the change agent.
- When we perceive that the change agent benefits from the change they've thrust upon us, this vilification can be especially intense. We question the change agent's motives, or we focus on the supposed malevolence of the change agent. We don't really try to understand the change or assess it objectively.
- Attraction to charisma
- In some instances, when we regard the agents of change with affection, respect, or awe, our feelings for them can overwhelm our aversion to coercion. We accept the change without resentment — even without critical thought.
- When this happens, we sometimes confuse the change with its agent. Because we trust the change agent, we fail to apply appropriate critical standards when we assess the goodness of the change. Advertisers, political candidates, and others interested in influencing the opinions of large populations often exploit this fallibility.
- Group affiliation and disaffiliation
- Groups with which we seek affiliation, or seek to maintain affiliation, can influence our decisions about the value of a change, as they can influence other decisions. If we feel that supporting a change might threaten an affiliation we value, we're less likely to support it. In some cases, this bias can be internalized. That is, outside our awareness, our desire for the affiliation can influence our assessment of the goodness of a change.
- A desire Groups with which we seek affiliation,
or seek to maintain affiliation,
can influence our decisions about
the value of a changefor disaffiliation or distancing can have a similar effect, except that the judgments we make are more likely to be opposed to the stances of the groups in question. In disaffiliation, the process is more akin to if-they-want-it-then-I-don't. Both the desire to affiliate and the desire to disaffiliate can interfere with clear, critical thinking.
- Although this mechanism is sometimes known as "peer pressure" or "social pressure," the use of the word pressure evokes a sense of coercion, which isn't always accurate. Often, when our desire for group affiliation affects our assessments of a change, and when we're unaware of the emotional importance of the affiliation, we feel autonomous and free, rather than coerced.
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- Group problem-solving sessions sometimes focus on where to begin, even when what we know about the problem is insufficient for making such decisions. In some cases, preliminary exploration of almost any aspect of the problem can be more helpful than debating what to explore. Available here and by RSS on October 2.
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