The starting assumption of our judgments is that all of us share the same reality. And this is completely, utterly, and irrevocably wrong.
As it turns out, it’s more like we all exist in the same virtual world, but each of us is playing a different game. So we crash into each other, fight and complain, without realizing that, while we’re shooting down Nazis in Call of Duty, the other person is collecting coins in Super Mario.
We see the same things, hear the same sounds, and experience the same stimuli, but each of us forms a different version of reality based on these inputs. I mean, why else would we have such distinct views on supposedly objective things like who said what during a fight or which color a certain dress is.
Everybody operates under the assumption that the way we perceive the world is the same way in which others perceive it.
Since most of us cannot grasp any other interpretation of reality than the one we are familiar with, we automatically assume that everybody else sees the world the same way we do. But this is simply not the case.
In 1954, researchers Hastorf and Cantril conducted a study titled “They saw a game” about a football match between two rival schools. After the game ended, the researchers asked members of both teams to look at the same video recording of the game and note down each rule violation they observed. The team who had won the game noted that their opponents made twice as many offenses than they actually did.
Even though they won and had no reason to make excuses for losing or not being good enough, they still wrote down double the amount of violations than the other team.
Okay, so some guys in the 50s were pissed or whatever and counted a few more offenses than actually happened. People in sports often argue about rule violations and whether they actually happened, so this doesn’t prove anything— Probably you right now.
On its own, this would be true. But every study since has arrived at the same conclusion: even though we live in the same objective reality, each of us sees it very differently. As the researchers explained in their original study: 1They saw a game; a case study
We behave according to what we bring to the occasion, and what each of us brings to the occasion is more or less unique.
None of us are objective. It’s impossible for us to be.
All of us bring our own values, opinions, beliefs, character traits, and past experiences with us wherever we go. In a sense, this is how a mindset is defined: a set of values, beliefs, and assumptions that define the way you think and, therefore, the way you act.
If a man approaches a woman in a nightclub, she may be flattered, insulted, or skeptic. This woman may have been screwed over by men, so she will be wary of any guy who approaches her. She may be used to courting and like the attention. She may be having a bad night and end up taking it out on the poor fellow who just decided to walk up and say “Hi”.
If this happened and the rest of the crowd saw this, none of us would react the same.
A girl who recently found out her boyfriend was cheating on her might say: “He deserves it, the male pig. He probably said something offensive.” The average single guy on a night out with his friends might think: “What a crazy bitch, she probably just exploded for no good reason.”
The old bartender making a dry martini ten feet away might shake his head in disapproval and mutter to himself: “These kids today are all crazy. Back in my day, nobody would be caught dead in a dark, crowded room, with a bunch of strangers listening to loud, repetitive music.”
Objectively, this is what happened: a guy walked up and talked a girl. But a hundred people who witnessed it have arrived at a hundred different conclusion based on their own pre-existing beliefs and experiences, even if they had heard the entire conversation.
And this is the same thing that happened in the original study and the same thing that happens in every single sport to this day. If someone was brought up in a violent household or a competitive neighborhood, they will be used to a much rougher style of play than others who may call “foul” at every sign of physical confrontation. To some, it’s a violation; to others, it’s just rough play.
Our perception (…) is heavily influenced, biased even, by our expectations, experiences, moods, and even cultural norms. And we can be pretty good at fooling ourselves.— Hank Green, Crash Course Psychology
We may live in the same reality, but all of us experience it differently.
This is the same reason our minds are so susceptible to many visual, auditory, and sensual illusions. Despite knowing that what we are observing is a purposely altered perception of reality, our brains still get fooled. We still see the illusion and feel like it is really happening.
When you get into a heated argument with someone and you just can’t seem to get on the same page, be empathetic. Try to put yourself in other person’s shoes.
How do they see the world? How does their reality look like? How does it differ from yours? Maybe they are wrong. But maybe, so are you. Maybe they are deluding themselves.
But maybe, just maybe, so are you.