Scientists have discovered the problem with solving problems

on 14 July 2018
changing minds of a problem

Because the brain can't tell the difference between real and imagined, the way you think about a problem might not reflect the reality, it might not even reflect the fantasy either . . . 

Generalisations; the distorters of reality!

I have often wondered why, in the obvious absence of a problem or at the very least, a significant lessening of it, why a client appears to think it's the same? So, this research is very interesting, in that the facts appear to support that our perception of a problem changes in response to the changes that occur. It seems that as the problem lessens the concept of it grows! And while what I am about to discuss is not directly related to the phenomena called -prevalence induced concept change - it does, I hope, give a better understanding of the discussion below?

To that end, I start every new session with a client with a question, "how have things been since our last session?" A quite common answer is, OK. So I ask, "have they been OK because nothing has happened, or because things have happened but you've just dealt with it?" Very often the latter is the case. So, their perception, relating to their issue is often that very little or nothing has changed but in reality, there have been changes. I encourage clients to be mindful of small, almost imperceptible changes because they are so easily missed and with it, the opportunity to give ourselves positive feedback. So, relating to this research, it appears to me that there has often been a change, sometimes a significant one, yet the perception is that nothing has changed! While it may be true that it may not have appeared to have gotten bigger, by default it has because the reduction has not been recorded by their brain/mind!

Is this important? Yes, it is and here's why. The brain has reward systems and the primary function is to stimulate behaviours that lead to habits, be they good or bad. Bad habits that have reward motivation are things like smoking, drug and alcohol use etc. On the other hand, good habits generally lead to wellness and in varying ways. Take brushing your teeth for example. But we mustn't take it for granted because it is one of those habits that need to be cultivated, as in it is not instinctive or natural. We now know that oral health is so important to our overall health and yet the prevalence of parents not helping their children form this habit is escalating at alarming rates - see more here - which goes to show, that if you don't' form some habits early; they don't become habits! Many bad habits have the primary objective of keeping you safe by avoiding pain, embarrassment or judgment. The way in which our defence system achieves this is that it doesn't subject us to unwarranted scrutiny and when someone is anxious, generally speaking, what someone else thinks of them, becomes paramount in their mind. The very worst thing that someone else could think of you, is when matches how poorly you think of yourself!

This is a major reason why hypnosis is such an effective tool for healing because it allows access to parts of the mind that are unavailable through conscious processing. In deeper trance states we are able (we being the client and therapist) to deliver therapeutic change via specific brain processes and functions (auditory stimulation and specific brain waves (PGO and Theta waves). This is akin to changing the code that drives a computer, be that a change at the level of a programme or the operating system. These changes are mostly permanent, although the possibility of regression can happen, in very similar ways to a computer, by virtue of neural malware, bugs or viruses or difficult life changes etc!

My objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into emotional experiences that may actually not be happening! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research: 

Although it's far from perfect by virtually any measure -- whether poverty rates, violence, access to education, racism and prejudice or any number of others -- the world continues to improve. Why, then, do polls consistently show that people believe otherwise?

The answer, Daniel Gilbert says, may lie in a phenomenon called "prevalence induced concept change."

As demonstrated in a series of new studies, Gilbert, the Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, his post-doctoral student David Levari, and several other colleagues, show that as the prevalence of a problem is reduced, humans are naturally inclined to redefine the problem itself. The result is that as a problem becomes smaller, people's conceptualizations of that problem become larger, which can lead them to miss the fact that they've solved it. The studies are described in a paper in the June 29th issue of Science.

"Our studies show that people judge each new instance of a concept in the context of the previous instances," Gilbert said. "So as we reduce the prevalence of a problem, such as discrimination, for example, we judge each new behaviour in the improved context that we have created."

"Another way to say this is that solving problems causes us to expand our definitions of them," he said. "When problems become rare, we count more things as problems. Our studies suggest that when the world gets better, we become harsher critics of it, and this can cause us to mistakenly conclude that it hasn't actually gotten better at all. Progress, it seems, tends to mask itself."

The phenomenon isn't limited to large, seemingly intractable social issues, Gilbert said. In several experiments described in the paper, it emerged even when participants were asked to look for blue dots.

"We had volunteers look at thousands of dots on a computer screen one at a time and decide if each was or was not blue," Gilbert said. "When we lowered the prevalence of blue dots, and what we found was that our participants began to classify as blue dots they had previously classified as purple."

Even when participants were warned to be on the lookout for the phenomenon, and even when they were offered money not to let it happen, the results showed they continued to alter their definitions of blue.

Another experiment showed similar results using faces. When the prevalence of threatening faces was reduced, people began to identify neutral faces as threatening.

Perhaps the most socially relevant of the studies described in the paper, Gilbert said, involved participants acting as members of an institutional review board, the committee that reviews research methodology to ensure that scientific studies are ethical.

"We asked participants to review proposals for studies that varied from highly ethical to highly unethical," he said. "Over time, we lowered the prevalence of unethical studies, and sure enough, when we did that, our participants started to identify innocuous studies as unethical."

In some cases, Gilbert said, prevalence-induced concept change makes perfect sense, as in the case of an emergency room doctor trying to triage patients.

"If the ER is full of gunshot victims and someone comes in with a broken arm, the doctor will tell that person to wait," he said. "But imagine one Sunday where there are no gunshot victims. Should that doctor hold her definition of "needing immediate attention" constant and tell the guy with the broken arm to wait anyway? Of course not! She should change her definition based on this new context."

In other cases, however, prevalence-induced concept change can be a problem.

"Nobody thinks a radiologist should change his definition of what constitutes a tumour and continue to find them even when they're gone," Gilbert said. "That's a case in which you really must be able to know when your work is done. You should be able to see that the prevalence of tumours has gone to zero and call it a day. Our studies simply suggest that this isn't an easy thing to do. Our definitions of concepts seem to expand whether we want them to or not."

Aside from the obvious questions, it raises about how we might go about fixing problems both large and small, the studies also point to issues of how we talk about addressing those problems.

"Expanding one's definition of a problem may be seen by some as evidence of political correctness run amuck," Gilbert said. "They will argue that reducing the prevalence of discrimination, for example, will simply cause us to start calling more behaviours discriminatory. Others will see the expansion of concepts as an increase in social sensitivity, as we become aware of problems that we previously failed to recognize."

"Our studies take no position on this," he added. "There are clearly times in life when our definitions should be held constant, and there are clearly times when they should be expanded. Our experiments simply show that when we are in the former circumstance, we often act as though we are in the latter."

Ultimately, Gilbert said, these studies suggest that there may be a need for institutional mechanisms to guard against the prevalence-induced concept change.

"Anyone whose job involves reducing the prevalence of something should know that it isn't always easy to tell when their work is done," he said. "On the other hand, our studies suggest that simply being aware of this problem is not sufficient to prevent it. What can prevent it? No one yet knows. That's what the phrase 'more research is needed' was invented for."

Story Source:

Materials provided by Harvard UniversityNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. David E. Levari, Daniel T. Gilbert, Timothy D. Wilson, Beau Sievers, David M. Amodio, Thalia Wheatley. Prevalence-induced concept change in human judgmentScience, 2018; 360 (6396): 1465 DOI: 10.1126/science.aap8731