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Post No.: 0795self-image


Furrywisepuppy says:


The ‘introspection illusion’ is when we believe our own introspections are more reliable than other people’s. (This includes trusting one’s own intuitions over scientific data, like believing that heavier objects fall faster than lighter objects in a vacuum.) This is especially true when it comes to assessing ourselves – as if no one knows oneself better than oneself. But we’re biased and often disregard our own actual behaviours when assessing ourselves; yet not when it comes to assessing others according to theirs!


We don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. This introspection illusion is a cognitive bias whereby we overestimate how much direct insight we have into the sources of our own furry mental states. Meanwhile, we have a tendency to underestimate other people’s insights. This can result in the illusion of superiority, like when believing that one is less conformist than others – even as we’re conforming to things like our own ingroup’s dress style and tastes! The introspection illusion makes it hard for us to realise when we’re being arrogant, hypocritical, short-sighted, self-centred, greedy, unrepentant, unforgiving, unkind or unfair. We’ll have no trouble recognising and pointing out other people’s inconsistencies though, or how unfair or prejudiced others are(!) Other people are sketchy, dodgy, creepy or sus :\. But if we’re accused of such, we were just innocently checking out – not trying to steal – that funky gnome in that guy’s garden!


We can be poor at predicting our own actual behaviours and being consistent with our own self-images. We don’t always act according to how we believe we will. Moreover, we can be unaware that we’ve acted contrary to our own beliefs of our own characters. Our self-image has less to do with our actual behaviours than we think – for example, we may be absolutely convinced that we’re empathic, kind and will never fall for the ‘bystander effect’, yet still we’ll walk straight past homeless people on cold days. And even when this is pointed out to us, we’ll typically make excuses to ourselves, like ‘I was in a rush’, in order to preserve our self-image. Memories are fallible too. We’ll likely rationalise that our ‘true self’ is virtuous despite the evidence of our actions. We thus confuse our intentions with our behaviours. We’ll more readily judge other people’s behaviours and dismiss what they say they intended though.


We’re biased to protect our positive self-images and allay guilt – for example, if we accidentally blurt out a classmate’s secret, we can rationalise that they ‘probably deserved it’ or ‘should’ve told the teacher about it themselves’ to make us feel better about hurting them. We’ll hate them for ‘making us feel bad’. In the end, we can believe that two wrongs make a right when the other person has in fact been dealt a double injustice – we were wrong to blurt out their secret, then were wrong to blame them for it(!) Despite this, we’ll feel, perhaps not completely but relatively, better about ourselves.


People have a tendency to search hard for rationalisations why their errors are always someone else’s fault, including when someone tries to blame you for legally parking a car where they rammed it because ‘a car isn’t normally there when they pull out of their driveway’(!) When answering trolley problems, we’ll come up with rationalisations to justify our choices, like the sacrificed individual ‘might’ve been a paedophile’!


We also judge other people’s core ‘true selves’ under a lens influenced by our own biases and moral values – for example, if we oppose homosexuality, we’ll more likely judge that a gay person isn’t truly gay and thus should be able to fight such thoughts and temptations. Well literally everything we read or perceive is via the lens of our own biases really – for instance, if we like someone then their complaints will be met with sympathy, but if we’re prejudiced against them then the identical complaints will be met with ‘quit your whining’! And we believe our opinions are more objective than they are. Post No.: 0471 discussed the egocentric bias of naïve realism.


We’re also more likely to ascribe our moral actions as due to our own ‘true selves’ and any personal deficiencies as not. And our past selves will be ascribed more negative characterisations; and the further into our past we’ll go, the more we’ll readily accept how bad we used to be. So we like to believe we’re getting better over time. Well this is kind of logical because if we think we’re good people then we’re going to think we’re good people according to our conception of what is good now; and if we notice that we’re different to how we were in the past, then we’re going to reason that we weren’t so good in the past rather than today – even though in the past we thought we were good according to what we thought was good back then. Our morality is thus malleable, but the constant is that we tend to think we’re, at least deep inside, always good souls.


This bias helps us to see ourselves as better than we really are. Now this is talking about everyone in the main rather than those who are depressed or have an overly low opinion of themselves – which may indicate that an unrealistically over-inflated self-image can be protective against depression? (We’d be a pain to those around us though!) And if we can successfully self-deceive and thus express our confidence in ourselves through our verbal and non-verbal cues – this might help us to appear convincing enough to socially fool others into thinking we are really that good too (up to a point). Successful manipulators are frequently quite full of themselves, whereas those who doubt themselves aren’t usually as good at sweet-talking or selling themselves.


We can self-talk ourselves in the present into believing that we’re cleverer (or dumber) than we really are. This is pliable too – if we’re told that doing a particular task faster indicates a higher intelligence then we’ll put in more effort to do it faster; whereas if instead we’re told that only gullible people performed well on such pointless tasks, or performing it well would indicate that we’re at a higher risk of developing schizophrenia, then we’ll slow down. Yet we won’t likely consciously think that our behaviour has been modified by such words – which could be interpreted as a case of successful self-deception.


As social creatures, we want to portray an elevated public reputation to perhaps impress others. Hence we will rationalise away our cheating or failures on a task (e.g. we’ll claim that we were distracted but our ‘true potential’ would’ve beaten the scores of our closest rivals, or ‘they must’ve had far more practice at these kinds of games than us’). For the sake of our self and/or public image, cause can be reversed with effect – so if we can show that we’ve aced a test (even if we cheated), we can show that we’re clever to ourselves and others; as opposed to if we were clever, we would ace the test (fairly).


If we cheat so often or so blatantly though, we can switch and go ‘to hell with it’ and start to cheat incessantly because we know that our positive self-image cannot be reasonably maintained anymore thus we might as well take as much as we can (the ‘what the hell effect’)! In such cases, we need a reset of our self-image – such as confessing, apologising and starting a new page; which at least works for a moment.


Another possibility is that we may try to compensate for our guilty behaviour by being subsequently kinder to others and thus bring our self-image back in line onto the good side. It depends on what we believe the sort of person we think we are (our self-image) and our opinions on the gravity or magnitude of our actions – rather than on our actual personality or actual behaviours.


But this can work both ways – if we do, or associate ourselves with, a good deed and thus feel morally upstanding, we may then start to see it as a license to be selfish because we’ll feel we’ve ‘earned the right’ to be so (a ‘licensing effect’). A person can become less altruistic after buying an environmentally-friendly product, or a policeman might use dishonest means to try to put a suspected criminal in jail – all without threatening their personal positive self-image.


So just priming or exposing someone to desirable messages can lead to a positive self-fulfilling effect on their behaviour. Yet if someone actually does something desirable, it can sometimes have a negative subsequent effect on their behaviour because they’ll still think, on balance, they’re a good person despite their negative behaviour.


This is not to say that people who do good things should not be trusted. This doesn’t mean that everyone who’s kind is trying to compensate for their guilty hidden secrets. But it might be the case for someone who isn’t usually so generous or good but is suddenly behaving so. So it perhaps depends on how much doing good is a regular normal part of someone’s routine. Thus if someone normally does good deeds on a regular basis rather than sporadically, and is kind to everyone and not just you, and doesn’t pat themselves on the back for it either, then you can probably trust them again. Meanwhile, if someone does a one-off good deed or any deed that they pat themselves on the back for (i.e. they think they’re exceptionally morally superior for doing it) then you might want to be cautious about what they’ll do next.


People will also cheat less if they’ll likely be found out in public than if they feel that a behaviour can be kept private. Thus people will make their good behaviours voluntarily known whilst keeping their bad behaviours a secret if they can – which all affects their self-image differently and their potential compensatory behaviour accordingly too.


Therefore feeling insecure about ourselves comes with some benefits – it can urge us to actually behave more morally. If we feel we lack something, we often make the extra effort to try to prove that we don’t lack it. And so, for instance, if we’re unsure about our own generosity (whether we really deserve to hold such a low opinion of ourselves or not), we’ll be more likely to donate to charities. It’s kind of like some people with body dysmorphia when they don’t think they look fit enough so they’ll work hard to make themselves look fitter (whether they really deserve to hold such a low view of themselves or not).


It’s our perception that usually matters more than our objective actions. Our mood and environment, including social influences, or what other people say, affects us too. So others can bring about this insecurity too. If you tell people that they’re less generous than other donors, they’ll quite likely up their own donations. Being moderately harsh on yourself is therefore a good trait because it compels one to improve, to do a good job and to do the right thing. Conversely, too much self-assurance makes us complacent and consequently widens the gap between our self-image and our real self according to our actual actions. Thus the more we think we know ourselves – the less likely we actually do!


So our own self-image influences how we behave. Sometimes it’s self-fulfilling. Sometimes it leads to complacency. Holding the belief that one’s traits can change (a growth mindset), instead of are rigid, can help us to understand that we can improve though. So sometimes it leads to self-improvement. Well the primary error is holding a self-image that is too lofty. Mountains of evidence show that our contexts or situations shape our behaviours too – overall more so than our ‘fixed’ characters. Our ‘self’ is something that is mutable depending on the circumstances and is mutable over time.




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