5 Ways Your Brain Is Turning You into a Jerk
As we have discussed before, your brain likes nothing better than sabotaging your life in myriad tiny, bullshit ways. It's not content to be a jerk all by itself, either; the control sponge behind your face is constantly conspiring to make its entire flesh-vehicle (that's you!) act like a total asshat toward everyone else in existence.
To put this in scientifically accurate Ninja Turtle terms, the Krang in your skull cavity is constantly trying to turn your calm, collected Leonardo personality into a goddamn Raphael. Here's how it goes about it!
Choice-Supportive Bias: We Rabidly Defend Our Meaningless Consumer Choices
Life presents us with many situations where we have to pick sides. This is the whole point of things like voting and sports, and that's completely OK. It's when we start applying this attitude to unimportant stuff that we buy a one-way ticket to Asshole Junction.
Fighting over petty bullshit has become such a common dick move that we barely even register it anymore. Computer gamers versus console users, PC people against the Mac crowd, Team Edward vs. Team Jacob -- these are all real feuds that actual people are having Internet slap fights over.
If you're still stuck on the Stephenie Meyer bandwagon, online hissy fits are probably the least of your worries.
The reason we keep body-tackling people with different fanboy tags is a brain fart known as choice-supportive bias, and it tricks us into thinking that the products we have chosen are the best ones out there. No matter what phone you choose to purchase, or which Dracula-shaped dildo you invest in, your brain may arbitrarily convince you it's the absolute pinnacle of technology, because obviously you wouldn't have bought it otherwise. Choice-supportive bias makes the good things about your gadget multiply in your head, while you happily ignore all of its negative traits. Even that block of wood with "I am a ApL iMacBook" carved on it that you bought from the tattooed Lithuanian gentleman in the "Cumputar Stoar" van is not a problem: Choice-supportive bias can also attribute negative features to the products you didn't choose, thus enabling you to think that everyone else's gear is somehow even worse.
Just look at this pathetic time machine. At least yours is Styrofoam.
Because your brain wouldn't be your brain if it wasn't constantly looking for fresh ways to mess with you, this line of thinking also extends beyond material products. In this video, Internet deity and occasional actor Tom Hiddleston nicely illustrates choice-supportive bias in popular culture by explaining why he counterintuitively prefers Superman to Batman: He just happened to see the Richard Donner movie when he was 7, and boom! Superman bandwagon. Christopher Reeve got to him first. Oh, irony, you cruel bitch.
Hey, you know how the old saying goes: Any scientific concept that can't be casually explained by Loki in 10 seconds is not a scientific concept worth having.
Well, all right -- make it a minute.
Illusion of Asymmetric Insight: We Think We Know People Better Than They Know Us
Have you ever met a person you could just instantly see through? Someone whose social persona is so obvious, you can practically peek behind the curtain to see the real wizard masturbating to his secret stash of witch porn? Sure you have. Everyone has. Hell, just the other day I met a dude who was so blatantly obvious, I could have whipped out a laptop and written his biography before he was finished droning on about my "right to remain silent" and "where are your pants?" In fact, when we get right down to it, aren't most people pretty transparent?
No. They're not, and frankly, I'm a bit of a dick for insinuating that they are. I'm about to get mine, though: Pretty much everyone I've ever met is probably thinking the exact same thing about me. Every. Single. One of them.
"You know that awful thing you did? So do we."
Most people have this strange built-in tendency to automatically assume we're hot shit when it comes to "getting" other people. This cranial kink is known as illusion of asymmetric insight, and it causes us to genuinely think that we can see through everyone's facade and gaze directly into their innermost self. Meanwhile, we refuse to consider that they might think they can see through us in the same fashion. Which they totally do.
It's a case of everyone thinking they're Professor Xavier, but it turns out we're a lot closer to Matter-Eater Lad.
That matter being your own bullshit.
The illusion of asymmetric insight is a flaw in our perception caused by the fact that we can't observe ourselves in the same way we observe others. Our brain gleefully uses this crack in our defenses to trick us into assuming that we wield supernatural powers of human understanding.
And then it turns out that the affable dude from next door has been committing unspeakable crimes for all these years, and no one in the community ever noticed jack shit.
"He always seemed like such a nice guy."
Time-Saving Bias: We Are Prone to Speeding Like Idiots
We all know that driver: the one who's constantly speeding like she's a heart surgeon zipping back and forth between two patients she's simultaneously operating on in different cities.
Now, here comes the twist: There's a good chance that driver is actually you.
"Oh, God! She's going to kill us."
"Oh, God! She's going to kill us."
If you've ever found yourself driving like an asshole, it could be simply because you are an asshole. However, there is another, stranger explanation: Maybe you do it because your brain prevents you from understanding the very concept of time. Time-saving bias, a very specialized bastard trick of our cranial command center, scrambles our ability to estimate the time that can be saved by increasing speed. Basically, your brain is poker-facedly explaining that driving faster will turn you into a Time Lord, and you're happy to comply in case it's telling the truth, because who wouldn't?
Pictured: Not your car, no matter what your brain keeps telling you.
The routine misestimations caused by time-saving bias are more common (and extreme) for some people than others, and often lead to speeding and -- by extension -- all the assorted shithead antics that follow when you wipe your ass with the speed limit.
Scientists are still attempting to wrap their heads around time-saving bias and how large of a part the phenomenon plays in the brain's already impressive arsenal of traffic sabotage. Not that further research is guaranteed to clarify any damn thing, thanks to ...
The Woozle Effect: We Parrot Previous Information Without Critique
There is an A.A. Milne story where Winnie the Pooh and Piglet walk in the snow, tracking down an increasingly mysterious creature they come to call the Woozle. In the end, the mystery animal turns out to be nothing but their own damn footprints. The hilariously named Woozle effect is that exact same thing, only with less cute fairy tale characters and more of your old thinking machine pissing in your ear once again.
Can we all just take a moment to scream insults at this picture?
According to the Woozle effect, our brain has a tendency to rely on previous information regardless of how flawed it might be. This is a natural enough reaction, but it becomes a huge and potentially damaging problem when everyone does it. As a result, tons of people end up quoting, misquoting, and adjusting information for the sake of making it sound more interesting, until we finally just straight up make the perverted end result canon. You can imagine how a worst case scenario might work: Have a bunch of legal experts mindlessly bamboozle their doozle with obscure Woozle for long enough, and the next thing you know, your ass is in court because it's now illegal to walk past a duck on a Tuesday.
"Four years. Fo'shoozle."
Luckily, the Woozle effect is not much of a problem in the judicial system. However, it's a massive one in scientific research. Think about that for a moment: If freaking scientists keep passing those same turds of flawed knowledge on like the world's most academically decorated human centipede, just imagine how this phenomenon must manifest in other, less research-centric aspects of life. Hell, that shit may well be one of the reasons why elderly male politicians participate in rape discussions with statements about the female anatomy that seem to hail from the 19th century.
On the positive side, it's definitely one of the reasons why the De-Textbook is far superior to any "real" textbook you can find.
The Pollyanna Principle: We Refuse to Deal With Unpleasant Things
When was the last time you genuinely felt like an asshole?
Unless you've indulged in illegal and/or extramarital shenanigans, chances are it was in a situation where you ignored some urgent but unpleasant matter so that you could dick around instead. Don't worry, you're not a demon. It's a pretty common phenomenon known as the Pollyanna principle.
Her evil knows no bounds.
Like the annoyingly positive character it was named after, this brain bias gives people an attitude of general, often baseless optimism. In fact, it does quite a lot more than that: The tiny Pollyanna that has commandeered our brain can flat out force us to minimize evil in our immediate vicinity by constantly downplaying unpleasant and threatening stimuli and making us focus on the stuff that makes us feel good.
It's basically this, and the one who's more fun always wins.
If you face a situation where your roommate has gotten drunk and clogged the toilet with what appears to be two buckets of first generation Furby toys, chances are Pollyanna will convince you to stay in your happy zone, calmly playing video games on the couch as the toilet and your passed-out roommate make strange gurgling noises in unison. The inevitable result is, of course, that your gaming is interrupted by a poop geyser filled with googly eyes and Furbish screams of anguish.
You still see them every time you close your eyes.
Even if Pollyanna eventually helps you forget that shit, there are only so many shitstorms you can endure before you should start rethinking your priorities. But you probably won't, because that's what the Pollyanna principle is all about: focus on the positive, no matter what. It's the reason we enjoy talking about the nice things that happen to us, while sharing personal bad news is difficult as all hell. It's why we never bother looking into that weird noise in our car until the spiders break through the roof lining, and it's why politicians never get around to tackling big, nasty issues like "inequality" and "world peace" as long as it's more fun to fling silent filibusters at each other.
Oh, and despite what you might think because of the millions of semi-professional whiners on the Internet, the Pollyanna principle is actually the default state of the human mind. That's right -- inside every goth lurks this maddening creature:
Pauli Poisuo has sealed his treacherous brain in a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest, which is guarded by a beast that only speaks in dick jokes. Follow him on Twitter.