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Can the Mind Play Tricks on You?

This blog post will help you answer the question, “Can the mind play tricks on you?” We will cover the kinds of tricks your mind plays on you, examples of cognitive biases, and mind tricks people with anxiety undergo. 

Can the Mind Play Tricks on You?

Yes, the mind can play tricks on you. Your brain plays many tricks, most of which are not threatening to your daily life. However, they are intriguing to learn about, and being able to identify them the next time it happens to you will allow you to know how to deal with it.

Let us see the tricks the mind plays on you. 

Kinds of Tricks the Mind Plays on You

The various kinds of tricks the mind plays on you include:

  • Blame Game
  • False Memories
  • Heuristics
  • Change Blindness
  • Cognitive Biases

Blame Game

When things go wrong, people tend to search for something to blame and not take personal responsibility. It is a protective mechanism to preserve your self-esteem. 

Most of the attributional biases you may engage in are protective mechanisms, wherein you attribute fortunate occurrences to yourself and bad ones to things outside of yourself.

False Memories

It is possible to instill false memories in people; make them feel like something happened when it did not. Elizabeth Loftus conducted a study in 1995 wherein a false memory of getting lost in a shopping mall was outlined. The participants agreed that the event had taken place and even added details to it. 

We tend to forget and falsify information for various reasons, including failure to store, conflicting memories, inability to retrieve information, and even suppressing or repressing painful remembrances. 

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Heuristics

Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts that help you make immediate and quick judgments that may end up being based on irrationality or insufficient information. They follow a rule-of-thumb approach that may have worked for you in the past but not be sufficient for the current issue. It also minimizes the mental and cognitive load.

There are many heuristics, including availability, representativeness, and affect heuristics. 

  • An availability heuristic is one’s tendency to make decisions based on information that is readily available and accessible. For example, because plane crashes are more likely to make the headlines than car crashes, you may fear traveling by flight but not by car. However, in reality, there are way more car crashes than plane crashes. 
  • Representativeness heuristic refers to making judgments based on representativeness or close resemblance. For example, when asked to imagine a boxer and a receptionist, people tend to think of a male fighter and a female receptionist. 
  • Affect heuristic is one’s tendency to rely on their emotions while making decisions.  

Change Blindness

People often miss out on significant changes that happen around them because there is information overload as it is in our environment. Such excessive information makes it difficult for your brain to pick up on every detail. A study showed that most people did not notice the person they were conversing with was swapped during a transient disturbance. 

It could happen because when you have a task at hand on which you are intensely focusing, your brain could miss out on details that happen around you. Moreover, expectations could also be an influencing factor as it is not likely that you would expect your partner to be swapped in the middle of a conversation. 

Cognitive Biases

Various cognitive biases could happen, of which you may not usually be aware. Such cognitive biases often hinder your decision-making abilities regarding multiple aspects of life. Let us cover a few of these biases in the following section.

Examples of Cognitive Biases

There is a vast list of cognitive biases, a few of which are outlined below, including:

  • Illusion of Transparency
  • Spotlight Effect
  • Barnum Effect
  • Bounded Rationality
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Hindsight Bias

Illusion of Transparency

The Illusion of Transparency occurs when you think others know what you are thinking, and vice versa. People tend to overestimate how well others know their thoughts and how well they know what others are thinking. Sometimes, when you are out shopping, you feel like everybody knows what you are thinking exactly. This trick is the Illusion of Transparency. 

If you have ever engaged in public speaking, you might have experienced this feeling that others know how nervous you are. However, that might not be the case in reality. It happens because you have constant and complete access to your thoughts and emotions that your mind may forget that others do not have that access.

Spotlight Effect 

The Spotlight Effect is a phenomenon, which emphasizes your embarrassing moments to the point that you think everybody notices it.

Everybody tends to overestimate how much others notice them. Suppose you are in a fine dining restaurant, and you drop your fork. You may overestimate the possibility of other people seeing and remembering your embarrassing moment. 

Akin to the previous bias, the spotlight effect occurs due to an excessive focus on something to the point of believing that others are focused on it as much as you are. In all probability, they are focused on their embarrassing moments.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect occurs when you read your horoscope or take non-clinical personality tests. You think that the readings, which are supposedly tailor-made for every individual, are accurate and describe you correctly. In reality, these readings are quite vague and adequately generic to be related to various people. 

No harm taking the tests or reading your horoscope daily, but keep this in mind the next time you feel the reading is eerily accurate. 

Bounded Rationality

Bounded Rationality is related to decision-making driven by cognitive ability, time-constraints, and inadequate information. People make hasty decisions that seem to be satisfactory but not optimal. 

For example, when you are out shopping for groceries, you may see nutrition bars or other foods that say “sugar-free” on their labels and decide to buy them. You do not have adequate information and make a decision that seems rational. Often, “sugar-free” does not mean a lack of sugar but a substitute for refined white sugar. 

You tend to make decisions that seem to fulfill a particular criterion, like staying healthy, but it may not be the ideal option for that requirement.

Confirmation Bias

This bias refers to people’s tendency to look for and emphasize evidence and testimonies that confirm their existing notions. For example, a detective can have a suspect in mind early on in the case. He may then start to look only for clues that confirm and not disconfirm his suspicions. 

Even in scientific research, confirmation bias can occur, which could falsify the results. Confirmation bias can hamper our ability to make informed and objective decisions in everyday life. 

Hindsight Bias

Also known as the ‘knew-it-all-along effect,’ hindsight bias is one’s tendency to look back at an event and label it predictable. For instance, after a breakup, people tend to say they always knew that their partner would call it quits. Looking back, they acknowledge the signs that indicated an impending separation and claim to have seen it coming.

Hindsight bias impacts your decision-making skills as you end up overestimating your ability to anticipate the consequences of your decisions. 

Retrospectively viewing an instance and thinking you knew it all along (when you did not) impact your ability to make informed choices in the future. It could make you take unnecessary risks. 

Mind Tricks People with Anxiety Undergo

When you have anxiety, your thought process may be skewed in some ways. There are several tricks your mind may play on you, which are referred to as cognitive distortions. If you can identify specific mental errors you make, you can find triggers and rectify them appropriately. 

Here is a list of some of the mind tricks people with anxiety undergo:

  • Catastrophizing workload 
  • Second-guessing themselves
  • Unnecessarily  self-critical
  • Hypothetical obstructions 

Catastrophizing workload 

No matter when the deadline of a task is, people with anxiety tend to feel overwhelmed. You may try to rack your brain for potential hindrances that would prohibit you from completing the job on time. There is also a tendency to overestimate the difficulty of the task. 

Second-guessing themselves

People with anxiety tend to second-guess themselves a lot. You may feel like rechecking your finished work and try to find errors that you may have overlooked. There is a constant feeling of uncertainty and self-doubt.

Unnecessarily self-critical

Anytime you receive feedback, you start thinking that it will be negative even when you have no reason to expect a negative one. You automatically assume that people will not like your work when there is no need to make such assumptions.

Hypothetical obstructions

You may develop various hypothetical obstructions that make you believe that something is impossible for you to implement. For example, if somebody offers tips and tricks for doing something, you may think of reasons why it would not be possible for you to make use of them.  

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Conclusion

This blog post helped you answer the question, “Can the mind play tricks on you?” We covered the kinds of tricks your mind plays on you, examples of cognitive biases, and mind tricks people with anxiety undergo.

Now that you know so much about mind tricks and cognitive biases, try to think of a time you experienced any of them and let us know in the comments below!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Can the Mind Play Tricks on You?

Can your brain trick your body when you have anxiety?

Yes, your brain can trick your body when you have anxiety by making it believe that you are in danger when you are not. It could make you engage in activities, such as avoidance or escapism, that may do more harm than good.    

Can your brain trick you when you have a mental condition?

Yes, your brain can trick you when you have a mental condition like depression or anxiety. You may get into a cycle of trying to find out the wrong things. When you go looking for what is wrong, you will inevitably find something. It is called confirmation bias.  

How can you prevent yourself from overthinking?

There are several ways to prevent yourself from overthinking, such as:

Being mindful of your current state and surrounding;
Dissociating yourself from the issue and taking a more objective approach;
Breathing; 
Noting things down; and
Reciting a mantra (e.g., “everything is okay,” “Om”)

Can anxiety cause hallucinations?

Yes, anxiety can cause hallucinations, but it is quite rare. In case of severe anxiety, there is an intense fear of going crazy to the point of dissociation or losing touch with reality. Sometimes it is merely a thought. Other times, it could cause mild hallucinations.   

References

https://www.bustle.com/p/8-weird-tricks-your-brain-plays-on-you-every-day-explained-by-science-12596852

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-practice/201801/four-tricks-my-anxiety-prone-brain-plays-me

https://www.verywellmind.com/ways-your-brain-plays-tricks-on-you-2795042#citation-6

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Sara Quitlag is an Applied Psychologist, with a deep interest in psychopathology and neuropsychology and how psychology impacts and permeates every aspect of our environment. She has worked in Clinical settings (as Special Ed. Counselor, CBT Therapist) and has contributed at local Universities as a Faculty member from time to time. She has a graduate degree in English Literature and feels very connected to how literature and psychology interact. She feels accountable and passionate about making a "QUALITY" contribution to the overall global reform and well-being. She actively seeks out opportunities where she can spread awareness and make a positive difference across the globe for the welfare of our global society.