The Hidden Vulnerability We All Have, Revealed

landscape as seen through a cracked lens

We’ve learned there are many things that leave us vulnerable to predatory manipulators.

But no discussion of what may make us vulnerable is complete without revealing one vulnerability we all have, but that remains hidden from us. 

We see others and the world through it, as if we were wearing a pair of distorted lenses, yet we don’t even know we’ve got those glasses on. But guess what? Manipulators know all about it, and they use it to their advantage with great success. What is this hidden vulnerability?

To experience it firsthand,  watch the one-minute video below. While you watch, count how many times you see the players in white pass the basketball:

 
 

Did you see it?

Many people who watch the video never see it. I didn’t, and couldn’t believe “it” was actually there the first time I watched it!

That’s just one example of the many automatic ways our brains work much of the time. These automatic “shortcuts” we take are called Cognitive Bias. And these biases leave us vulnerable, because they often lead us to make faulty assumptions and come to incorrect conclusions.

The video illustrates ‘selective attention,’ which keeps us from consciously seeing unexpected things. We selectively pick out one message from a mixture of messages occurring at the same time. Our brain edits out certain things because there’s just too much coming at us to consider it all consciously.

Cognitive biases are part of the reason we didn’t ‘see’ the psychopath, who was the big gorilla right in front of us.

According to the University at Albany,

“Although cognitive biases can sometimes be helpful in familiar situations or in dealing with predictable threats, they can lead to catastrophic failures in assessment of unfamiliar and unpredictable adversaries.”

Isn’t that the truth.

The human mind has evolved to have and use many different automatic shortcuts and to generate all kinds of assumptions. We all do these things unconsciously, by virtue of being human.

Look again -- things aren't always what they appear to be.

Look again — things aren’t always what they appear to be.

Here’s a list of some of the biases that may have made us vulnerable to that “unfamiliar and unpredictable adversary”:

  • Projection Bias or Assumed Similarity Bias (not to be confused with psychological “projecting’): This mental shortcut leads us to the unconscious assumption that others share the same or similar values, thoughts and beliefs. In other words, we believe that others are just like us — if we are an honest, loving and kind person with a conscience, we believe most everyone else is the same way. We don’t even consider that some people may have drastically different values and motivators.
  • The Affect Heuristic: This is a mental shortcut that allows a strong, emotional first impression to affect decisions, even if subsequent evidence weighs against the original decision. First impressions often remain even after the evidence on which they are based has been totally discredited. This bias is described as “going with your gut instinct,” which may not always be the best thing to do. The psychopath creates a great first impression, and we get stuck on that.
  • The just-world hypothesis or just-world fallacy: This is the cognitive bias (or assumption) that “a person’s actions always bring morally fair and fitting consequences to that person, so that all noble actions are eventually rewarded and all evil actions are eventually punished.” This means if we see ourselves as a good person, we believe only good things will happen to us. We just don’t expect that something bad may happen, so we’re not even looking for it. (Because this bias also includes the belief that people “get what they deserve,” it is at the root of victim blaming.)
  • The Observer’s Illusion Of Transparency: This one causes us to overestimate how well we understand another person’s personal mental states. We assume we know what someone else is thinking and feeling, when in fact we don’t.
  • The confirmation bias: This is the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information in a way that confirms our preconceptions. This makes it hard to change your mind about something — or someone — once you’ve already developed a belief about who they are. If someone has already won you over and gained your trust, it is very hard to change that perception, even when things start to go very wrong.

About the confirmation bias, from “4 Reasons You Can’t Trust Yourself” (Psychology Today):

“Would you use the following words or phrases to describe yourself when you make a decision or take a position for or against something?

Open-minded
Good judge of the facts
Attentive to reason
Skilled at evaluating an argument

Sadly, this list is pretty much science fiction because of the confirmation bias, one of the many shortcuts the brain takes which leaves us thinking “fast,” and pretty much automatically, rather than carefully processing. Research shows that instead of judging and weighing all the facts, we listen to and give credence to those facts and arguments that align with or reflect beliefs we already hold. I’m sure you’re shaking your head and saying, “Not me!” as you read this. Sorry; there’s no point in your fooling yourself.”

  • And the grandaddy of all biases, The Bias Blind Spot: People are largely blind to their own cognitive biases. We will accept that biases exist in others, but tend to deny that we ourselves have biases.

So what, if anything, can we do to think logically and objectively and override our brain’s automatic shortcuts and assumptions?

There is no easy answer or any easy way to do this, but plenty of people are working on it. You can start here:

  • Read the book by Daniel Kahneman, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” He argues that if we consciously identify and attend to our biases in real-time (a feat that requires great effort!) we can lessen their affect on our reasoning, to some degree.
  • But Alex Lickerman, M.D., believes attending to our biases isn’t enough. He says the remedy is mindfulness, or taking the time and expending the energy “to examine our own thought processes consciously and continuously.” And he says that must include trying to question our assumptions, too, although that’s difficult because we are often unaware of them, just as we are often unaware of our cognitive biases. You can read his opinion in the article, How To Ensure You’re (Almost) Always Right

♥ Thank you for reading.

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8 thoughts on “The Hidden Vulnerability We All Have, Revealed”

  1. Reality

    Dear Admin.
    i have read more than once all your posts about boundaries including the last one today and i have thought a lot about the general issue behind which is how to protect ourselves by predators such as psycopaths and other manipulative poeple. i must say that i agree with the concept of having boundaries based on our conscience and our personal value systems which is variable of course for each person. Also , protecting these boundaries is very crucial for our well being. After my boundaries that i had in a subconscious level have been tested and in a certain degree crushed by the psysopath , i realised that i should enforce them so to live more mindfully. If i had not lived this experience and i continued to interact with more or less normal peiple in my life i quess that this need to reenforce them would never emerge and i would live my life without having this excruciating and life altering experience. i suppose that i had in the past and i would have in the future encounters with psycopaths but if the conduct is not too close and intimate i could not have possibly realised this or get haemed by them. A lot of people never have this terrible experience and i suppose their boundaries though exist are not to be tested.
    So , my point is that our boundaries become so impotrant once tested and crushed under the covert manipulation of people who we considered close to us but their agenta was quite different. What i do not want is to delude myself in believing that once i reestablished and enforced my boundaries that this protects me 100% from predators. This is not true in my opinion. Sure it lessens the possibillities to be fooled in such a great degree again in a certain domain( love or others as finances , politics) and sure it gives more insight in the situation so to realise and live faster the dangerous situation but boundaries even the most powerful can not make you impune in hurting.
    As far as people with hidden agendas and ulterior motives exist there is always the possibillity to get hurt in variable degree. That’s the history of life and humanity. The internal battle between good and evil . I personally define evil not in religious terms but as the absense of love. In regard to your last post about the cognitive biases that our minds can suffer , it is ineresting and i find interesting the whole project of the certain psycologists. But personally , i believe that this particular knowledge does not bring some real effect in everydaylife. Being myself high ranked in neuro science( i can not say more, safety reason) , i can say okay, fascinating all these but at the end of the day , human brain is working in a certain way even though there is a much of plasticity and i find it a little weird to want to totally alter the way it works in order to avoid cognitive biases. Nature and human brain work like this and this creates the mystery and beauty of life. I dont see the point why to try and force our selves in an everyday battle to examine all the time our perceptions and decisions so as to avoid being fooled again. What kind of life would this be? where is the essence? we are humans with emotions, not computers like the psycopaths. i find so terribly draining and dull a life where the 90% of what i decide it has to be scanned from my frontal lobe. There is more in human brain, there is the limbic system , amygdala, the emotional brain, which gives us the valuable intuition. i believe that only when the emotional ( limbic system) and the logical- analytical brain( prefrontal- frontal lobe) work hand to hand there is essence and beauty. Of course it is inevitable that sometimes the one will surpass the other and viceversa but this is natural and beautyful. I dont think that because we trusted with our love and faith bad , covert and manipulative people we should from now on place our desicions and our existense only in logic. Personally it was not my logic but my intuition that led me to uncover the psycopath. After came logic and put the facts together, so i left him after the havoc he had created. And in my first encounter with the psycopath my gut screamed that this was not a good pesron ,i still remember the first impression from him and it was awful. After , he manipulated first my mind and quite later my emotions. In conclusion and after this terribly long post i want to say that the real bet that i want to earn in my life after the incredibly terrible betrayal that was imposed to me is not to lose my humanity and not ro close my heart in the miracles and goodness of life. i will get hurt in life again, sure, it is inevitable as i interact everyday with people and dangers but i hope that i will be able to rise above this and put the blaim back to the offenders. i refuse leting them cause the real and ultimate misery of disconnecting me from my lighting spirit and my loving heart. Finally it is the light of a loving heart and a shining spirit that wins the darkness.

    1. Admin

      “What i do not want is to delude myself in believing that once i reestablished and enforced my boundaries that this protects me 100% from predators.”

      Exactly. No one should do that, because feeling ‘immune,’ or overconfident, is just another thing that makes us vulnerable!

      “fascinating all these but at the end of the day , human brain is working in a certain way even though there is a much of plasticity and i find it a little weird to want to totally alter the way it works in order to avoid cognitive biases…I don’t see the point why to try and force our selves in an everyday battle…”

      I agree, it seems like it would be a battle (not to mention exhausting) to monitor and evaluate every thought. But I think bringing some metacognition into some of our dealings with others and our decision-making process can be advantageous and enlightening. Also, the experts may not agree, but I believe just being aware of biases may possibly make a difference.

      “What kind of life would this be? where is the essence? we are humans with emotions, not computers…”

      I think this may be an example of an “assumption.” If you haven’t done it, how do you know what kind of life it would be? All of this analysis may seem cold and unfeeling, *but maybe in being able to see life and reality more clearly we will also see the beauty and mystery of life more clearly, too.* You never know!

      “i believe that only when the emotional (limbic system) and the logical- analytical brain( prefrontal- frontal lobe) work hand to hand there is essence and beauty.”

      Maybe. But it also depends on if beauty and essence is created within us by our “emotional and logical-analytical brain,” or if they exist as part of the world we inhabit. Do *we* give things and people and life their meaning, or is it inherent within them? If our logical-analytical-emotional brain disappeared, would everything be without beauty and essence?

      “I don’t think that because we trusted with our love and faith bad , covert and manipulative people we should from now on place our decisions and our existence only in logic.”

      Well I think that depends on how big and risky a decision is, on how much impact it could have on your life. A good book on how to make decisions without relying on our often faulty gut instincts is “Dangerous Instincts” by Ellen O’Toole. There’s nothing wrong with trusting each other with our love and faith; in fact it’s beautiful. It’s only trusting the wrong person with those things that makes it potentially risky. Personally, I don’t want any more of my precious time on this earth wasted by a manipulator, so doing some critical thinking is fine with me. Also, I don’t think they are mutually exclusive; critical thinking does not negate or lessen our emotions or decrease our enjoyment of life.

      “i want to say that the real bet that i want to earn in my life after the incredibly terrible betrayal that was imposed to me is not to lose my humanity and not to close my heart in the miracles and goodness of life.”

      So well said! I couldn’t agree more. To do so would be to live in reaction to the psycohpath, from a place of fear, and one would then still be a victim. No one is saying to give up your humanity — that’s simply the way it seems to you, perhaps. Everyone should do what’s right for them, what feels right and affirming and that is about being loving and kind to the self, along with protecting and respecting ourselves.

      “i hope that i will be able to rise above this and put the blame back to the offenders.”

      That’s precisely where the blame belongs. As I’ve said many times on this website, there is nothing inherently wrong with our vulnerabilities — the only problem is that there are those who would take advantage of those vulnerabilities, and it’s up to us to decide how to handle that.

      “i refuse letting them cause the real and ultimate misery of disconnecting me from my lighting spirit and my loving heart. Finally it is the light of a loving heart and a shining spirit that wins the darkness.”

      Well-said and beautifully written.

      Thank you for your comment! Very thought provoking indeed. Best wishes!

  2. efemeris

    I had no problems seeing the gorilla when looking the video the first time. that doesn’t mean that i never had any of the cognitive biases or logical fallacies myself. before reading about personality disorders and psychology, i was reading alot about bullying, psychological manipulation, social influence and related terms. this is the way i came accross cognitive biases and logical fallacies. i definitely had paradigm shifts and ever since i keep the files as my personal “bible”. i’m much more confident and assertive than i was ever before.
    thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

    1. Admin

      Right, seeing the gorilla doesn’t mean you don’t have biases; it’s only an example of a bias for those who didn’t see the gorilla, like me! I think they said 50% don’t see it.

      Learning about these things does cause a “paradigm shift,” doesn’t it? I’m more confident and assertive, too, and it feels very good.

  3. munawar sultan

    please see this transaction in the light of mirror neurons.this is the system good nature gave us to navigate among humans peacefully.but it totally fails once this monster is on the innocent person.he mirrors us back and our system tells us that he is soul mate.we can not see his flaws because our own biology goes against us.our logical system is overpowered by emotions.biology wants MATCH and he is perfect match in the beginning .after that it is late .pllease comment about this thanks

    1. Admin

      Mirror neurons and soul mates — this is definitely a hidden vulnerability a lot of us know all too well. “we can not see his flaws because our own biology goes against us. our logical system is overpowered by emotions. biology wants MATCH and he is perfect match in the beginning.”

      Excellent example and very important to include on this page! Thank you for your comment.

  4. Wonderful post and comments here Admin! There is just so much more to these manipulations than most people realize.
    Thanks!

    1. Admin

      You’re welcome, L!

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