Four strategies of self-deception
“All people are deceiving themselves, and not so rare ”, says Albert Newen of the RUB Institute for Philosophy II. “For example, if a father is convinced, that his son is a good student and then brings bad grades home, maybe he'll say first, that the subject is not so important or that the teacher has not explained the material well. “The researchers describe this strategy of self-deception as a reorganization of beliefs. In their article, they describe three other strategies that people often use and that start earlier so as not to allow unpleasant facts to be applied to one.
This includes selecting facts through targeted action: people avoid places or people who could bring problematic facts to them, such as the parents' day. Another strategy is to reject facts by expressing doubts about the credibility of the source. As long as the father only indirectly hears about his son's school problems and does not see the grades, he can ignore the problems. Newen and Marchi describe the last strategy as the generation of facts from an ambiguous situation: “If, for example, the friendly math teacher makes it easy to understand, that the son cannot cope and the father would have expected a clear announcement in the event of difficulties, he may interpret the great friendliness and cautious description as a positive assessment of his son's abilities ”, Francesco Marchi explains the example.
The researchers describe all four strategies as typical psychological tendencies. Self-deception is neither unreasonable nor disadvantageous for people in the short term, but always in the medium and long term. "These are not malicious approaches, but part of the basic cognitive skills of humans in order to preserve the proven self and world view," says Newen. In normal times with few changes, the tendency to maintain good views is helpful and also established in an evolutionary manner. "However, this cognitive tendency is fatal in times of radically new challenges that require rapid behavior changes," added the Bochum researcher.
An example from the corona situation
He gives an example from the Corona situation: “If citizens are skeptical in the early stages of a pandemic whether a vaccine will still show unexpected side effects, this is a comprehensible caution that people can first compensate for by strictly following precautionary rules . Self-deception can also help to avoid panic reactions, ”he says. “However, if it becomes clear in the medium term that the side effects of the vaccine are clearly limited, then a doubt is unreasonable and turns into a direct danger for yourself and others. Self-deception also entails distorted risk assessments, because the health risk without vaccination is much greater than that from vaccination. Self-deception can therefore stabilize self-image, proven ways of thinking and motivation to act in normal times, but becomes a stumbling block in times of crisis that require radical rethinking and new ways of doing things and puts society at risk."
Francesco Marchi, Albert Newen: Self-deception in the predictive mind: Cognitive strategies and a challenge from motivation, in: Philosophical Psychology, 2022, DOI: 10.1080/09515089.2021.2019693
Source/Credit: Ruhr University Bochum