More Cognitive Biases in Marriage

Every single living person has developed biases that affect their perception and reasoning. Biases generally take the form of preconceived notions that shape the way we interpret events, circumstances, words and actions of others, and so forth. Certainly one’s biases can and do have a significant impact on marital relationships. [See previous article.]

Some biases develop as a result of specific life circumstances. Some are a result of social conditioning. Some serve as internal defense mechanisms to protect us psychologically or emotionally. Many are simply common fallacies of logic that are typical to human nature. These are just a few of the standard explanations. Basically biases are evolved mental processes that we cultivate to adapt to our environment. They are the mental interpretations that we employ to make sense of the world around us and feel comfortable in it.

The problem is that people almost always have poor insight regarding the factors that sculpt their thinking. This is a big reason why married couples often argue about who is right or wrong, who is to blame, what each other's intentions are, the motivations behind behaviors, and so forth. We generally trust our own thoughts, feelings, and experiences and are suspicious of those of others when they conflict with our own.

Here are a few of the somewhat common forms of human bias that can have a detrimental effect on marriage. [See previous article for additional forms.]

Overconfidence effect is excessive confidence in one’s own ideas or answers. This bias is evident when you know absolutely for certain that you are right about something and your partner’s view is wrong or uninformed. This can be anything from child rearing practices to financial principles to how time together should be spent. People typically feel very confident in such views because it is what they have come to accept as true or right. However, for most issues there are other viewpoints and ideas that are equally valid.

Illusion of transparency describes the tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others may know their mental state as well as their own ability to know that of others. Virtually every married couple has experienced this one! You have probably experienced instances in which you thought your mate was unduly mean, sarcastic, dismissive, etc. when he/she adamantly denies that this was the intention. And, your spouse has probably accused you of the same even though you contended that he/she was way off with the interpretation. There are numerous explanations for this phenomenon. Suffice to say that a person’s mental state is often not as easily discernable as we would like to believe. You cannot determine with any degree of certainty what your spouse is thinking or what his/her intentions are – and vice versa.

Bias blindness is the tendency to see oneself as less biased than others. This bias will cause one to be able to identify other people’s logical errors but ignore their own. For example, you may credit the way your spouse views demonstrating affection for one another as skewed based on the way he/she was raised. You see your own view as more “normal” or “practical” without considering that your view is also biased - having been sculpted by your own early experiences, family environment, and so forth.

Self-serving bias has to do with the tendency to perceive yourself as responsible for desirable outcomes but not responsible for undesirable ones. This can be explained by our fallen human nature to some degree. But, some have had specific experiences in which this has been reinforced in some way. Unfortunately, in the context of marriage when one fails to see themselves as responsible for undesirable circumstances the blame is often shifted to one’s spouse. It is an all-too-rare experience for people to actually acknowledge their own role in marital problems and take ownership of it.

[See related article for more forms of bias that impact marriage.] 
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