By Bruce Wilson, PhD
What pushes us to have tunnel-vision? That is, the mindset that is only focused on a particular aim, and will not notice or consider anything else. Are there any psychological propensities that make us more prone to have tunnel- vision? How does tunnel-vision affect us long term?
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes, our justifications or decisions are based on their desirability rather than an accurate reflection of the evidence. Cognitive psychologists refer to this practice as motivated reasoning. We are motivated to find the reasons we are looking for. When this occurs, we become myopic to the bigger picture.
We have now instigated a narrowing of our perspective, usually completely unknown to us. We see only what we choose to see, at the expense of what is possible. Motivated reasoning gives us confirmation of what we need in the moment. As can be expected, there are numerous false positives with this approach. Conspiracy advocates utilize motivated reasoning to support their case. As we have witnessed with many conspiracy theorists, this mindset fails inevitably with the onset of factual evidence.
“People will generally accept facts as truth only if the facts agree with what they already believe.” – Andy Rooney
Another factor in the formulation of tunnel-vision is stress. We know that stress creates peripheral vision narrowing. This means our ability to focus on the larger picture of our experience will become even more narrow under stress.
Several studies have attributed some athletic injuries to this peripheral narrowing under severe stress and/or anxiety. These studies suggest high-life stress and/or anxiety affect perception and decision-making, which may lead to an increased risk of athletic injury.
“Our brain accepts what the eyes see and our eye looks for whatever our brain wants.” – Daniel Gilbert
Long Term Effects
Tunnel-vision, motivated reasoning and peripheral narrowing have long term effects. Factual information is compromised to create a personalized confirmation bias. This approach satisfies a temporary need in lieu of a more permanent reality. Over time this approach will confabulate the truth, and may even put us at physical risk of injury. Personal growth will be frozen in time because new knowledge is being contorted to fit a confirmation bias.
When reality and truth are denied, bad things happen. The real becomes surreal. Our inaccuracies come at a price. We have lost the full picture and are operating in incompleteness. Factual information must be distorted or changed to fit into our motivated reasoning. New information is sequestered and altered to fit into an acceptable set of preemptive thoughts. Our potential to learn and grow is limited by our tunneled style. The more we reinforce this motivational style the more robust it will become.
To escape tunnel-vision we need a wide-angle lens. We need to look at our life experiences with a more macro approach. This would involve avoiding impulsive decision-making, controlling emotional reactivity, and gathering more information. Tunnel-vision is usually susceptible to being impulsive, reactive, and hurried. By channeling our decisions into a more reasoned strategy, we can take the motive out of motivated reasoning.
Dr. Bruce Wilson is a psychologist with 25 years of experience. He enjoys sharing his ramblings with friends and colleagues. He is currently in private practice at Mind Health Care in Geelong, Australia. This article is solely his work.
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