Posted by Gail | Filed under Life Lessons
When people in the old days believed things that we now look back on as ridiculous, we call that superstition. But what about the things people believe today en mass?
In Korea, people believe that if an electric fan is left running overnight in a closed room, the people asleep inside will die. It’s called Fan Death.
Fishermen believe that if you whistle or sing into the wind while on a boat, a storm is bound to follow. And don’t try to bring a banana onto a crab fishing boat or you’ll find yourself tossed overboard.
The French believe that placing a loaf of bread upside down on a table will bring bad luck and hunger.
And if you’re unmarried in Russia, you’ll avoid sitting at the corners since that will doom you to a lonely life.
The Japanese won’t sleep with their heads facing north since that’ll shorten their lives.
Don’t laugh. We have some pretty weird belief systems too. Witness the lack of 13th floors all over north America… really, we think because we changed the label on the door or on the elevator button that we made 13 disappear!
All these are examples of Common Belief Fallacy. It’s our willingness to accept any answer to a question rather than NOT KNOW what the hell is going on. Fueled by a desire to make sense of a reality we do not understand, we will grasp at an answer and then embrace that answer whole heartedly to assuage the fear of not knowing.
People seldom weigh facts before deciding what to believe. And once we believe something, we will defend that belief beyond reason. Beyond reason.
When my mother-in-law presented me with the set of knives I’d asked for one Christmas, she made me give her a penny. She couldn’t “give” me the knives; that was bad luck. I had to “buy” them from her.
When you spill salt, do you throw it over your shoulder?
Do you avoid hanging a new calendar before the new year?
If your left palm itches, do you scratch it, rub it on your rump and put it in your pocket?
But common belief fallacy can be dangerous. When a group of people hold common cultural preferences or beliefs, they are more willing to express their beliefs, further strengthening the common belief.
In 1952 Willian Whyte Jr coined the term Groupthink, which is a narrower version of Common Belief Fallacy, to describe a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a bunch of people who want to conform make decisions based on erroneous information for the sake of consensus. Nobody rocks the boat. The ingroup seems cohesive but the reality is everyone is afraid to break with the common belief and express their unique, independent ideas.
We may think of ourselves as unique and individual, but our strong tribal instincts make common beliefs fallacy true for all of us. And if we allow our social group to dictate how we respond, we’ll be guilty of groupthink too.