We’re both looking at the same thing. Yet what I see can be very different from what you see!
Have you ever watched a sporting event, or listened to a political debate with someone who was ‘rooting’ for the other side’? We can be watching the exact same event, yet come away with very different perceptions. Both of us will feel ‘our’ team or candidate preformed better than the opponent. It is very likely that we will both come away from the event even more entrenched in support for ‘our’ side.
According to research (Klien & Kunda, 1992) we tend to see events that resemble our beliefs. By testing groups of people Klien and Kunda found that the beliefs held by an individual about another person influence how he or she evaluates that person’s performance.
It is called perceptual confirmation – What you ‘believe’ is what you ‘see’.
People are highly motivated to see what they expect or want to see.
A couple of years ago my supervisor, Neal*, asked me what I thought was one of the most important aspects in creating a healthy relationship. Immediately I stated ‘communication’. I thought that if a couple was able to communicate clearly with each other they would be able to overcome problems and create intimacy in their relationship. Neal listened and then he answered wisely. . .
“Doris, if my wife and I are in a good relationship, she can say anything she wants to me and I will take it the ‘right’ way. Conversely, if we are in a bad place my wife can say anything to me – I will find a way to take it the wrong way”.
Communication is Influenced by Ones’ Belief System.
So true! Over the years I have seen this phenomenon at work. My husband and I have provided pre-marriage counseling for couples that are engaged. As part of their homework, we suggest that they write out a LONG list of the reasons why they love each other. For most, this is an easy exercise. These engaged couples truly think they are marrying the world’s most amazing person; as a result everything they see is amazing!
Then, fast track several years, a couple of kids, and perhaps a couple of ‘real’ challenges, (money, chores, in-laws) and somehow this person has changed. Their spouse no longer seems so amazing, perhaps seems very ordinary, if not slightly boring.
In some cases this once amazing person can even begin to look like an enemy!
What happened? Did this spouse change from amazing to mediocre? Chances are . . . no. The beliefs have changed. The belief about one’s partner influences perceptions of everything that partner does! If my belief about my spouse is that he is good, then I will notice things that confirm this belief by seeing a lot of good, AND I will reject anything that contradicts this belief. The bad is not a focus. This is done unconsciously! Unfortunately the reverse is also true.
This is the Magnitude of the Belief System: What you ‘believe’ is what you ‘see’.
What is your belief system about your spouse? What do you see? Is it time to go back and re-visit the memory of the ‘amazing’ person you fell in love with and married? Dig out the wedding album or video. Unpack the love letters. For those of you who took our pre-marriage course… get out that list!! Chances are your spouse is still that same person. You may just need to recognize your belief system so you can see that person once again.
So, it is not “Seeing is believing”. It’s actually “What we believe IS what we WILL see”.
Klein, W. & Kunda, Z. (1992) Motivated person perception: Constructing justifications for desired beliefs. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 28.
*Neal Black is an author and speaker for FamilyLife Canada.