Errors of Judgment
Additional Information on Chapter 9, page 121
We make thousands or errors of judgment during our lifetime, but most of them don’t matter because they are associated with trivial issues or have little influence on our lives. If, for instance, I think some bozo is a jerk and I am wrong, what difference does it make? I have no contact with that particular bozo anyway. If, however, we make errors of judgment in important areas of our life, then severe consequences may follow. Within the context of close relationships, errors of judgment can lead to an impossible marriage and truckloads of personal pain and anguish. The discussion that follows addresses different errors of judgment in the context of personal relationships.
Due to Strong Emotions
Intense emotions are one of the biggest destroyers of rational though and wise decisions. If we experience intense emotions and happen to be naïve and inexperienced, the results can be even more devastating. For instance, someone who has been through a divorce realizes that a good marriage doesn’t “just happen.” The starry-eyed 17 year old, head over heels in love, has no defenses to moderate emotion with reality.
What one needs to do with strong emotions is recognize that strong emotions and logical thinking are not mutually exclusive. It is quite possible to have powerful emotions and still be able to back up, pull away from the emotions, and view with objectivity. If you have difficulty doing this yourself, a counselor can teach you how. Let us look at two relational situations that typically cue intense emotions.
In love: When in love we’re consumed by the positive emotions of affections, caring, sexual urgency, and desire to be with the other person as much as possible. A typical (but insanely foolish) comment that comes out of people in this situation is “How can feelings so intense be wrong?” But a divorce rate of 50% and unhappy rate of 80% verify that those feelings were indeed wrong—at least they don’t predict success in marriage. The strong emotions are there. Where is the logical thinking? It is here: Even when in love there are times when the emotions don’t predominate—quiet moments when you can think critically and logically. It is during times like this when you are NOT with your beloved that you can read a book like The Compatibility Code, fill out the charts, and consider where this relationship will go in the long run. If you have difficulty doing even that, get together with a friend known for his or her level-headedness and objectivity and discuss the charts and issues about the relationship in general. If you don’t have such a person immediately available, go to a counselor and pay him or her to be level-headed and objective so you can see the rational side of the relationship andits likelihood of success.
Broken relationship: The emotions are just as intense as the person in love, but, of course, of a completely different nature. Typically the intensity of emotions associated with a broken relationship are even more intense than the positive emotions of the in-love state. Left unchecked these emotions can lead to hostility, bitterness, addictions, severe scaring and sometimes suicide. Once again we see the necessity of some objectivity to understand how to relate to the situation.
Some may be able to do this on their own, but many would require the help of a counselor. Just as there are lulls in the in-love state, there are lulls in your feelings of devastation. During those lulls the counselor will help you gain perspective. Essentially this is the theme of Rational Emotive Therapy (as a picture of Albert Ellis, the creator of RET, smiles down on mefrom the wall): undo the irrational thinking and exchange these with rational thought. Here is a contrast of rational versus irrational thoughts concerning some key questions: Once again we create the table from the woman’s viewpoint.
|Question||Irrational response||Rational response|
|How do you feel?||Miserable and devastated||Miserable and devastated|
|How about your future?||My life is ruined||I’ve been through a tough crash and am hurting, but others have experienced relationship breaks before me. With expert guidance I will eventually recover and live a good life|
|How do you feel about men?||Men are slime. I never want to touch one again.||I had a tough experience with a particular man. This has nothing to do with the quality of other men. There are miserable, pathetic people out there just as there are wonderful caring people—and that applies to men or women.|
|Why did the relationship go bad?||That jerk is a pervert, a psycho, and thrives on bringing me anguish||When a relationship goes wrong usually both parties contribute. It is important to understand what behaviors and attitudes I had that contributed. It is equally important to explore what he did that lead to the break. Finally it is important to understand compatibility challenges—characteristics of each of us—that simply didn’t mesh well. Such knowledge will stand me in good stead if I choose to pursue a relationship in the future.|
|How are you going to deal with your pain?||I am crippled. I am scarred. I will never recover||It has been a nasty jolt. There are times when I wonder if I will ever recover. There are times when I wonder if I can survive today. But all evidence suggests that if I take the right steps that I will recover one day. My counselor suggested that I read the Chapter 4 prescripts (from The Compatibility Code) that deal with recovery from devastation and systematically implement ones that apply. That is what I will do.|
|How do you feel about him?||May every business venture fail, may every romantic advance lead to devastation, let him live a wretched pathetic life pining for me, realizing the error of his ways, and then die miserably alone and burn in hell.||I do not have kindly thoughts toward him. To be frank there are times when the thought of seeing him get run over by a steam roller would bring me wicked pleasure. But The Compatibility Code helped me understand that this is just “pain-elicited aggression”. Because I am hurting, my emotional side wishes him ill. When the pain subsides I will wish him well. My focus will be on living a successful life myself and condition myself to think about him as little as possible until I have recovered.|
|You have children to negotiate—visitation and all. How are you going to manage?||Oh, Hell! Don’t even bring it up! I’m going to go out and get a gun and shoot the bastard!||Oh, Hell! Don’t even bring it up! But we must. Somehow I will need to rise above myself and relate to him and the children in a way that will minimize the damage to the little ones. I need to be big enough to not speak ill of him to the children. In the early going it may require a counseling session before each exchange to prepare for the flood of emotions and brace myself to do what I’ve got to do. In time the counselor may not be necessary as recovery allows a more normal relationship.|
|And how do you feel now?||Miserable and devastated||Miserable still, frightened, but cautiously hopeful|
Due to Flawed Perceptions of Information
Even in the absence of biasing emotions, we are still subject to a variety of critical errors due to flawed perception or erroneous information. The flawed perception is based upon the reality that everyone views life through their own interpretive filter. For instance if I am programmed to view men as over-sexed and domineering, whenever I meet a man my initial perception will be colored by that bias. Erroneous information is often due to unwise choices of our sources of information. The classic example I use in my classes is to describe the basic 18-year old having trouble in a romantic relationship. Where does she go for help? Typically to some other 18-year old who is also having trouble in their relationship! As Jesus put is so bluntly, “if the blind lead the blind, they both fall into the ditch.”
We are the product of our experience. I use a grisly example: In Scotland between 1570 and 1650, six thousand witches were burned at the stake—that’s 75 a year. Noting the population difference between 16th century Scotland (about 1 million) and modern day USA (over 300 million) a similar ratio would yield 22,500 burnings per year. The pattern was horrifyingly consistent: Find some woman who seemed a little strange, torture her until she admitted to witchcraft, then burn her.
Most people today have no neural connections to understand the barbarity of that age. Inreading Will Durant’s extensive discussion of life in Scotland during those years, there was general agreement by pretty much everyone in power that the burnings were necessary. There was one government official who openly opposed the burnings. His fate? He was burned at the stake.
The point? We are the produce of our experience. The power of these experiences is revealed by the people of 400 years ago who were conditioned to think that the barbarity of that age was normal and acceptable.
Psychologists call it our “interpretive filter”. All that we have experienced contributes to that filter in some way. For instance, if we have been brought up in a conservative religious environment this will color everything we experience. My father did not like the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracey comedy Adams Rib because there was no spiritual message. Someone else I know won’t listen to Chopin’s music because he had an affair.
Consider how being immersed in the following environments will color one’s interpretive filter:
- Abusive home
- Gang member
- Pursuit of athletic success
- A home saturated with music
- A home where every one smokes
- Drug use
- Pursuit of fitness
- High value for academics
- Pursuing a continual diet of soap operas
- 3 million TV advertisements
- Sexual promiscuity is practiced and made light of
- Fascination with history
- Fairy tales
- Junior high school students
Of course, the list could contain thousands of different influences. The challenge of understanding someone else’s interpretive filter is that identical events influence people differently. Just notice how different some siblings can be despite being brought up in identical environments.
The lesson to be learned?
- You have an interpretive filter that influences everything you perceive
- Everyone else has an interpretive filter that influences everything they perceive
- What you say may not be perceived by someone else in the way you intended
- What you hear may not be understood in the way the communication was intended.
Just these four can help you negotiate life’s events more successfully—the awareness that what you hear may not be what the other person intends you hear, and that what you say may not be interpreted as you hoped.
In a few sentences we can dispose of the topic of understanding other people’s filters. Essentially you can’t. If you are married to someone or maintain a close, long-term friendship you get many clues about this person’s filters. Never will it be fully accurate. For people you don’t know well, you may try to understand but your success rate will be low. If you think, for instance, “Oh, that person’s Hispanic . . .” or “Oh that person’s an attractive young woman . . .” he or she must be thus and thus. You’re just as likely to be wrong as to be right. That’s called stereotyping, and stereotyping rarely yields positive outcomes.
We can have some success at understanding our own filters. Identify you own essence qualities and you have a good start at key components of your interpretive filter. For instance, I’m an academic. When I would teach an Intro to Psychology class, there would be several students who would rarely show up, flunked tests and quizzes and failed the class—not even taking the trouble to drop the class and avoid an “F” on the transcript. “This means that they spent $900 to get an F on their transcript. As my son once said, “a purchase of 1,800 Snickers bars would be a better investment.” As I would tell others “I do not have neural connections to understand such behavior.” Once I asked in an upper-division Social Psychology class why students might do this. Without my interpretive filters they were able to come up with several reasons why this might be so: 1) The kid is here because their Mama wants them here, not because he or she wants to be here. 2) Pop is paying the bills so there is no sense of loss of investment. 3) They’re here to find a husband and passing classes seems unrelated to that pursuit. 4) They are going through a good ol’ Erich Fromm rebellion phase. They have been oppressed at home so long that now they’re going out and doing everything their parents forbad when they were in high school.
My (Darren) interpretive filter is largely influenced by that fact that I am Christian, academic, psychologist, logical, physically fit, heavily involved in music, introverted. When I interact with others I am aware of my “bias” and make adjustments whether communicating or listing to them.
Where do we get our information? How do we determine its accuracy? This section will be much shorter because there are foundational principles that apply to just about any type of knowledge. Lets provide some examples to illustrate:
Walter Opp was track coach at John Muir High School in Pasadena, California from the early1950s to the mid 1980s. During his tenure he consistently produced athletes who performed at the top level. The lists of the top-20-in-the-nation of high school track and field athletes would produce a number of Muir High School entries every year. He won several California State Track Championships over the years. Perhaps most telling is that John Muir High School was largely Caucasian early in his career (more of an emphasis on distance running and field events) and over 90% African American when he retired (more of a focus on sprints, jumps, hurdles, and relays). Whatever, Walter Opp was successful at an extraordinary level.Interesting side note: In the past decade I have not seen a single Muir athlete in the national top-20 lists.
I begin with an obscure name (certainly not obscure to those he coached) but if you googleWalter Opp today you get only a fleeting reference to “the legendary coach of John Muir High School”
If you had lived in Southern California during Walter’s tenure and had a son or daughter who had international potential in track and field, who do you think might be a wise choice to be the coach?
Let’s shift to more famous names (we indulge by including some people who have died):
|If you wanted success in this area||How would you like — to be your coach/mentor?|
|Film directing||Frank Capra, Steven Spielberg|
|Politics||Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt|
|Singing||Elvis, Ella, Dolly|
|Piano||George Gershwin or Franz Liszt|
|Trumpet||Louis Armstrong, Arturo Sandoval|
|Writing history||Will & Ariel Durant|
|Tap dancing||Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly|
|Evangelist||Billy Graham, St. Paul|
|Wealth acquisition||Napoleon Hill|
|Physicist||Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein|
|Writer||Lewis Carol, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen|
|News caster||Paul Harvey, Walter Cronkite|
|Talk show host||Oprah Winfrey|
|Humorist||Bill Cosby, Jim Carrey|
The function of this chart is to underline that if you wish sound advice/counsel you go to the best source possible.
The additional twist here is that if you seek success in a particular area, you are looking for someone who has taught others success more than you look for those who has achievedsuccess. In the list of names in the charts, you have some giants, but not all of them would be good teachers. This is why the person we introduced at the start, Walter Opp, provides such a good example. He himself was not a great athlete, but he coached many to become great athletes. So would it make more sense to be coached by Nadia Comaneci (Olympic gold medal gymnast) or Bela Karolyi—the coach who has guided many athletes to Olympic medals?Would it make more sense to be coached by Dyrol Burleson (outstanding Olympic 1500 meter runner) or by Bill Bowerman, Burleson’s coach and a coach who has guided scores of athletes to world class performances?
In the relational domain it would be equally wise to find someone who has guided many to an excellent marriage. This can be in the form of books you read (such as The CompatibilityCode, and books by John Gottman and Gary Chapman), people you associate with (those in successful relationships) and counselors who are expert in guiding their clients to marital success.
Due to Misattributions
The definition of attribution might be identified as the search for the reason behind a particular outcome. If I do poorly on a test, I search my environment to see why (the test was hard, I didn’t study enough, I’m stupid . . .). Misattribution, then, is coming up with the wrong reasons when I attempt to understand a particular outcome. For instance, a woman goes through a divorce and attempts to understand why. If she thinks the reason is that he was insensitive, but the real reason is that she was suffocatingly co-dependent, then she has come up with a misattribution. It is important that if we seek the reason for an important outcome that we come up with the right reason.
It is self evident how destructive misattribution can be when applied to important areas. How can we make sure we are not the victim of this obstacle? Much of what we have spoken of earlier provides the primary source of your answer: 1) recognize that our interpretive filters will often lead us astray when making judgments about ourselves. 2) to overcome this biasing effect, it is best to work with a counselor to help you uncover reality. 3) if you don’t have access to a counselor, you may speak with a trusted, wise, objective, and relationally savvy friend or read books. But this is generally a poor second choice. How many people do you know who can combine all those qualities? When you read books you may twist the contents to fit your biases.
In an arena as important as relational success it is urgent that find out the real reasons for a past broken relationship before you attempt other relationships.
The List of 18 Common Biases
What follows is a list of the 18 most common biases found in human perception. This is essentially the list that will show up in a Psychology course in social cognition—how I perceive and interpret my relational world.
Bias due to distinctive personal experience: Prior experience plays a huge role in determining present actions. In an unsuccessful relationship we may have decided that a, b, and c were reasons for non-success. An expert may be aware that items d, e, and f were actually the critical issues. Question: Does my personal experience provide enough knowledge to make a wise choice?
Bias due to inaccuracy of information: There are times we think we have knowledge, but our information is incorrect. There are other times when we simply lack knowledge in important areas. For instance, we may think that we are warm and caring but objective analysis and the comments of friends indicate quite otherwise. Question: Do I possess correct information about others or myself?
Bias due to small sample size: Our experience in a particular area may be very limited. Often people make choices based on entirely inadequate information. The teenager, for instance, may determine that a certain dating activity is desirable because his buddy thinks so. One person’s opinion is just as likely to be wrong as right. Question: Am I making a choice with insufficient evidence?
Biases due to reliance on case histories: “Use the Blubbo-buster and lose 20 pounds!” bawls the ad in a popular weekly. Then to substantiate their claim they tell the story of someone who was successful. There may be a history of 10,000 failures with the Blubbo-buster for every success, but the clever ad man realizes that people are powerfully swayed by stories. There is a published book in which the author explores cases of instant romance and marriage and says 75% were successful. Maybe 75% of those he knew were successful, but careful scientific analysis says only 5% of such relationships are successful. Question: Am I being swayed by a story that misrepresents reality?
Bias due to poor selection of data: When purchasing a VCR the wise shopper may consultConsumer Reports and spend several hours determining the product that best fits his needs. When it comes to marriage, few people have the specific knowledge of what factors are associated with success. They may hear that a couple took only 5 months from first contact to marriage—and that the marriage turned out to be quite successful. In this case, the good marriage he observed is probably in spite of the short courtship, not because of it. The naïve person may not understand that. Question: Am I using the wrong criteria for making choices?
The optimistic bias: Few people walk down the aisle thinking, “It’s not gonna work, it’s notgonna work.” They can read the statistics of 50 to 60% divorce rate and up to 80% unhappy rate and blithely assume that it won’t happen to them. Ignorance is bliss? In this case a foolish optimism can lead to ruin. Careful consideration with the input of objective friends is likely to provide more objective answers. Question: Am I foolishly assuming that things will turn out fine when data suggest otherwise?
Bias due to illusory covariation: Tim LaHaye writes a book on compatibility called (horror of horrors) Opposites Attract. The reality is that similarity attracts and opposites repulse. Naïve persons may observe a successful marriage in which the partners possess some obvious mismatches. They may think after noticing LaHaye’s book and making such an observation, that in their own relationships the presence of opposites is what makes for success. Nothing could be further from the truth! Question: Am I drawing correct conclusions from available information?
Bias due to mood: Mood affects judgment enormously. This works both directions. When you are depressed do your thoughts bear any resemblance to reality? If you are infatuated is your perception of reality skewed? The answer to both questions is obvious. Question: Is my mood causing me to make erroneous judgments?
Bias due to strong motivation: If I want it badly enough there is the tendency to think that my strong desire will overcome insurmountable odds. I recall a scene from Star Wars. Han Solo is about to enter an asteroid field and C3PO is frantically explaining that the odds against success are 3,546,568 to 1. Han Solo shushes his advisor, enters the asteroid field (amidst wild cheers from the viewing audience), and successfully evades his pursuers. Or consider Charlie, in the Willie Wonka film, as he desperately hopes the last wrapper will contain the golden ticket. Makes for great Hollywood, however, it provides a poor model for making important life choices. Question: Does the fact that I desperately want it cause me to ignore important information?
The halo effect: This occurred in the relationship between Walter and Amy (remember the Asian order bride? pp. 131-134 in the Compatibility Code). Walter thought the fact that Amy spoke five languages, photographed well, had a sweet voice and willing spirit would result in a successful relationship. In reality the person beneath those external qualities was profoundly incompatible. Question: Because I observe that certain positive qualities exist do I incorrectly assume there are others?
Bias due to expectation: We live life heavily influenced by our own experience. Teenagers typically possess naïve expectations and are often unaware that they even possess them. Even older people may expect things, based on prior experience, that are entirely unrealistic relative to the present situation. Question: Am I expecting things in the relationship that are unlikely to occur?
Bias due to Salience: The word salience is psychological lingo for that which draws our immediate attention. In the world of relationships a person’s beauty and soft-spoken manner may be prominent and immediately noticed. Often people do not look deeper to see manipulative and passive aggressive tendencies beneath the surface. Question: Does that which is immediately obvious fool me about the true nature of a person?
Bias due to misattribution: Attribution deals with our explanation of why events occur. The term misattribution refers to coming up with the wrong reason. If I feel that my relationship failed because I was not educated enough and hated hockey (when the real reasons were my manipulative and critical nature), my future choices will be erroneous because I am deciding based on false data. Question: Have I accurately determined the cause for success and non-success in my relationship?
False consensus: This is the tendency for a person who possesses some prominent negative quality or habit (such as smoking, use of drugs, sexual promiscuity) to think, “well, everyone else does it.” This bias directly contradicts reality. Someone may say “Well everyone gets mad” to explain away an explosive temper so extreme that it is certain to destroy a relationship.Question: Am I trivializing serious personal problems that might cause significant damage?
Self-serving bias: Self-serving bias is the tendency for people to see positive events as internally caused (she went out with me because I possess such a fabulous array of good qualities) and negative behaviors as externally caused (she didn’t go out with me because she had too much homework). The reality may be that she went out with you because she wanted a free meal (external) or she did not go out with you because you possess an array of ruinous qualities (internal to you). Question: Am I making valid judgments for the cause of events?
Self centered bias: The self-centered bias is the tendency to take more credit than is warranted for a jointly produced outcome. In relationships you may feel that it is your efforts that are driving the success of a relationship when objective analysis reveals that compared to your partner you’re a slacker. Question: Am I fully appreciative of the efforts of my partner that contribute toward success?
Illusion of control: There is the tendency for us to think we control events over which we have little or no influence. For instance, someone will read The Compatibility Code and rigidly apply its principles to search for a partner thinking they can guarantee success. The reality is that there is no guarantee in the relationship business. Any choice involves a certain risk of failure. This model or any model is unable to guarantee success. Question: Am I assuming I have control over things when I don’t?
Just world: This is the feeling that people get pretty much what they deserve. When observing a tragedy experienced by someone else (a divorce, a rape, a serious injury, an illness) there is a tendency to say they probably deserved it. It won’t happen to me because . . . What follows is a string of reasons designed to soothe the person into thinking that they are immune to similar disasters. Question: Am I ignoring important information (such as a 50% divorce rate and 80% unhappy rate) in the naïve assumption I have avoided all possible mistakes?
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