Self-centered bias: believing the world revolves around us

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Joe Dispenza

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We are all protagonists of the film of our life, but we must not fall into the error of thinking that the world is a simple background, a scenario that must change according to our desires and needs. This thought, while tempting and very common, is the source of our worst frustrations, disappointments and anger because it leads us to have unreal expectations. We must be aware that we do not see the world as it is, but as we are. And we must also be aware that we all have, some more and some less, a self-centered bias.

What is the self-centered bias?

In psychology, the tendency to interpret everything that happens to us in a personal way, based on the intensity with which it affects us, is called "self-centered bias".

The self-centered bias helps us to maintain a coherent narrative of the events of our life. The more we personalize experiences, the more relevant they are to us and, therefore, easier to remember. These memories end up becoming the basis of our identity. So, in a way, the self-centered bias would be the glue that allows us to hold the different pieces of our life together.

However, we must keep in mind that the self-centered bias is nothing more than an adaptive illusion. It often leads us to misinterpret what is happening, it makes us take things too much to heart and waste precious emotional energy that is consumed in the form of frustration and anger.

How does the self-centered bias work?

A study conducted at Tohoku Women's Junior College shows how self-centered bias works. The psychologists asked participants to rate a range of their own and others' behaviors as right or wrong.

Interestingly, people tended to rate the behavior of others as more unfair and their behaviors as more just. This reveals that we tend to attribute positive successes and behaviors to ourselves and project negative failures and behaviors onto others.

It also reveals that when we make judgments, we are very biased. We have no problem understanding our motives and turning them into excuses for our decisions and behaviors, but we have a hard time putting ourselves in others' shoes.

Another very interesting study conducted at the University of Shenzhen delved into the mechanisms of self-centered bias in the brain. These neuroscientists showed that thalamus activation can predict how intense our egocentric bias will be.

The thalamus is located deep in the brain and is a synaptic integration center where an initial processing of sensory signals occurs before they continue their journey to the cerebral cortex.

In practice, this structure is responsible for screening for insignificant signals and directing important sensory impulses to areas of the somatosensory cortex and other areas of the brain, in turn determining the intensity and importance of these stimuli. Therefore, the thalamus plays a key role in directing our attention to the stimuli we consider relevant.

This means that, when we are victims of the self-centered bias, we favor information and stimuli that are not really that important, just because we believe they are connected to us and affect us in some way. But that self-centered view can deceive us, making us overlook information that might be relevant, because the thalamus would categorize it as irrelevant or secondary.

To think that everyone is looking at us

Indeed, one of the main consequences of the self-centered bias is to believe that everyone is looking at us. If we live as the protagonists of the film, we will almost automatically assume that everyone is watching us. So we make the mistake of thinking that since we are the center of our universe, we are also the center of the universe of others.

Consequently, when we relate to others, we think less about them and more about ourselves. Under certain circumstances, this attitude can become so intense that it almost leads to "schizophrenic behavior", in the sense that we stop reacting to what happens in order to respond to the mental images we have built. It is a totally maladaptive behavior that does not take reality into account.

A study developed at Cornell University, for example, showed how it works. The psychologists asked the participants to wear a shirt with an embarrassing image and move casually around the university campus. So they had to estimate how many people had noticed it. Everyone estimated that they attracted a lot of attention, but in most cases they went unnoticed.

This experiment shows us that each person is so convinced that they are the center of attention that they notice very little about the others.

How does the self-centered bias affect?

“An oversized unconscious is always self-centered. Consciousness can do nothing but preserve its existence. He is unable to learn from the past, unable to understand present events and unable to project himself correctly into the future, ”wrote Carl Gustav Jung.

Focusing excessively on ourselves, forgetting that we are part of the world and assuming our opinions as absolute and immutable truths, is a sign of immaturity and insecurity that causes more harm than good.

1. It prevents us from taking advantage of differences to grow. This cognitive bias leads us to trust our point of view and way of seeing the world too much, thinking that they are the only possible ones. This leads us to ignore others and underestimate their opinions, which in many cases can enrich us.

2. Adds extra pressure. Having a self-centered bias adds even more pressure because we care too much about the image we project. That pressure leads us to make more mistakes and makes us irritable.

3. It takes us away from the world. To relate better and take advantage of what the world offers you, you must first learn to calm your ego. Being too focused on ourselves prevents us from seeing situations clearly and dealing with them adaptively.

How to overcome the self-centered bias?

The first step in overcoming the self-centered bias is to assume that we all, to a greater or lesser extent, suffer from it. Nobody escapes its influence. Therefore, we must begin by asking ourselves to what extent we are reacting to the situation and to what extent we are instead carried away by our desires, expectations and / or emotions.

It is also essential to take a psychological distance from what happens to us to reduce the effect of the self-centered bias. There is a very interesting technique which consists in imagining that the mind contains more than one "I". It implies the separation, for example, of the suffering self from the remote self.

It is a kind of splitting that helps us improve our mood and react better to events, shifting the focus of attention from the inside out. Through this exercise we give psychological oxygen to our “suffering self”, so that we can see the negative experience with other eyes, in a more realistic and detached way.

Another step in overcoming the self-centered bias is to worry a little less about the image we project. It's about letting our guard down a little so that we can relate to others more authentically. This will automatically generate an effect of emotional reciprocity; that is, those around us will relax and open up, so that the attention previously paid to our self becomes a kind of reflector, expansive and shared that allows us to connect from our essence.

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