The nature of humans forming opinions of other humans is a complex phenomena, during which it is not uncommon to observe quick shifts in perception. In this article we explore the idea of human to human perception, its purpose and how accurate we are in those perceptions, we also explore the need to regulate flux states of perception and share some tools for doing so.
Human beings form opinions about each other due to a range of psychological, social, and cognitive factors. These opinions serve as quick ways to assess potential friends, threats, or allies during interactions. Categorisation helps us make sense of the world by classifying people based on appearance, behaviour, and communication styles, although it can obviously oversimplify. Opinions aid in predicting behaviour, a survival instinct from our evolutionary past. They also provide a sense of control and understanding in uncertain situations. Opinions help us compare ourselves socially and emotionally, impacting our self-identity. Cultural norms, media, and personal experiences contribute to the shaping of opinions. Unconscious biases also play a role, at times leading to unfair judgments so it is crucial to continually evaluate our opinions for fairness, accuracy, and sensitivity to diverse perspectives.
The accuracy of our opinions about other people is variable and influenced by multiple factors. Limited information, confirmation bias, and unconscious biases can lead to inaccuracies. First impressions, while valuable, might not always reflect the whole picture. Context, emotions, and selective perception also play roles, impacting our judgments. The intricate nature of human behaviour and the tendency to simplify can contribute to inaccuracies as well.
For some people, their opinions of others can be in a constant state of flux. One minute seeing all the most fantastic attributes in a person, to one thing slightly changing and suddenly their opinion changes completely and they see negative attributes or become suspicious or sceptical. So why does this occur?
The Main Reasons Behind Rapidly Shifting Opinions:
Confirmation Bias: People tend to seek out information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs or opinions. When new information contradicts these beliefs, opinions can change abruptly, leading to quick shifts in perception. So if we have grown up with stories about certain ‘types of people’ and we see a single behaviour that aligns with that story, we may quickly shift to seeing the whole person in that way.
First Impressions: Initial impressions hold significant sway over opinions. If someone forms an opinion based solely on a brief encounter, it can change drastically as they learn more about the person over time.
Social Influence: Opinions can be influenced by the collective sentiments of one’s social circle or society at large. Peer pressure, trends, and societal norms can prompt rapid shifts in perspectives. It can be very difficult to hold a firm opinion of a person if others around you give an alternative view or impression.
Emotional States: An individual’s emotional state can colour their perceptions of others. When emotions are intense, opinions may sway drastically, often causing regret once emotions subside.
Limited Information: Jumping to conclusions without a complete understanding of a person’s background or intentions can lead to hasty opinion changes.
Miscommunication: Lack of effective communication or misunderstandings can cause perceptions to change rapidly. A misinterpreted statement or action can taint one’s opinion of another person.
So why is it in our best interests to regulate our opinions of other people, and how do we go about doing that?
Regulating our opinions of others holds numerous benefits, including deeper understanding, reduced bias, and effective communication. It fosters personal growth, resolves conflicts, and widens perspectives, while dismantling stereotypes and creating positive social environments. Accurate opinions enhance decision-making, well-being, and relationships, contributing to cultural competence and a more inclusive world. Overall, cultivating regulated opinions reflects empathy, promotes positive interactions, and strengthens our connections within society.
There are many ways to begin the journey to regulating our interpretations, opinions and perceptions of others, however they all require Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to observe the moment, and if our perceptions can shift quickly we need to learn the skill of observation to become more aware of that shifting as it is happening, allowing us to take a more objecting and non-judgemental stance to consider where those opinions are coming from.
Psychological therapies such as counselling, CBT, and psychotherapy are a very effective way to explore your belief systems, exploring how and why you think the way you do, because we simply do not all think the same and your thoughts determine your reactions. Through self-reflection we can practice self and other compassion and move towards life long continued education about what it means to be human and how we co-exist with others.
There is a wonderful exercise developed by Blaire Aguirre & Gillian Galen called ‘Get Stable’, and we have created a version of it on the free downloadable resource below. It enables us to look at a close relationship and consider all the different times we have felt differently towards that person and help consolidate all those into one mental image of the person.
FREE DOWNLOAD HERE:
If you notice that your relationships contain a frequent sense of instability and would like to explore your styles of relating with a therapist we would be very happy to help. We have a team of professional therapists in Leicester as well as offering sessions UK wide online.