Five Ways Psychology Destroys the Way You See Yourself and Life

All of us have certain ways of seeing ourselves — our abilities, our shortcomings, our talents. We also have our own constructed notions of how we act on different situations, or even how life works in general. However, how sure are we that these beliefs we create about ourselves are correct? How sure are we that the way we see our everyday living — from daily little situations to our values and standards — is correct in the standards of science?

Psychology, as a science that breathes through never-ending research, proves in its findings that no, darling, you are not really what you think you are. Life is also not exactly what you think it is. Contemporary research lays out new concepts that explain the glitches of our personality and our perceptions; if you think there ain’t any, prepare your mind to be blown, and your self-concept to be shattered.

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1. Teamwork doesn’t always work. In fact, it makes you lazier.

They say being in a team will push you to hustle harder and work a little longer, but psychology is shaking its head. It turns out, we work harder alone than when we are in a group.

This concept was first established in — guess what– a tug-of-war, way back in 1974, by a psychologist named Alan Ingham. In the first phase, he made the subjects wear blindfolds, told them that they were pulling with other participants, and instructed them to pull as hard as they can against a machine on the other side. The amount of effort they exerted while they thought they were pulling with other people were measured against the amount of effort they exerted when they were told they were pulling alone, which was what they did just right after the first phase. Surprisingly, though they were alone both times, they pulled 18 percent less arduously when they thought they’re with other people.

But does the size of the group affect each member’s performance? APAC New APAC New Zealand

In the classroom, when the teacher asks, “Do you have any question?” the first response is always merely audible than when the teacher asks the second time and then everybody shouts in chorus. This is the context of what Bibb Latane, Kipling Williams, and Stephen Harkins of Ohio State University did in one of their experiments, 1979. In a room, they made people shout as loud as they could in a small group, then in a big group. With that, they have established that an individual shouts louder when in a big group than when in a small group of people.

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This thing happens also in concerts, isn’t it? When the performer says, “Sing with me!” the second response from the audience is always louder than the first; after the performer says, “I can’t hear you!”  This implies that we tend to work harder when we are only with few number of teammates than when we are in a large team. This is because, it turns out, the fewer the people, the more our works are being magnified and vice versa.

This concept is known as social loafing or the Ringelmann Effect after French engineer Maximilien Ringelmann, who worked with Ingham in this phenomenon. Together, these two from the past explained why one of your thesis partner procrastinates all the time.

2. You think you’re good in forming objective opinions? No.

One day, a girl– let’s call her Susie– was set up in a blind date with a guy. She met him in a cozy coffee shop, and the red shirt the guy was wearing suddenly caught her attention. The date went well; she thought that the guy was really sweet and adorable. Susie really had fun, but they didn’t work out. Years passed, she had a meeting with a client who was wearing a blue shirt. Our character thought that the guy was a little self-absorbed, harsh, and cold after some time. To her surprise, however, it turned out that that client wore the same red-shirt guy he dated before. What possibly changed Susie’s mind toward the man? The color of the guy’s shirt and the coffee has something to do with it.

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Now before you go judging Susie’s easily swerved opinion, let me first say that one way or another, despite all the education you took and all the hours you spent studying and exploring life, you are almost just like her.

Our brains are wired to interpret various senses. Weirdly, the way we take and interpret sensation does affect the way we form opinions. For example, seeing warm colors creates a visual representation in our brain that may be formed through words; yellow, red, or orange, may translate into “warm” the word, that may simply mean hot, but metaphorically may also mean being hospitable and welcoming. The word “cold” may also be interpreted not just as a feeling, but also a trait. These mechanics, also called embodied cognition, are done by that piece of meat inside our skull in different ways and is backed-up with research.

Lawrence Williams and John Bargh conducted an experiment in 2008, where they made one group of strangers hold hot coffee and one group hold iced coffee. They were set-up to meet people and be evaluated afterwards. Williams and Bargh found out that the  strangers who held the warm coffee evaluated other strangers as generous, nice, and caring. The strangers who held the cold coffee, on the other hand, said that the same strangers are difficult, stand-offish, and hard to talk to. A follow-up experiment was also done by the two where they made the participants hold heating pads and cold packs and were given gifts for participation. Those gifts can be shared or not. Fifty-four percent of those who held heating pads agreed to share their rewards, while only 25 percent of those who held cold packs did. Obviously, the warmth made an effect on their decision-making.

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Another study conducted in 2010 also centered around the embodied cognition. Josh Ackerman, Christopher C. Nocera, and their associates asked the participants to conduct a mock job interview. They observed that the participants took the applicants with resume’s attached to heavier clipboards more seriously than those applicants whose resumes are attached to lighter clipboards. They regarded the former more qualified than the latter. In this activity, the heaviness of the clipboard translated to the subject’s interpretation of who’s competent and who’s not. Again, sensation altered decision-making.

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To make you hungry, fast-food chains are dressed in red and yellow — mustard and ketchup. They say that your CV must be over four pages, and that wearing red will make you look more attractive. Dua Lipa said that if you’re “under” him, you ain’t getting “over” him. And maybe the reason why you’re afraid of the doctor is because of the cold stethoscope he puts on your chest.

Now tell me you’re not like Susie.

3. You drag yourself down to your own failure.

In 1978, Steven Berglas and Edward E. Jones did an experiment where they make their students answer a test. After answering, they told them that they got high scores, without rationalizing the exam or even checking the papers. Then, they asked them to choose between two fake drugs, one is performance-enhancing and one is performance-inhibiting, before taking the second test. Shockingly, majority chose the performance-inhibiting drugs. Why is it so, you ask?

When they finished answering the first test, no explanation was given on how they all got high scores. This made the students felt confused and afraid on answering the second test. What if they fail? What should they improve next time? This put their ego in defense mode– their self-esteem couldn’t take the failure, so the blame should come from an external source. That’s why they picked the performance-inhibiting drug. This unconscious action takes place in all of us; we tend to handicap ourselves when we’re about to hit a higher course.

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Yeah, you yourself is hindering your own way to success.

This effect is very evident in all of us especially to those who have to do something difficult like a job interview, a board exam or a big project, or even those who are tasked to do anything small-time like taking a quiz or presenting in class. We know how it feels: our heart palpitating, our judgment becoming cloudy because of nervousness, our speech becoming hasty, etc. To protect our self from being pulverized by the failure that may come, we tend to unconsciously do something out of the way just to have something to blame in case we really failed. This is what they call the self-handicapping effect, a cousin of sweet lemon — pretending that a bad thing is not actually bad — and sour grape– pretending to don’t really want what you can’t have — defense mechanisms.

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Another study was also conducted about this notion, but this time, they assessed if our current mood affects our self-handicapping tendency. In 2006, Adam Alter and Joseph Forgas of the University of New South Wales grouped their participants into two and made them answer a test. One group was told they did very well, while the other one was told that they didn’t. With their ego-states being boosted and lowered by that time, the participants were made to watch two films — a comedy film for those who had their egos boosted, and a documentary about cancer for the other group — before taking another exam, as they were told. Before taking the second test, Alter and Forgas offered to kind of teas — one that could increase their energy and one that could make them calm or even sleepy. The moment of truth is not the result of the second test, but what would they pick between two types of tea. Would those whose ego were boosted and were not likely to self-handicap continue to the energy-inducing tea? Would those whose ego is turned down and who are more likely to self-handicap continue to the calming tea? No and no. Sixty-five percent of the time, surprisingly, those who were supposed to be happy and boosted chose the calming tea. The two even mixed things up but it always ends up to this: the happier you are, the more likely you will handicap yourself.

Your mood doesn’t really help, sorry.

4. You are somehow a product of other people’s opinion.


You can’t blame yourself if you think that you are unswayable to what other people think or say about you, but unfortunately, you’re wrong. Though you grow up being influenced by others, it is a different thing when people actually predict who you will be in the futur; you become those expectations, according to psychology.

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This notion is called the self-fulfilling prophecy and it dates back on some early narratives and literatures. This thing though, is not a fiction. It is when someone’s behavior is not done logically, but socially. Let’s say it’s like what happened to Taylor Swift: when people commented tons of snake emojis in her social media accounts, even though she may not be one, she owned it up, thus fulfilling the prophecy about her. The most exact example however, is when a rumor of shortage spreads — let’s say a shortage of meat– people will rush in buying a lot of it, thus making the shortage real. In short, when there’s an assumption of what’s gonna happen in the future, there will be a lot of actions in the present. And when those present action is powerful enough, those will catapult in making the predictions come true.

In 1979, William Crano and Phyllis Mellon picked out random students from an elementary school. They told their teachers that those children exhibited genius-level IQ based on their testing, which of course didn’t happen; they’re just as normal as their peers. Primed by the imaginary IQ results, the teachers showed special treatment to those students, thus making them really excel compared to others. This also applies to couples. When a party suspects that the other is cheating, he/she will treat the other with contempt, hatred, suspicion, etc. When that happens, the other party may really fall on the verge of being a real cheater.

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Stereotyping may be a dangerous mix with self-fulfilling prophecy. Labeling a certain group of people may push them into really owning those tags. However, this powerful concept also be positively used; having a positive expectations may really end up in positive outcomes.

So be careful of what you keep telling yourself or other people. You may really end up with what you wished for.

5. Some people care about you, but most of them don’t.

You went to school in yet just another normal day. Your mom made a very special breakfast, the sun is shining bright above the sky, owning his throne, and everyone seemed so friendly. As you enter the classroom, you looked down to check how you look and you saw something that made your heart dropped — your socks weren’t similar, the left one is shorter than the other! You panicked. Everyone transformed into hideous monsters judging you from head to toe, quietly laughing inside their heads. Oh, that’s why your crush approached you a while ago — to mock you. It’s like the end of the world.

The next day, to seek out revenge, you broke your piggy bank and bought the latest, hottest clothes you could buy. You wore them right away and flaunt your newly-found style in the school. As you walked down the hallway as if it is a runway, you imagined that everybody’s eyes are pinned on you.

The good and the bad thing about the spotlight effect  is that nobody will probably notice if you look bad, but nobody will also notice if you look good. The spotlight is all in your head. So all the attention you thought you got in school were all illusions.

Thomas Gilovich was the first to study the degree of how we believe our actions or appearance are noticed by others. In his experiment back in 1996, he made his students wear a shirt with big Barry Manilow’s face printed on it. This was to make them feel really awful about how they look, thus increasing the spotlight effect. Gilovich made them briefly enter a room filled with other students. Then, he asked them how many of those people did they think would remember that they were wearing those shirts. They said that most of them probably would. After the experiment, he asked the students inside the room if they really noticed the print in the participant’s shirt. It turned out that only 25 percent recalled seeing Manilow.

But why do we feel like this? The same person suggested that this is because of the phenomenon called “anchoring and adjusting.” We tend to anchor intensively on our past experiences and to ourselves that we’re having trouble adjusting our focus far away from how we look or what we did.

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In the age of social media, let’s say, unless you’re a celebrity with millions of followers, no one really cares about how you look in your tagged photos that were taken last night at the party. Don’t fret.

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Lorhenz Lacsa

Lorhenz B. Lacsa is a human rights defender and an advocate of LGBT rights and mental health (in his own little ways). He is also a wannabe artist/writer. “Freak” is the word he always uses to describe himself.