Many years ago, I read about a research project* that was studying people’s opinions and decision-making processes, and specifically the speed at which they/we came to those conclusions. What initially caught my attention was that the research was about web sites: How long did it take someone to decide whether they liked a web page or not?
From the conclusions in the research paper, very fast. As in on the order of a fraction of a second fast. Webpage loads, and boom: like or dislike.
That’s how quick this happens. That’s how short the window can be before our filters (a new one, in this case, but also heavily influenced by many already existing ones) come slamming down to colour our perception going forward.
And colour them they do, for the even more interesting bit was when the researchers followed up to show the participants a different site that was, in some way, better or more functional. Most stuck with their initial choice, even if it was harder to use or to accomplish what they wanted from the site. Partially in a “devil you know…” kind of way, but mostly very much in the “filtered view” kind of way. Having decided it was a good site, so it remained.**
Our filters are amazingly powerful things. And they’re not bad per se… but it is highly useful to know they are there. Know that they can and do influence our feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Know how they hook into our rationalization engine. Know how they can figuratively blind us to what’s in front of our eyes, limiting possibilities and potentially making our lives much more arduous than it needs to be. And to know just how quickly they can come into being and lock us down, without us even being conscious that it happened.
When we do the work to go beyond just knowing about our filters and practice being mindful and present about them and their impact, we gain freedom: freedom to take what our filters give us, or to set it aside and take a fresh and clear second (or third, or fourth) look. And the freedom to do that at any time, no matter how long the filter has been in place.
* That for the life of me my Google-fu is not strong enough to find again…
** In a lot of ways, it could also be tied to “othering” – having decided we like this site, the site becomes part of the tribe, and so everything else becomes an outsider and therefore unconsciously viewed in a harsher light.