Self-Deception: Helping and Hindering Personal and Public Decision Making
Our world is largely illusory. We view life through a multifaceted prism constructed by our sensory and perceptual systems, and the cognitive architectures of our minds. Our interpretations of the physical world are constrained by our evolved sensory and perceptual capacities, the so-called umwelt. Hence, our record of the physical world is improvised and lacking complete fidelity, but sufficient for successfully negotiating our environment. The illusory countenance of the physical world extends into our mental lives. Our conscious experience and assessment of our inner and social worlds are colored and biased by psychological mechanisms selected during the Pleistocene for a life of dependent sociality and problem solving. Although acutely tuned to concrete dangers, humans are a generally optimistic species (Weinstein, 1980). The prism casts an undoubtedly rosy hue, as certain threatening aspects of the landscape are glossed over or ignored. People put aside worry, walk hand in hand with whom might otherwise be their enemy, give without necessarily receiving, and look forward to a better future while facing a certain death. Other times, the prism focuses sharply on what is crucial. Human beings are a reasoning species whose logical calculations must be both expedient and based on available, although often incomplete, information. Thus, people employ many mental shortcuts, rules of thumb, or “heuristics” in making sense of the world (Fiske & Taylor, 1991; Kahneman. Slovic, & Tversky, 1982).