A Human Brain ®Evolution in A Machine Intelligent World - Part IV

Beware of Bias and Behaviorism


Almost twenty years in the making and my marketing and communications experience - as my drive to master it - is almost obsolete and in for a major upgrade.

I have been made redundant twice during the course of my career, been hired as a short-term consultant, and been a meandering, freelancing gypsy hosting small workshops on happiness while seeking my own. This has been an exhausting but enriching joyride.

As I wander around sniffing for my next big cheese and looking through my almost-empty pockets, I have embarked on a new mission to reboot my skills, interests and ambitions. 

The financial crisis of 2008 in combination with the upsurge of technology evoked the skills crisis in 2018. We have yet to unlearn what we learned and relearn what we have yet to learn.

Inspired by the Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers, I decided to go back to school to dig deep and relook at what mattered to me and to the world today.

I have learned more about myself through the last turbulent three years than I have in my 15 stable years of corporate confinement.

But one setback I realized about my success before and now that has kept me from taking more risks and maybe even becoming a millionaire, was my mindset stemmed from deep cognitive biases or influenced by behavior modification systems that I have not been aware of all this time.

Our biases are embedded into our way of thinking deeper than we think. Self-sabotage is powerful. What we think is reality is actually our own perception and projection of it through our own frame of the world.

What could be worse is that these biases may have been shaped by our interactions with family, teachers or friends or with social media and intelligent machines through reward and punishment mechanisms.

Our thoughts and emotions are not our own making.

We have negative biases that distort our perceptions of the world

We tend to be attracted to bad news over good news, to see the negative qualities in our partners than recall the good ones, and to remember one criticism in the midst of a hundred compliments. Why is that?

According to evolutionary psychological studies, our brains are wired to think negatively and that negative information holds greater weight than positive information. What blew me away was the science behind how women and men perceived and processed negative information differently, with women being more avoidant and less ‘aroused’ by negativity.

When we interpret negativity in our environment as the long-awaited Armageddon and we leave our overly negative thoughts to lead our minds, this creates an immense amount of anxiety in our biology and a great distortion in our morality.

According to Maryam Kouchaki, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, “When people feel anxious, they are more likely to perceive even neutral situations as threats, and these perceived threats can lead to unethical behavior”, such as lying, cheating and stealing.

There are a hundred more biases one cannot even begin to imagine how active they are in one’s daily life. The below infographic is a snapshot of that.


We are being manipulated through behavior modification systems

Our visual perception is highly filtered, constructed and reconstructed by our mind’s memories, our experiences and the meanings we create for them. Sometimes, those things are influenced by our physical and most recently digital environment through behavioral modification systems underpinned by reward and punishment, approval and dismissal, likes and no likes, that we are unconscious of.

This distortion, in combination with social comparison and our inability to perceive the truth, is being fueled by algorithmic manipulation of the advertising industry on the Internet and social media, as virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier highlights in this Guardian article.

Lanier believes that social media networks have become “behavior modification empires”. They use algorithms that measure and manipulate our emotions at a very fast pace.  

This has only been possible because negative emotions, such as becoming startled, scared and angry, rise faster than positive ones; they go up fast and they go down slowly. Whereas, positive reactions such as gaining understanding, admiration, appreciation and trust build up more slowly but can be killed really quickly.

This is why negativity has been very powerful especially in the digital space because its outcomes are faster to measure and predict and their effects take longer to dwindle. This gives advertisers enough time to create new feedback systems, which continue to take us through deeper loops of more complex manipulation.  

Lanier finally adds that if we don’t rewind, restructure and reprogram this potentially dangerous machine that is being fed daily by the growing amount of negativity, we could potentially destroy our own human race. Like Yuval Noah Harari, Lanier stressed the importance of knowing ourselves really well, and the only way to know ourselves is to experience life outside these dangerous behavior modification empires.

Human happiness could be the antidote

I cannot stress the importance of being happy, content and compassionate in this machine intelligent world. Mo Gawdat, author of “Solve for Happy”, summarizes this message in a very impactful way, which I will continue to reiterate throughout my upcoming blog posts.