How might you review 2017? Thumb hovering between up and down?
The Ipsos Mori Social Research Institute has just published their study into the public’s perceptions of the good and the bad during the year.
Try the quiz. It transpires that perceptions can be a long, long way from reality. And those perceptions tend towards the negative.
We all systematically over- estimate levels of terrorism, murder, and social ills. The human brain has evolved in such a way that we underestimate the good, over estimate the bad, and constantly re-process our social realities negatively.
It may be to do with urgency, suggests the team.
A danger (even a perceived danger) seems to loom as a larger and more immediate force. A success (even an imagined one) seems to fade and take up less attention or bandwith. The Director of the Institute, Bobby Duffy, points out that improvements often take time. A slow shift is harder to appreciate and celebrate than a sudden adverse event.
Another explanation might lurk in some work done in the early twentieth century. The ‘Zeigarnik effect’ (A Russian psychologist working in the 20s and 30s) describes the phenomenon of our remembering so well all our unfinished tasks, and almost discounting the completed ones. The evolutionary force here is to finish, to complete what we have begun: the incomplete gnaws away at us.
Back in the present day, Mr Duffy suggests that we learn to speak more of things that are going well in memorable, engaging terms: stories and colourful anecdotes rather than statistics.
Which, probably, we should try to do.
But if there is a link between the perception -v- reality findings of The Social Research Institute and Bluma Zeigarnik’s work, might we find the most encouraging and positive truth of all?
Could humans be hard wired …a whisper would be appropriate here… to seek to make things ….better? And have thus evolved to concentrate on the work still be done, the problems still to be solved?
Perhaps it is true. Perhaps things can only get better.
We’re programmed not to stop trying.