Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Telling it like it isn't*

Ironic process theory or the white bear problem refers to the psychological process whereby deliberate attempts to suppress certain thoughts make them more likely to surface. An example is how when someone is actively trying not to think of a white bear they may actually be more likely to imagine one. 
I should have taken ironic process theory into account before  publically saying that I wasn't going to mention the individual I now have to refer to as Oink Balloon. Because Oink Balloon does throw up some darned interesting examples of psychological processes - and not just ironic process theory:
...when a person says something that isn't seen as "self-serving" or "normative" for the position that they're in, other people are not only more likely to think that those statements are what that person truly believes, but they're also more likely to feel more generally like they can know what that person is truly like deep down. It makes the person saying those things seem more "authentic." And it makes us more likely to feel like that person isn't lying. Even though Oink Balloon has given us just as many reasons as the other candidates to think that he's a "flip-flopper," the fact that he's not saying things that you would expect a politician to say means that his audience will be more likely to overlook those flip-flopping reasons and assume he's actually a truth-teller.

So, Oink Balloon isn't saying what you'd "expect" a politician in his shoes to say, and people are responding to this by calling it "refreshing" -- because it creates this feeling that, for once, they can really, genuinely know what someone running for office is actually like. But of course, this all relies on the assumption that Oink Balloon's comments aren't actually "self-serving." Given the enthusiastic response that he's received from some voters and the fact that his "controversial" comments seem to be gaining him fans, we can't really claim that these comments aren't self-serving, can we?
Writes Melanie Tannenbaum in Scientific American.

I've seen a similar psychological process going on in a novel** I read years ago. The plot revolved around a character, Bell, with some murky secrets. Everybody around Bell thinks she's a completely honest, open person, an impression Bell has engineered by being blunt to the point of rudeness. 'She'd hurt someone badly rather than lie to them', says one of her friends. In fact, Bell lies about facts all the time, but her friends and aquaintances can't see this, assuming that she's always honest because she spares nobody's feelings.

Or, as Melanie Tannenbaum puts it, 'non-normative statements are seen as more likely to be "true."'

*Not a bad title, IMO, but I have to admit that somebody beat me to it.

**The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine