Bias number 32 is known as the contrast effect. First observed by philosopher John Locke in the 17th century, this bias demonstrates how perception is determined by the individual’s pre-existing state.
Let’s take Mr. Locke as an example. He noticed that the experience of an object as hot or cold correlated with the temperature of his hand. If he soaked his hand in cold water, the object felt warm. If he soaked his hand in hot water, the object felt cold.
You may be muttering under your breath, “It’s not rocket science.” However, consider that through this experiment he surmised that perception in general is determined by the state in which the perceiver exists.
Since his initial “discovery,” scientists have proven over and over again how contrast affects perception. Mention the name “Hitler” for example, and you will almost certainly perceive another person as being kinder, unless of course that person happens to be Genghis Khan, responsible for the deaths of 40 million people. He makes Hitler look like a pussy cat. Who knew that was even possible?
In business, you experience contrast every time you compare your experiences with another. A tough leader might occur as disagreeable next to an amiable one in one instance and a veritable sweetheart next to a ruthless one.
Certain tasks that you perform every day can also generate contrast. For example, I do my best creative work in the morning. The words just flow. In contrast, if I start in the afternoon, I find the process of creating something from scratch a real slog.
Is it that I’m actually better at creating in the morning? Maybe, but I assert that it is instead a function of perception. I perceive myself to be better at creating things in the morning. I’ve been getting up early to write essays since my high school days. The act of sleeping on something helps me coalesce my thoughts into a structure that somehow materialises as a coherent point of view.
And guess what? It persists to this day. It’s one of the reasons why I rarely schedule a meeting before noon. The morning is a sacred space in which I exercise my creativity.
Think about yourself during your working day or week. Do you have a routine that you like to follow? What happens when that routine is disrupted? How does it affect your productivity?
Similarly, do you find yourself in a state of constant comparison? Are you benchmarking yourself against certain colleagues? If so, what do you find?
Most critically, have you stopped to assess your own starting point with impartiality? Are you hot with yourself in some areas and cold in others? Consider that your comparisons are based upon your perception of yourself.
Are these perceptions accurate? If so, how do you know? Finally, what impact do these comparisons have on your relationship to yourself and others?
It’s a useful thing to value measurements as a means of gaining insight and perspective on an issue, like your skillset and your leadership qualities, for example. It’s useful to know yourself to be able to communicate your own USPs.
It’s also very useful to use the contrast as a compass to keep you moving towards your True North. Meeting someone who shares similar values can occur as a match made in heaven. In contrast (pun intended), encountering someone whose value set contradicts yours can feel like using sandpaper to exfoliate your body — unpleasant and potentially damaging.
At the same time, it’s important not to place too much emphasis on the contrast as a thing of fact. Remember, your perception of the world is determined by your own starting point. If life occurs as dangerous, someone who is bold and daring can occur as dangerous.
In actuality, it’s often the bold and daring people who are also the safest to be around. They are often open and clear with their intentions, and they appreciate this in other people, so you know where you stand with them.
The quiet, amiable colleagues who put on a nice front might feel safe. However, they can be the most scheming, back-stabbing, dishonest operators in the business.
Appearances, defined by your perception of a situation, can be deceiving.
So how can you use the contrast effect to your benefit?
Firstly, recognise that your perception is relative to you. It’s not an absolute fact. As a result, consider how much weight you want to assign to something that is only partly true.
Secondly, get curious about your perception. Where did it begin? What belief about you, about others, about a particular situation or about life in general fuels this perception?
Thirdly, acknowledge the impact your perception has on you. Does it empower you to create the results you most want?
Finally, remember that you are never stuck with a perception. In fact, your brain is equipped with neuroplasticity that enables it to grow and change. If a perception works for you, keep it. If not, expand it or develop an entirely new perception that enables you to perceive your experiences in a beneficial way.
Perception is key to making your brilliance manifest in the world. Make it your mission to use your creative gifts to get the best out of you.