So you think you know it all?
If you haven’t seen this advert for Carlsberg beer, take a minute to watch it.
Beer’s not my preferred tipple, but I do think this a really clever twist on the way that preconceptions keep us in their thrall (as well as a good ad for lager.)
A series of couples are sold tickets to see a movie. However once inside, they realise that their seats are the last two in the middle of the theatre. And that every other seat is occupied by a Hell’s Angels biker, covered in tattoos.
The couples that decide to go ahead and take their seats are rewarded by loud cheers and applause, and of course, a can of beer. They laugh as they realise they have been filmed and the whole thing is a set up.
But what is really interesting is how each couple reacts when they see the bikers. We make snap judgements. Instant assessments of our surroundings and other people based on what our senses tell us, and what we know. Or think we know. In half of the cases I just mentioned, the couples leave without taking their seat – or claiming their prize.
We’re hard-wired to hold preconceived ideas – to make fast decisions before we are in full possession of all the facts. Human beings have evolved to survive in a hostile and dangerous environment, and our wellbeing hinges on the choices we make. It’s in our nature to react quickly.
However, when an idea or an opinion makes it hard to arrive at an objective assessment of a situation or another person, we are just as likely to miss an opportunity or make a mistake. I found this great line from Scientific American about the danger of holding preconceived notions: “preconceptions blunt imagination by narrowing the sphere of considered options. We are limited by what we see.”
We carry our preconceptions around with us everywhere: at home, with friends and family, in the work place. After all, we are the sum of our own past experiences, as well as our habitual ways of thinking and seeing things. But whilst it’s pretty hard to avoid preconceived ideas, it is possible to stop, turn a situation around and question the way we think, from time to time.
To quote one of my favourite actors, Alan Alda: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”