“we learn our belief systems as very little children, and then we move through life creating experiences to match our beliefs. Look back in your own life and notice how often you have gone through the same experience.”
-Louise L. Hay
“Humans only use 10 percent of their brains”, this is something that is believed by most humans because that’s what our teachers in schools have taught us or people around us might have told. But, it is just a myth. Though this false belief can be blamed on movies such as ‘Lucy’ (directed by Luc Besson), most of the beliefs that we, as humans hold, are based on the simple factor: our perceptions towards things.
Perception or the way we perceive things is simply how we experience the world through our senses. For example, when we see rustling in the grass we may perceive or believe it to be an animal causing it (fear). But, it could either be an animal or just wind. Perspectives even if conflicting when heard, people tend to get influenced by them if the perceived perspective works for them. For example, when told that a person with double masters will be more likely to get a job in their respective fields, humans tend to believe that more theoretical knowledge and degrees would increase their chances of finding a job. Without giving a thought to the ‘why and how’ of 9the perception of people who hold this belief. It could either be because of their personal experience or because they heard it from someone holding the same belief and thus, formed a similar one.
Daniel Gilbert (1991) summarized centuries of research on belief formation this way: “People are credulous creatures who find it very easy to believe and very difficult to doubt. In fact, believing is so easy, and perhaps so inevitable, that it may be more like involuntary comprehension than it is like rational assessment.” The role of beliefs may be regarded as a method of improving the efficiency of brain circuits involved in problem solving, decision making, goal setting, and environmental maneuvering (Garcés & Finkel, 2019).
Difference between people who hold contrasting beliefs is that of thought, presence of belief (which one might have and the other might not) and perception. For example, when taught about any religion, certain thought processes are pushed down, which a person perceiving might consider it to be right and thus, form a belief based on the teaching. And when we form a belief of such religious teachings an emotional attachment develops to it. The stronger the emotional attachment that someone has to their beliefs, the more emotional fuel they give them and that just adds to the fallacy (Maria, 2016). The more convinced one is about the beliefs they hold the more they would defend them. But, are these beliefs true? Religious texts that are taught today are considered to be hundreds of years old. But, since people have become so comfortable with what has been taught to them or what beliefs they hold, they do not think otherwise or question them. For example, when we are taught about different colors such as blue or purple, we begin to perceive the colors as it is, and forget that it is simply the electromagnetic radiation of a certain range of wavelengths and as soon as the wavelength changes the color we see would also change.
People who hold belief in one or more religions, believe that religious belief compensates for lack of control or help with anxiety and stress (Ano & Vasconcelles, 2004; Kay, Whitson, Gaucher, & Galinsky, 2009; Inzlicht et al., 2011). So, what helps the secular individuals to deal with stress or anxiety and what beliefs compensate for the lack of religious belief in them? Does belief even play a role in managing stress and anxiety?
Farias and Reiman (2019) conducted a study to see the effect of religious beliefs and the belief of secular individuals on science, on stress. The results showed no differences between participants in the belief condition, who had been prompted to reﬂect on their belief in God or science, and those in the control condition. Despite people’s inclination to seek out faith especially during stressful times in their lives, the study showed no evidence that activating belief in God or science allowed participants to down-regulate stress at either subjective or physiological levels.
This further gives us an idea that even when factors like religion are taken into consideration our beliefs are not always true. If we experience a thought working for us once, we simply form the thought as our belief (pattern recognition) which might not always work for us. But, once a belief is formed our brain only looks for evidence to prove it right.
The basic idea of behaving properly, the right way to talk to the elders, peers or people younger to you, the gender differences, all these are nothing but a set of beliefs or perceptions that have been passed on from generation to generation and have been further promoted through our education system and social media. But, all these perceptions are confined to specific cultures, languages and geographical locations. When these aspects are removed from the environment will the beliefs we have developed still hold true? For example, many cultures around the world hold the belief that the color of the bride’s dress on her wedding day brings goodluck. In China, brides wear red; in the US, they tend to dress in white, Hindu brides will also be found in different shades of red. But, as soon the aspect of culture would be removed, and when the idea of a particular color bringing good luck would not be passed on, will the brides still choose to wear these particular colors as stated by their cultures and religion? Another example could be that we may have learnt to clean our rooms as children in order to please our parents. We could acquire a mindset of only performing activities that gain us approval from others if that form of motivation becomes habitual. As we become older, this type of mindset might be dangerous. False beliefs are formed through time, and individuals believe them without evaluating their validity—we were only a youngster learning to clean their room at the time, and now we are an approval-hungry adult. Teenagers are commonly perplexed by their emotions, and they may lack the ability to self-regulate and deal. Many false beliefs might arise as a result of the added pressure from school and classmates, making youngsters angry, misunderstood, and insecure. As a result, parenting becomes extremely challenging.
Needs and Beliefs
Baldwin (1891) stated that “ belief in anything is the consciousness of the presence of that thing as fitted to satisfy that need; and it is distinguished from earlier unreflecting reality-feeling”. Anything fitted to satisfy our needs, results in one of our core beliefs. For example, almost the entire India is developing stronger locks and security systems for doors, but a village in Maharashtra named Shai Shingapur has houses and shops with no locks- be it day or night. This example shows how our belief that our houses and shops are not safe due to various reasons has resulted in the development of security systems and locks, thus satisfying our need of safety and protection (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). But, people in Shai Shingapur do not hold any such belief and hence, they do not require any security systems or locks to satisfy their need of safety and security.
Values are the motives behind our actions, for example: personal values may include our beliefs about right or wrong, our cultural values may include things accepted by the society (such as a heterogeneous couple is readily accepted by the Indian society but a gay couple is looked down upon). These are the things that we consider important and it causes us to give importance or priority to certain aspects in our lives. Association and mental coordination with other persons and their (sometimes conflicting) perspectives are conditioned in individuals or they are the root factors of the construction of our beliefs and values. Such involvement in social and mental coordination include factors like motivation of shared intentions, culture, religion, or language.
Thus, to understand how beliefs work, an understanding of the fundamental differences (traceable back to the ancient Greeks) between a subjective perspective (such as appearance, opinion, belief) and an objective perspective (such as reality, fact, truth) is needed.
Beliefs restrict people from exploring more and keep them imprisoned to the set of beliefs which have either been passed on to them, conditioned or they have experienced them (just like our ancestors formed their beliefs). None of our beliefs are present at the time of our birth, they are formed through the course of our lives.
The brain's ability to see patterns and intent is another cognitive reason for how beliefs are formed (Weinstein, 2018). For example, if a person meets with an accident after a black cat crosses his/her path, and this same incident is noticed by the brain once or more times, it would develop a belief that ‘black cats crossing our path brings bad luck’. There would be no explanation for the belief except for experience. Shermer (2011) said that our brains look for evidence in support of the formed belief afterwards, blinding itself from anything contrary. These underlie the diverse reasons why we structure specific convictions from subjective, personal and emotional promptings, in friendly and recorded environments that impact their content. This causes people to determine reality through what they believe, and not the other way around (belief-dependent realism).
Political beliefs are another example, in most countries people hold either of the 2 ideologies (right wing or left wing) present in their respective country. They form their beliefs either by listening to people around them and getting influenced, or by reading up about the ideologies and working of the respective wings and then forming their belief in accordance with the ideologies that match with their personal values or the ones that satisfy their needs in some or the other way. For example, when a person is in the starting stage of his/her career and is struggling for opportunities, at that point of time the right wing has the ideology of promoting the middle man and bringing immense opportunities for them but at the same time collecting huge amount of tax from the people who earn comparatively more and not bringing in any beneficial policies for them, whereas the left wing has the ideology of keeping everyone at the same level and bringing policies that benefit everybody and does not favour one. At this point the person would form a belief similar to the ideology of the right wing because it satisfies his needs, but as soon as he reaches the other sector where he is on the side of paying taxes with no additional benefits, his belief of the right wing would switch to that of the left wing.
Therefore, belief systems have flourished because they have facilitated the interests of the creatures involved. As the interests of the individual changes his/her beliefs change.
Humans and their capacity to perceive
Fernbach (2018) said that as individuals we do not know enough to reason or justify anything that we believe .
Gilbert, Tafarodi and Malone (1993) conducted a research through a series of experiments that humans believe what they hear or read is true. The subjects in the study were given a series of statements about a criminal defendant or a college student to read. These statements were color-coded to make it clear whether they were true or false. Subjects under time pressure or who had their cognitive load increased by a minor distraction (such as noise) made more errors in recalling whether the statements were true or false. But the errors weren’t random. Under any sort of pressure, they presumed all the statements were true, regardless of their labeling. This experiment shows how humans tend to perceive things according to the situation and form beliefs based on the information provided to them. Even in today's world when people try reasoning out their beliefs or check evidence against it, they read up about it on the internet or any other secondary source which again is a result of someone’s perception or belief on the same topic and thus, this shows how belief is formed with the power of influence and the satisfaction of personal needs.
“All beliefs are wrong” i.e. all our beliefs are based on external factors which drive our values and beliefs. As soon as the external factors change our beliefs would change. We choose our beliefs according to what works best for us, our values are formed on the basis of our requirements. Even though we need beliefs, instead of trying to determine what is right or wrong, we as humans work on what suits us the best. Because, not everyone in the world is worshipping a cow and at the same time not everyone in the world is eating a cow. With changing times old beliefs become withered like the old and yellow leaves on trees eventually fall off paving way for new and fresh leaves (that fulfill the needs and requirements of the tree).
“A belief system is nothing more than a thought you’ve thought over and over again”
-Wayne W. Dyer
This article on ' All beliefs are wrong, choose what works for you ' has been contributed by Vrinda Goel, who is an aspiring psychologist and the article is Peer reviewed by Anshu Yadav, who has received her Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Amity University, Noida.. Both Vrinda and Anshu are part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is mentored by Anil Thomas.
Vrinda's main motive is to help out the marginalised community to understand their mental health and improve it. Anshu is extremely curious about psychology and wants to spread awareness about mental health problems to help those in need.
GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.