Wednesday, 3 August 2011

What beliefs have in common with pleasure

Why do we pay huge amounts of money for artworks? Why are we sad when we break a plate that used to belong to our grandmother? And why does the same injury sometimes cause pain and sometimes not?

Yale Professor Paul Bloom gives a TED Talk on how our beliefs influence our perception and experience of the world. He describes a number of interesting experiments in which people’s beliefs greatly influenced their perception and consequently their actions. For example, the famous violinist Joshua Bell once played in a subway train station. Almost nobody recognised him, although tickets for his concerts are sold at high prices and are difficult to get. Other examples are the fact that people like wine better when they think it is expensive than when they think it is cheap or the finding that we perceive people we like as better-looking than those we do not like.



This is pretty much in line with the ABC Model developed by Albert Ellis. It states that our emotions are not evoked by an event, but by our interpretation of it, which is influenced by our beliefs. Therefore, an Activating event is linked through our Beliefs to its emotional Consequences. Aaron Beck used a similar model for the therapy of depressive patients. Only recently, Martin Seligman has described it again in his book “Flourish”. Our beliefs and thus how we interpret situations seem to be key factors that influence how we feel, think, and behave.

What does this mean? We can influence our feelings much more than we might think. Whenever we experience something negative, we should always take the situation to pieces: what are the facts? What do we believe, what is our interpretation of the situation? And how does this make us feel? Is there another interpretation? Is our belief probably maladaptive? Can we replace it by another one? This scheme may help increase positive emotionality.

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