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Lacking control increases illusory pattern perception

The previous video explained how we deal with decisions in complex situations. One of the things I mentioned was that lacking control might actually cause us to see patterns that are not there. A 2008 article by Jennifer A. Whitson and Adam D. Galinsky explores this further.

The article is called: Lacking Control Increases Illusory Pattern Perception.

In it, the authors presented six experiments that tested whether lacking control increased illusory pattern perception, which they defined as the identification of a coherent and meaningful interrelationship among a set of random or unrelated stimuli. Participants who lacked control were more likely to perceive a variety of illusory patterns, including seeing images in noise, forming illusory correlations in stock market information, perceiving conspiracies, and developing superstitions. Additionally, they demonstrated that increased pattern perception, when in conditions where one lacked control, had a basis in people’s desire to regain a sense of control over the situation. Whitson and Galinsky found that this relationship was reduced when participants were asked to affirm the self – meaning, to think about a value that they considered important in their lives.

In summary, this article appears to demonstrate that when people lack control over their lives (i.e., they see the world as an overly complex place), they begin to construct patterns in the world around them, which helps to provide a sense of restored order.

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Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World

University of Groningen

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