It’s hard to understand the unspoken complexity of human behavior, especially when it comes to inferring what someone secretly wants.
A new study from The University of Manchester will make you think a bit more about the behaviors of others, and what those behaviors really say about their desires and objectives. Researchers found that it's easy to fool humans into misinterpreting other people's actions — a conclusion that could affect public policy decisions that affect large groups of people.
To understand this phenomenon, a research team lead by clinical psychologist Dr. Warren Mansell successfully “fooled” over 350 people, according to a press release from The University of Manchester. Patients were presented with a video of someone controlling the location of a knot in a rubber band, but all 350 participants thought the person was really drawing a picture.Some people preemptively guessed that the video star was working towards an intricate goal — like "tracing out two kangaroos boxing,” for example. This was actually a false objective, because the video was actually focused on the knot and rubber band.
“We think we know what someone is doing just by observing them,” Mansell said in the press release. “For example if we see someone move a steering wheel of their car, we assume they are aiming to keep their car in the center of the lane. But our study shows that it is incredibly easy to be mistaken — and that has important implications on anyone whose task is to change human behavior.”
The moral of the study? Don’t let fictitious, manipulative teens Kathryn and Sebastian get into your head. Not everyone has cruel intentions, but you still may misinterpret them.
Source: Willett A, Marken RS, Parker M, Mansell W. Control Blindness: Why People Can Make Incorrect Inferences about the Intentions of Others. Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics. 2017,