People want to be sure of everything. We tend to believe that our opinions are highly informed and legitimate, even though we often don’t know why we actually think what we think. We often let our opinion outweigh reason itself. This is why they say we only hear what we want to hear.
This is due to selective attention and how it works. It makes us focus only on certain aspects, leaving out others, especially when it comes to opinions and beliefs.
It may seem logical to act that way, because considering everything around us is completely impossible. However, it can become a cognitive bias that prevents us from adequately perceiving reality.
The information we select through our attention mechanism may not always be the most legitimate or relevant information. We prefer to try to pay attention only to the things that confirm our beliefs or opinions. In the end, we always only hear what we want to hear.
Selective Focus and Its Effects
Somehow we always pay more attention to one than the other. Our cognitive system therefore has its limitations. It only focuses on some aspects and ignores others in order to function correctly. This is an adaptive response to avoid overload in the processing of stimuli.
Now selective attention can, to some extent, make us narrow-minded. When we hear something that questions our beliefs or opinions, we automatically build a wall of rejection. We only hear what we want to hear and believe only what we want to believe, regardless of the evidence.
Usually we do this without even realizing it. For example, we surround ourselves with people who think like us (or at least roughly the same).
We tend to exclude other people because we assume that our differences will cause conflict. For this reason, we look for environments that reinforce our beliefs. Because everyone around us thinks the same way we do, we think our opinion is correct.
Another cognitive bias that causes us to only hear what we want to hear
Selective attention isn’t the only bias that causes us to hear only what we want to hear, our confirmation bias also causes it. It means that we only look for evidence that reinforces our thoughts and beliefs, while ignoring the evidence that calls them into question.
We do this almost unconsciously. When we come across information or a person that contradicts our beliefs, we tend to reject this or that person.
We don’t examine the validity of what the other person is saying, we just decide not to believe in his arguments. Even if what he says actually makes sense, we always find a way to turn it around and make it match our own beliefs.
We are not even interested in the truth, most of the time we just want to prove to ourselves that we are right. Insecure people can identify with this the most. They are definitely more stubborn when it comes to their prejudices than confident people.
The consequences of this situation
Only hearing what we want to hear naturally has consequences. The first consequence is that we can get stuck in a possible error. We deny ourselves the opportunity to learn, expand our horizons, and learn the truth. This, in turn, can lead to other problems.
Selective attention and our confirmation bias can have devastating consequences for depressed people. Eventually they become so convinced that their suffering and fear is justified that they experience a significant increase in discomfort and sadness.
They don’t realize what they are doing. What they think is the truth, even though there is still so much to prove otherwise. The same goes for people with anxiety.
Hearing more than just what we want to hear requires effort and hard work. However, it is necessary. It is good to listen to the opinions of others without questioning its legitimacy or immediately getting defensive .
Instead of imposing our own opinions, we must learn to be open to differences. After all, it is our differences that make the world such a diverse place.