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Researchers at the University of New South Wales (in Sydney, Australia where I live), such as Professor Coiera, have been looking at how people search for health information on line. Their news release is titled, “Why the web tells us what we already know”.
They found that when people are looking for health information there are some strange things that influence behaviour –
“The first or the last document the user sees has a much greater impact on their decisions,” said Professor Coiera
The order we see something in influences us as well as the quality of what we are reading. When we are dealing with our health this can have very serious implications.
The basic problem is that we look at the world through our experience – we see the present on the basis of what we have experienced, our past. The past is our filter for our experience. This makes it tricky for us to learn new things. We tend to see the new in terms of the old, or as the news release says, “the web tells us what we already know”. This is the value of Edward de Bono’s “lateral thinking”: finding ways to shake up our perceptions so that new ideas can emerge.
But then, what can we do about this?
- Firstly we can talk to others, especially those we are close to. It is these people who are most likely to change our mind.
- Secondly it can be helpful to consciously set down what we already know. This can help us to be more aware of new evidence and evaluate it more fairly.
- Thirdly, play devil’s advocate. Find the information you most disagree with and then make out the best case you can for why it is right. This is not easy but it has led to me gaining lots of new insight – in relationships (taking the part of the person I disagree with) as well as with information.
The more important the information we’re dealing with the more likely we are to have strong feelings from our past – and so be more committed we may be to our filters. The more important the information then the more important it is that we try to get past our filters.
Have you had times where you have come to terms with information that didn’t fit your experience? I’d love to hear how you dealt with it, so please tell me in the comments section of this post.