The Power of Assumptions


A few weeks ago I was in some leadership classes at work that were taught by an PhD Industrial Psychologist. It was very interesting and I learned a lot. He was very knowledgeable about what is going on inside the brain during different actions and thought processes. One example was that the act of throwing a ball to someone on the move (i.e. playing catch) uses the same pathways in your brain that all delayed gratification decisions do. You are holding the ball while visualizing where the ball and person will meet at a point in the future. This is why it is very important to play arch with your kids. It trains their brains to use these pathways and help them develop the skills necessary to delay gratification.

How does this relate to audio? Another thing he takes about was the power of assumptions. When we believe/assume that something is true the way our brain reacts to it chemically and electrically is identical rather it is in fact true or not. The secondary effect that happens is that we then become supremely aware of every little thing that supports our assumption and we blindly ignor anything contradictory. He said that this is why it is so difficult to get someone to change their opinion of you. His point was that we needed to be aware of this involuntary response and be willing to ask ourselves if there was any other way to look at a given situation.

It made me think about how this directly relates to audio. What we assume can actually have a stronger impact our experience than the objective facts. For example, if I assume that solid state amplifiers are inferior it will be extremely difficult for me to have a positive experience with one because my brain will be working overtime to find a way to support my assumption. It might take hearing a solid state amplifier while believing it to be a tube amplifier to force my to be objective and at least consider that a solid state amplifier might sound great.
mceljo
Backfire Effect

The "backfire effect" is a term coined by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler to describe how some individuals when confronted with evidence that conflicts with their beliefs come to hold their original position even more strongly:

Whatever the cause, the backfire effect is very curious. The more ideological and the more emotion-based a belief is, the more likely it is that contrary evidence will be ineffective. There is some evidence that lack of self-confidence and insecurity correlate with the backfire effect. More research is needed to fully explain what additional factors lead some people to respond to contrary evidence by treating it as if it were additional support for one's belief. Further research is also needed to see if different groups are more susceptible to the backfire effect (liberals and conservatives, theists and atheists, skeptics and true believers) and, if so, why.

“”What should be evident from the studies on the backfire effect is you can never win an argument online. When you start to pull out facts and figures, hyperlinks and quotes, you are actually making the opponent feel as though they are even more sure of their position than before you started the debate. As they match your fervor, the same thing happens in your skull. The backfire effect pushes both of you deeper into your original beliefs."

—You Are Not So Smart - The Backfire Effect
Good post. Self fulfilling prophecy. For me, it relates to many things. Take bicycles...if you believe that carbon is better than aluminum or steel or any other material, no matter how superbly designed and carefully crafted a bicycle is, unless it's made from carbon, even poorly made, you will not like it. Audio examples: solid state vs tubes, planar vs cones, digital vs analog, subs vs no subs, expensive cables vs plain cables, etc.

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won't come in.”
― Isaac Asimov
"It made me think about how this directly relates to audio. What we assume can actually have a stronger impact our experience than the objective facts. For example, if I assume that solid state amplifiers are inferior it will be extremely difficult for me to have a positive experience with one because my brain will be working overtime to find a way to support my assumption. It might take hearing a solid state amplifier while believing it to be a tube amplifier to force my to be objective and at least consider that a solid state amplifier might sound great."

Only if you have a weak mind and/or don't know what you are doing. Haven't you ever read a positive magazine review on an audio component and thought it would sound great? Only to find out it doesn't sound good at all when you finally hear it yourself?
Zd542 - There are always exceptions to every rule. What I described is the normal reaction. I might argue that reading a positive review and expecting something to sound good isn't the same as having a belief that one brand or type of amplifier is better.

His point was more related to getting a new coworker that you were told was lazy. The new coworker has little chance of changing people's minds because every mistake they make will be assumed to be the result of not putting forth effort even if they were genuinely working hard and just needed to get more experience at the job. The goal is to be willing to consider a different paradigm.

The audio topics this most likely applies to directly would be the "hot topics" that always end up being heated discussions. Cables, cable elevators, power cords, etc.
All of this reminds me of going to audio shows and expecting something ground breaking and revelatory, based on reviews that honed and whetted my expectations, only to be disappointed and realize that what I have at home is perfectly adequate, if not downright great at times.

I had a good laugh a long time ago when some reviewer said it would be best to just cut out a picture of what you want and tape it to your wall as you listen to your system. You can always update when a "better" product is reviewed by the old cut and tape routine and never be in debt.

What we imagine to be is what we tend to go by and sometimes the strength of that belief can border on religion. I've noticed this more and more on the political and economic landscape and find it disheartening, so why not audio?
Pick any topic and you'll see more acrimonious discussion than usual nowadays. It's getting to be the norm.

All the best,
Nonoise
I get what you're saying and you definitely have a valid point. The main reason for my post is that I think psycho acoustics is taken too far in many cases. To me, it looks like people use it to "get around" certain arguments they don't believe in. A good example is the "objectives" when it comes to cables. They make definitive statements based on facts and science, but they just talk and never actually show or do anything. The result leads to not only selling themselves short as to whats possible in audio, but many people that believes their assumptions.

"His point was more related to getting a new coworker that you were told was lazy. The new coworker has little chance of changing people's minds because every mistake they make will be assumed to be the result of not putting forth effort even if they were genuinely working hard and just needed to get more experience at the job. The goal is to be willing to consider a different paradigm.

The audio topics this most likely applies to directly would be the "hot topics" that always end up being heated discussions. Cables, cable elevators, power cords, etc."

That argument definitely makes sense (at least to me.). I would only add that I think you would find the above quote will apply more to individuals that are new and/or don't have a lot of experience with audio.

"Only if you have a weak mind and/or don't know what you are doing. Haven't you ever read a positive magazine review on an audio component and thought it would sound great? Only to find out it doesn't sound good at all when you finally hear it yourself?"

That's why I put it so bluntly. I'm hoping that someone who reads it will realize they can get better results if they take a more active role in getting good sound. Its not an easy path. The less you rely on outside sources, the better off you'll be. (hopefully)
It's simple and genius. Thanks for sharing!
I found the two days of classes fascinating and look forward to getting into the final three days...possibly two days this coming week.

The "power of assumptions" is pretty much proven brain chemistry which is why understanding it can be so powerful. It takes a conscious effort to take the step back and evaluate things objectively.

I assume Y was caused by MX+B, but could it be anything else?
And this is something new? Sorry, but basically it's one of the same premises that have been used by objectivivsts for decades.
Maybe the 'assumptions' should be replaced by 'bias'. it effects everything we 'think' about. That is the way we are 'wired up'. Yes, it is often well to replace the 'wires', and if you are into audio, it must be oxygen free copper at $1K a meter.
This is true of life. Whatever filter we decide to look through is how we will perceive anything. For example if you look for offence, you will find it. If you look for love, you will find it. How we view people, situations, relationships, our jobs, set backs, challenging times, is based on the filter we look through. What is your filter?
AND- I suppose if one believes(and consistently reinforces their assumptions) that all amplifiers sound alike, improved cabling makes no audible differences, and so on: THEIR brain will, "chemically and electrically" adjust itself to make those things true(for them), as well. The fact may be that a vast number are weak-minded enough, to allow their hopes, assumptions and preconceived notions cloud their ability to objectively or accurately judge what they hear. But certainly; not everyone is handicapped thus.
@ the OP - forgetting about audio for a moment, how did that speech relate to "leadership"?
Charro - The information was related to being aware of how we naturally react to the world based on our assumptions so that information can be used to learn to be more open to our assumptions being wrong. Knowledge is powerful.

Rodman99999 - The irony is that you assume someone is "weak minded" because they don't hear the differences that you do. They would probably assume the opposite. The point is that it doesn't matter if you are really hearing or a difference or have just convinced yourself that you do, your reaction to people with different opinions will be the same.

It isn't about being right or wrong in your assumptions, it's about understanding your natural reaction that results from your assumptions.
Here is another way to think about this. Suppose you are in a group of 10 people and told that it was known that 9 out of the 10 people in the group held an incorrect assumption on a given topic. Everyone would assume they were correct and it was someone else that was wrong. We simply choose to believe that we are right even with the odds stacked against us. People agree with generalities as long as they don't consider themselves in the group being generalized about, once it gets personal almost everyone will object and assume that they are the exception.
That brings up the play/movie "12 Angry Men". Only, Fonda's character was right all along. :-)

Mceljo, did your instructor bring up the role of semantics in detecting B.S. (deliberate or not) as it occurs instead of going back and sifting through the carnage of the argument to find the crucible of it all?

Or, is it conventional wisdom to assume that both sides have a point (another semantic error) and that it doesn't matter how poorly they present it?

I only ask as some points are so obviously in error but the meme of the moment is that all sides have a point and are valid and nothing is settled matter. Those types of assumptions only help to derail any hope of forward momentum or resolution.

All the best,
Nonoise
It used to be that the power of shame was enough. It was done in public, be it at meetings, forums and at the table. Fringe elements were just that: on the fringe. They usually had to go to the fringe radio stations and listen to someone blathering about Area 51 from some trailer in the desert.

Nowadays, we have the internet and all the kooks you can shake a stick at. Their beliefs are reinforced on a level not seen before. All of this helps to reinforce this cognitive dissonance that only drives the kooks deeper into their illusions. Facts mean nothing. Gut feelings and emotions rule the day. It was not like this when I grew up.

All the best,
Nonoise
It's just stereo equipment.
@M- My statement: "The fact may be that a vast number
are weak-minded enough, to ALLOW their hopes, assumptions
and preconceived notions cloud their ability to objectively
or accurately judge what they hear." That has nothing
whatever to do with what I, or anyone else, might hear. Nor,
would that apply to only audio, in their life experience.
It would simply cloud their ability to think logically and
observe without bias, which(I think most would agree) seems
a weakness. Of course; you inferred what you wanted, based
on your assumptions, from what I posted.
Happy listening.
These preconceived notions of weak minds are not necessarily a bad thing. If they can hear improvement that's fine - what difference does it make if improvement is real or only in their head?

One of the reviewers claimed better bass control with hard cones under amplifier, explaining that original feet are made of soft rubber OBVIOUSLY making soft rubbery bass. Was it real or only in his head? It doesn't matter - he heard it.
Kijanki, if it's all in one's head without regard to any physical reality, then why even have a audio system? Just listen to the music in your head.
Onhwy61 LOL!
One truism all good business people know well is that perception matters the most in many cases.

Engineers and scientists may know this as well, but that is not what their practice is about.
Onhwy61, Sure, if you hear music in your head then audio system would even interfere.

I'm just suggesting that improvement (perhaps you missed this word in my post) real or not is still a perceived improvement.
"06-02-14: Kijanki
These preconceived notions of weak minds are not necessarily a bad thing. If they can hear improvement that's fine - what difference does it make if improvement is real or only in their head?"

Whatever the difference is in their bank account.
Zd542, people tend do "believe" more when they spend money. I remember story about two groups of people given placebo pill that supposed to help with something they suffered from. The only difference was that one group got it for free while the other had to pay $10 per pill. There was some improvement in both groups but it was much stronger with people who had to pay. In similar fashion price of the gear might affects our perception. Some "contrary" people believe that cheap can always sound as good. They reported even better results with lamp cord than quality speaker cables (WHAT!!! a lamp cord? - that's way too expensive - rusted barb wire is better).
One of the problems with audio is that there is absolutely more than just your ears involved with your perception of sound. This is compounded by the fact that it is impossible to describe our perception of sound to others because they have to understand it based on their experience.
Not only are your ears involved, but so is your wallet. Pride of ownership goes a long way to blinding one to the obvious: that your choice wasn't the best.

Add to that, the unwillingness to spend more to get more, albeit incrementally.

Some of these debates here are like trying to justify to your parents the hows and whys of your spending habits. :-)

All the best,
Nonoise
I was doing some internet reading on Friday and came across two Interesting studies.

One was a depression drug study where they proved that the brain reacted in the same areas and in the same way with the drug and placebo. In fact, the prefrontal cortex was actually more active with the placebo. There was more to the study, but it was interesting that the sime belief in the placebo was enough to physically alter the brain activity.

The other was a sleep study where the researchers told people randomly that they had achieved more or less rem sleep compared to the average during a sleep study where they pretended to measure the rem sleep. They also asked each perso. How they felt they slept. Then they tested their cognitive ability and found that those who were told that they slept well scored higher even when they felt otherwise. The brain is a powerful force, but it only takes a little belief in something to trick it.

Wine will generally score higher in a taste test if it is reported to cost more.

Like it or not, our expectations and preconceived notions have a direct impact on how we experience things. Audio is not excluded. Sound goes from our ears and is interpreted in our brains. I would love to know the order of magnitude relative to the measurable difference in audio gear. I suspect the "placebo floor" is quite high...
What's going on when a piece of audio equipment gets rave reviews and people I know tell me how good it is, and when I go listen to it having high expectations, it sounds like crap?
How many times have rooms at audio shows been the focus of blame when the reviews touted otherwise?

It's now conventional wisdom to blame the room but I seriously doubt that most of the rooms that fared poorly at audio shows had otherwise great equipment in them. We all want to believe things despite evidence to the contrary.

Granted, one piece of equipment can make or break the chain as I've heard the best digital ever from MSB a few years ago to only wonder what the hell happened the year after. It was partnered with different speakers.

Great gear combined with great gear will usually guarantee great results but one component can't do it on it's own despite the rave reviews. That highly touted component thus becomes the placebo. Quite the turn of events, eh?

All the best,
Nonoise
Placebo doesn't eliminate the possibility of objective factual opinions. I don't think it is as much a factor on equipment like speakers and amplifiers where the differences can be significant, but for things like cables, isolation devices, etc., where the differences are often small the impact can easily become more real.
If a placebo improved the sound of your system noticeably would you pay say $100 for it?
"07-13-14: Mceljo
Placebo doesn't eliminate the possibility of objective factual opinions. I don't think it is as much a factor on equipment like speakers and amplifiers where the differences can be significant, but for things like cables, isolation devices, etc., where the differences are often small the impact can easily become more real."

I think that's a pretty fair statement. The only thing I would add, is that as the differences get smaller, experience becomes a big factor. When I first started out in audio, I would have never believed my listening skills would evolve to where they are now. I wasn't sure if I could hear things like differences between cables, break in and a lot of the terms they were using in the magazines I was reading.

"07-14-14: Geoffkait
If a placebo improved the sound of your system noticeably would you pay say $100 for it?"

I think you may have painted yourself into a corner with that one. lol. If I didn't know it was a placebo, then I wouldn't know I was paying $100 for one. If I did know it was a placebo, paying the $100 wouldn't work.
"If a placebo improved the sound of your system noticeably would you pay say $100 for it? "

Geoff, you probably have the best market research on this subject :-)

Good Listening

Peter
If a placebo improved the sound of your system noticeably would you pay say $100 for it?
Cannabinoids improve my critical listening(maybe that's placebo), but sometimes I do spend $100 or more dependint on my supply status:-)
Peter, that really, really hurts. Ouch!

Hey, Peter, how's that wall outlet thing going! What's it been, two years? Haha!
If a placebo improved the sound of your system noticeably would you pay say $100 for it?
Doing market research, Geoff, or are you planning a price increase for the teleportation tweak ;-)
Ouch! Very ouch! Hurt me!
"07-12-14: Mceljo
I was doing some internet reading on Friday and came across two Interesting studies.

One was a depression drug study where they proved that the brain reacted in the same areas and in the same way with the drug and placebo. In fact, the prefrontal cortex was actually more active with the placebo. There was more to the study, but it was interesting that the sime belief in the placebo was enough to physically alter the brain activity.

The other was a sleep study where the researchers told people randomly that they had achieved more or less rem sleep compared to the average during a sleep study where they pretended to measure the rem sleep. They also asked each perso. How they felt they slept. Then they tested their cognitive ability and found that those who were told that they slept well scored higher even when they felt otherwise. The brain is a powerful force, but it only takes a little belief in something to trick it.

Wine will generally score higher in a taste test if it is reported to cost more.

Like it or not, our expectations and preconceived notions have a direct impact on how we experience things. Audio is not excluded. Sound goes from our ears and is interpreted in our brains. I would love to know the order of magnitude relative to the measurable difference in audio gear. I suspect the "placebo floor" is quite high..."

In your examples, though, people are being put on the spot, and even fed lies. I realize the concept of placebo effect and preconception but those experiments, as well as group ABX which also tend to put people 'on the spot', are a little different than you or I evaluating a new audio purchase in the privacy of our own listening area.
I'd like to see the difference in opinions in those experiments where in one, they let the person make their own choice without being manipulated vs the second, using manipulative tactics.
....and to add to that, those types of experiments,as well as group ABX, tend to force an immediate answer rather than allow you to take time to really think about it. Also, those same types of experiments tend to take place outside of our comfort zone, eg not in familiar surroundings. In the case of our own audio evaluations, in a place where we are more confident and comfortable, we may make different choices and/or conclusions. And often times change a short term conclusion after given more time.
Dragon1952, thanks for your observations. I've stated in past forums as well concerning the onus of making a correct choice under pressure compared to what one experiences in the comfort of their own living room. When we are relaxed, we tend to make a more informed decision and are better able to extrapolate.

All the best,
Nonoise
What happens when we assume?
Mapman - As it turns out, we often genuinely, as defined by hour the chemistry in our brains react, believe what we assume to be true. When we are wrong, which is not the majority of the time, we can become the proverbial donkey.
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