Before you adopt your pro or anti Thermomix stance, let me assure you that this post is not about Thermomixes (Thermomixi?) Food preparation is not really my thing.
This post was prompted by the passionate reaction to this distressing story about a woman burnt in an alleged Thermomix failure. In fact this post is prompted by every social media furore over something that seems, on the face of it, to be disproportionate to the issue at hand. Why do we get so angry about a kitchen appliance? Why are we incensed by a model jogging in a bikini?
The answer - on the surface at least - will be different for each of us but psychologists believe that part of what underlies any argument, any passionate disagreement, is a phenomenon called cognitive dissonance - a form of cognitive bias.
When we believe something about ourselves or the world and someone poses information that threatens that belief, we experience emotions like anxiety and anger and we do what we can to reduce that emotion; to feel better.
If I agonise about purchasing a Thermomix (it's expensive and that's a big decision for many of us) I have set up beliefs about myself and that decision;
'This will make meal preparation and home life easier'
'If meal preparation and home life is easier, I will be happier and the family will be happier'
'Kate is a great cook and she always seems on top of everything. She has a Thermomix. If I get a Thermomix maybe somehow I will be more like Kate? Maybe my cooking will improve and I'll feel on top of everything too?'
When something threatens our beliefs - that perhaps my Thermomix is dangerous and not the source of joy I thought it was - we get uncomfortable. That's the 'dissonance.'
We might get defensive, or anxious. We might get angry and look for ways to release that feeling; we look for ways to get back to 'normal'.
This might include:
- Ignoring or denying the information that conflicts with our story. 'It can't be a fault with the Thermomix, she must have done something wrong'
- Looking for information that supports or confirms our story or beliefs. 'Thousands of people have Thermomixes and they have no trouble at with theirs. This was just a one off.'
- Amplifying the benefits so that they overwhelm the negatives. 'So there might be some risks but my life has changed for the better since I got my Thermomix. I couldn't possibly live without it.'
When it's an expensive purchase like a Thermomix we can succumb to a specific type of cognitive bias called Post Purchase Rationalisation (also known as Buyers Stockholm Syndrome). This is when we overlook any evidence that even hints that our purchase decision might not have been perfect.
Ingroup bias is another distortion. This is a tribal response in which we either identify with an idea or image (like the jogging mum in the bikini) or we don't. If we feel that we're from the same tribe then we tend to emotionally bond with that person, idea, image or group. We feel a connection.
If we don't relate to that tribe we can be suspicious and disdainful. Those feelings can spill over into daily life and cause us to get a bit ranty - or worse.
The human mind is an amazing yet tricky tool. If we're aware of our thinking, biases and distortions and we know how they affect our feelings and behaviour, we can harness its power for good, not evil. We can fend off unhelpful emotions like anger and we can steer clear of the vortex of online debate.