The Social McGurk Effect

You know how sometimes the simple, seemingly inconsequential interactions you have can start the gears turning in your head? I had one of those recently.

But first, I’d recommend watching the featured video on the McGurk effect. Seriously, watch it, it will blow your mind.

Mind = Blown

Pretty trippy, huh? You can read about it here as well if you’d like.

Anyway, notice how what you see affects what you hear? (At least, what you think you hear.) Even though the person is saying, “Bah,” and not, “Vah,” you still can’t help but hear “vah” in your head.

Moral of the story: your perception isn’t perfect – it colors what you think reality is, despite what may actually be happening around you.

Your reality is the person saying, “Vah.” Actual reality is the person saying, “Bah.” But it doesn’t really matter, because your reality is the one you live in.

The Social McGurk Effect

Pretty catchy name, huh? Anyway, I promise this is related to something, and I’m not just sharing mind-blowing stuff.

I was at a tech conference and was trying to meet some of the people involved that were hovering in our general area. Side note: isn’t it weird that we all do this? If you’re not actively seeking out someone in particular, you kind of just float around and chat someone up if you catch their eye. Anyway, I always want to step back and watch other people do it because it seems so arbitrary.

So we’re all helicoptering around chatting some people up, and there’s a couple people to whom Justin and I are introducing ourselves. Justin turns to the guy standing next to him and says, “So do you work for [company hosting the event we’re at]?”

Turns out that he’s there with his wife at the conference, so he’s not necessarily attending because it’s related to his work. Yet the comment is made, “People always assume that the guy is who we’re here for.”

Yes, sometimes people make that assumption. But sometimes they also don’t make that assumption.

If you know Justin, you know he’s not the kind of person that would assume “the guy” is the tech person, he’s simply talking to who’s closest to him. While I was a bit ruffled by the insinuation that Justin would be making the assumption as to who works in the tech space and who doesn’t simply based on gender (and I know he would have directed the same question to the next person in line right after that), I stepped back and thought about it later.

This person’s reality is colored by what they think they’re seeing, not what’s happening. And it doesn’t matter, because it’s reality for him or her. To this person, Justin is perpetuating stereotypes in the tech sphere by assuming that the male attendee is working in the tech space.

Frankly, I really don’t care how this person perceived the issue — I’m more interested in the fact that this blew my mind. Have I done this? How often? Seriously, think about how you’re already “seeing something” in your mind (your preconception), which then affects what you “hear” (what’s actually going on around you).

Taking off your colored glasses

Your experiences influence how you evaluate reality. While your own experiences are immensely valuable, it’s important to remember that they not only influence our decision making, but how we evaluate reality as well. Basically, we’re all looking at the world through our own colored glasses, be they rose-tinted or not. What we “see” is in part dictated by what we expect to see and our own biases, which in turn changes what we “hear”.

While this is the nature of unique perception and perspective (and isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself), it made me realize that I may bring my own negative perceptions into an encounter, which can entirely distort or sour the reality of what’s occurring.

In the case above, I’m sure the person that made this comment came away from the encounter with a negative viewpoint on what happened, and thinks that Justin was another of the unintentionally sexist people in the tech space. To the rest of us, he was just a guy that was trying to make conversation with the person closest to him.

For me, it’s a lesson to try to be more open-minded when meeting new people or while in new situations; to close my eyes, so to speak, so that I can hear what’s happening and not what my brain thinks is happening.