Today our mystery tour through the mysteries of cognitive distortions (also known as thinking errors and biased information processing within the terminology of cognitive-behavioral therapy) brings us to minimisation/magnification. I hope you enjoyed your week’s stay in the Hotel of Global Judgements – I hear the food was awful, so sorry about that (hey, not my fault, I wasn’t the chef – check out Personalisation from earlier in the series!).
Minimisation/magnification is characterized by a tendency to minimise the positives and magnify the negatives of a situation. It is also known as the “binocular trick” – it is what you see when you look through the wrong end of the binoculars, and who hasn’t done that at some point (deliberately or otherwise)? As a form of information bias, it is similar to selective abstraction (our final destination in two weeks’ time!).
Imagine you have cooked a three-course meal for friends. Not everyone finished the starter, and you realise that you might have put a bit too much salt in it. However, the main course was well-received and everyone loved that chocolate-laden dessert. Most people would consider the evening to be a success, but someone prone to this thinking error would conclude it was a disaster because of the one thing that was not perfect – the significance of the main dishes being great is minimised, and the significance of the less than perfect starter is magnified.
I have chosen the word “significance” with care – I think it captures the idea of what is viewed as salient when making judgements. All too often, our information processing is biased by factors that we deem to be significant, but this may not be shared by others. For example, for some people their judgements of others may be swayed by their clothing, or by how they speak, or if their eyes are too close together…and so forth. Here we are entering the territory of prejudice, perhaps a topic for another time.
Minimisation/magnification can also work in the other direction when we compare ourselves to others (which in itself is not a good idea). For example, we may have a tendency to magnify the positive charactersitics of someone and minimise their negative aspects, and end up feeling bad about ourselves. We all have a tendency to adopt different standards when judging ourselves than when judging others – sometimes we come out better than others, sometimes worse, depending on a whole range of factors (including personality differences).
So, I shall leave you for another week. I hope this hotel will be more to your liking. I hear the decor is minimalist, as is the nouvelle cuisine. But the views are magnificent (remember to use the binoculars properly).