Problems are common in lives. Some are getting solved and some are left to time. Some are being forgotten and some stay forever in our minds. Well, Science has something to say about this.
David Levari, from Harvard University, said that some problems in life seem to stubbornly stick around, no matter how hard people work to fix them.
In an article published by Associated Press, Levari said that a quirk in the way human brains process information revealed that when something becomes rare, we sometimes see it in more places than ever.
Het recalled an example of a “neighborhood watch” where a group of volunteers call the police when they see anything suspicious. “When they first start volunteering, they raise the alarm when they see signs of serious crimes, like assault or burglary. But when these crimes become rarer in the neighborhood, many of the volunteers would start calling things suspicious that they would never have cared about back when crime was high, like jaywalking or loitering at night,” he said.
With this understanding, Levari believes that problems never seem to go away, because people keep changing how they define them. “This is sometimes called ‘concept creep,’ or ‘moving the goalposts,’ and it can be a frustrating experience,” he explained.
As a result, they may never fully appreciate their success in helping to reduce the problem they are worried about. From medical diagnoses to financial investments, modern humans have to make many complicated judgments where being consistent matters.
Levari warned that it might becomes hard for one to know if he or she is making progress solving a problem, when they keep redefining what it means to solve it. Research results suggest that this behavior isn’t entirely under conscious control.
Levari questioned people why would they expand what they call threatening when threats become rare? He thought that research from cognitive psychology and neuroscience suggests that this kind of behavior is a consequence of the basic way that our brains process information – we are constantly comparing what is front of us to its recent context.
Instead of carefully deciding how threatening an attitude is compared to all other attitudes, the brain can just store how threatening it is compared to other attitudes it has seen recently, or compare it to some average of recently seen attitudes, or the most and least threatening attitudes it has seen.
“To get a sense for why this is, just think about how it’s easier to remember which of your cousins is the tallest than exactly how tall each cousin is. Human brains have likely evolved to use relative comparisons in many situations, because these comparisons often provide enough information to safely navigate our environments and make decisions, all while expending as little effort as possible,” he explained.
Defining concepts like threats, violence, success, etc in a procedural manner would help in solving this problem and train the brain to get satisfied.
“When you’re making decisions where consistency is important, define your categories as clearly as you can. So if you do join a neighborhood watch, think about writing down a list of what kinds of transgressions to worry about when you start. Otherwise, before you know it, you may find yourself calling the cops on dogs being walked without leashes,” Levari said.