A new report suggests wanting something badly can cause us to change reality to fit our perceptions.
Reporting in the journal Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, scientists Emily Balcetis and David Dunning conducted a set of studies to see how our desires affect perception.
In the first experiment, participants had to estimate how far a water bottle was from where they were sitting. Half of the volunteers were allowed to drink water before the experiment, while the others ate salty pretzels, thus becoming very thirsty.
The results showed that the thirsty volunteers estimated the water as being closer to them than volunteers who drank water earlier.
The authors also studied how desire may change the way we frame a goal resulting in behavioral change. For this study, volunteers tossed a beanbag toward a gift card (worth either $25 or $0) on the floor, winning the card if the beanbag landed on it.
Interestingly, the volunteers threw the beanbag much farther if the gift card was worth $0 than if it was worth $25 — that is, they underthrew the beanbag when attempting to win a $25 gift card, because they viewed that gift card as being closer to them.
These findings indicate that when we want something, we actually view it as being physically close to us.
The authors suggest that “these biases arise in order to encourage perceivers to engage in behaviors leading to the acquisition of the object.”
In other words, when we see a goal as being close to us (literally within our reach), it motivates us to keep on going to successfully attain it.