Black-and-White Background

How does black-and-white background influence our thinking?

Thinking is never neutral. Focusing our attention on different aspect is often more difficult than we imagine. Many “little” things can affect our thinking. A recent study suggests that if we see something on a black-white background it is harder for us to consider grey areas when we are solving moral dilemmas. It appears that our judgement becomes more black-and-white.

Simone Schnall and her colleagues found that when people rated a fictional  moral story their ratings were influenced by the colour of the border. The participants saw the tale next to a black-and-white checkerboard, grey, or yellow-and-blue checkerboard. There was no difference between the grey and coloured checkerboards. Stronger judgement against the man’s behaviour was made when they saw the black-and-white checkerboard.  They same pattern appeared when the participants were asked questions about moral and immoral behaviours or asked to make judgements about fairness. This research, which has not yet undergone peer-review, adds to other interesting finding such as the way holding a hot cup of tea or coffee in one hands influences our perception of a situation,

All this is fascinating; yet the interesting question is how to prevent us from letting the environment influence our thinking. A first step is to develop an awareness of how various aspects in our surroundings may influence later thinking. It is also vital to explore different techniques to help us stay focused on the task. We can take breaks to help us clear our minds when we switch our perception and direct our thinking to other aspects.

Would the result in the study change if the participants had been allowed small breaks between reading the story and answering the questions?. Or is it possible to change the result by informing them that the background may influence their thinking. While we are waiting for new results, we can always test some ideas ourselves. How much can we influence out thinking by thinking about possible factors that may have influenced our thinking. Is it easier to look for risks and dangers when we are looking out of the window and the rain is pouring down?  

Under the Six Hats Thinking framework as designed by Edward de Bono we select a metaphorical thinking Hat as a way of directing the attention to a certain aspect. Switching from wearing one metaphorical hat to another is difficult. Awareness and tricks need to be used to ensure that our thinking under the Blue Hat is not too optimistic if we previously used the Yellow Hat. It is deceptively easy to believe that Blue Hat thinking is neutral. Moreover, it is easy to believe that we are in fact making a “neutral” evaluation of the thinking. However, our thinking is influenced by previous thinking and our feelings. A possible method that can be used is to take a small break when switching from one metaphorical thinking Hat to the next. We can listen to some music, walk around in the room, or mediate for a couple of minutes.

Photo: “Pixel Point” by Salvatore Vuono

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