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Jumping to Conclusions:
Jumping to conclusions is a common type of error or fallacy in reasoning or thinking, in which a person draws conclusions which are not warranted from available information. In the language of cognitive behavioral therapy, jumping to conclusions is one of the common cognitive distortions characteristic of depression and anxiety. In depression or anxiety, a person often falsely concludes that things are going to go wrong, or that they have done something wrong. However, people can also jump to false conclusions in ways that introduce positive bias, or other sorts of bias.
When jumping to conclusions, a person skips the step of considering possible interpretations for a situation, and instead jumps right to accepting whatever interpretation seems most plausible to them. In general, when people jump to conclusions, they tend to pick interpretations that fit their own existing view of the world. Jumping to conclusions, when it becomes a chronic problem, thus tends to lead to people getting stuck in their own viewpoint, even when it does not fit with reality.
Examples of Jumping to Conclusions:
- People often jump to conclusions in their interpretation of events. For example, suppose you see a white police officer talking to a black driver of a car. A white racist, with a negative bias towards black people, might jump to the conclusion that the black driver had been driving poorly and was being pulled over for some sort of traffic violation. A black person who had prior experience with unjust harassment by white police officers might jump to the conclusion that the police officer was engaging in racial profiling, pulling the person over for DWB ("driving while black"). In reality, without further information, both of these scenarios, as well as others, are possible, and you do not know with certainty what is happening. It is also possible that the officer is issuing the person a warning because their brake-light is out.
- "Mind-reading" or interpreting others intentions or thoughts. One of the most common forms of jumping to conclusions is believing that you know exactly what a person is thinking, when in reality you do not. For example, suppose you call someone that you do not know very well, and leave a message asking them if they would like to meet for lunch. The person never responds. There are many possible explanations for this behavior: perhaps the person is exceptionally busy. Perhaps they do not like you and are not comfortable having lunch or calling you back. Perhaps they do not check their phone messages, or their phone is lost or broken. Since you do not know the person well, if you pick any one of these interpretations, you will be jumping to conclusions.
- The "Fortune teller error", or predicting the future - Everyone imagines events in the future; people go wrong when they accept uncertain events as inevitable. Many aspects of the future are highly uncertain. People who suffer from depression often jump to the conclusion that a task will fail at the first sign of a hurdle or setback to that task. Conversely, overly optimistic people can jump to the conclusions that a task is going to succeed. Seeing negative events in the future as inevitable can lead to hopelessness, whereas seeing positive events as inevitable can lead to disappointment, frustration, or a failure to cover all possible bases or creating backup plans for scenarios in which things go wrong.
How to Avoid Jumping to Conclusions:
The most important aspect to preventing jumping to conclusions is to focus on facts and tangible events, and avoid subjective interpretations. Without knowing more about the situation, there are many types of interpretations.
- Focus on directly observable facts - Always keep anything you directly observed or are certain about in the front of your mind: these facts are your anchor to reality.
- Entertain different possibilities - When you need to interpret an event, think of several different ways of interpreting it, and then check each interpretation to see which one seems most plausible. When trying to predict what will happen in the future, think of the different scenarios that will play out, and think about which ones are most likely to occur. Assigning subjective probabilities to each outcome or interpretation can be a helpful tool to emphasize that you are not certain what is going to happen.
- Resist unnecessary interpretations or predictions - In many situations in life, no interpretation or prediction of the future is needed. Intelligently interpreting events or predicting the future takes time and focus to do well. Allow yourself to experience life as it comes, and focus your effort of interpretation and prediction where it is most needed and will be most beneficial to your life.
- Accept uncertainty - People often jump to conclusions because they have trouble living with uncertainty. Being content with not knowing what people are thinking, and not knowing what is going to happen in your future, is ultimately empowering, as this is the reality that you are living with most of the time: if you admit it, you will ultimately be better equipped to act effectively in different situations and ultimately get the most out of life.
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