Relationships Psychology: One of the most useful things I learned from science training?…

One of the most useful things I learned from science training?…

…is to pay attention to “disconfirming evidence”.


Our brains have evolved to be very efficient but sometimes this efficiency leads us astray. Human nature is that once a thought takes hold in our minds (e.g. “My partner is useless”) we often only notice evidence that supports the “fact” that the thought is true, and fail to notice “disconfirming evidence” – evidence that the thought isn’t true or isn’t completely true.

Paying too much attention to supporting evidence and too little attention to disconfirming evidence can lead to wrong or exaggerated beliefs, increased unhappiness, and poor decision making.

A lot of the clients I see have developed exaggerated negative beliefs about their partners.

For example, Maggie could hold any of the following beliefs about her partner Robert

– He doesn’t respect me.
– He’s boring
– He’s thoughtless
– He’s inconsiderate
– He’s insensitive
– He’s uncaring
– He refuses to be influenced
– He’s irresponsible
– We don’t have anything in common
– We don’t share the same values
– We don’t have the same goals/dreams for the future
– He’s incompetent
– He’s not ambitious
– He’s dependent
– He’s needy

There may or may not be some truth to these beliefs but they’re hardly ever the complete truth.

Beliefs like these become exaggerated because once someone believes their partner is, for example thoughtless, they tend to notice their partner’s thoughtless behaviours and not notice or “dismiss-as-unimportant” their thoughtful behaviours.

Exaggerated beliefs can also become self-fulfilling prophecies e.g. treating someone like they’re incompetent leads them to lose confidence in themselves and to stop trying to “get it right” because they feel hopeless and powerless to achieve that. Or, the person picks up on being perceived negatively and becomes defensive and resistant.

DIY Psychological Challenge

Find a belief that triggers unhappiness for you and list 3 pieces of disconfirming evidence.

For example, your belief might be “My partner and I don’t want the same things for our future”.

What are 3 dreams for the future that you do share?

Paying attention to disconfirming evidence can also help combat unrealistically positive beliefs…

…and help stop you making poor decisions based on unrealistically positive beliefs.