Tunnel Vision

Tunnel vision is both an actual physical condition, and a metaphor for a myopic type of thinking. In the former, people who experience tunnel vision have a loss of peripheral vision that results in a constricted, circular field of vision akin to looking through a tunnel. In the cognitive metaphor, tunnel vision refers to a resistance to considering alternative points of view or potential solutions to a problem. Whether due to conviction in one’s position or mental laziness in exploring other options, tunnel vision can be dangerous and lead to deleterious outcomes.

Motivated reasoning is a closely related concept to tunnel vision, in that both phenomena feature someone being predisposed to a specific belief or outcome. In both there is a tendency to back a certain course of action even before evidence is available or fully examined, and to continue to hold that position regardless of any new evidence that may come in that challenges the preferred narrative. Tunnel vision can lead to bad decisions, because focus is being placed on a favored outcome while ignoring potentially much better solutions or courses of action.

Key aspects of tunnel vision

  1. Limited perspective: Tunnel vision in decision-making occurs when people fail to consider the bigger picture or explore alternative viewpoints. They may become fixated on a specific goal, approach, or outcome, which prevents them from recognizing other potentially more effective or beneficial options.
  2. Confirmation bias: This cognitive bias occurs when people selectively focus on information that supports their pre-existing beliefs or assumptions, while disregarding or downplaying evidence that contradicts them. This biased thinking reinforces tunnel vision and leads to poor decision-making. Related to: motivated reasoning.
  3. Groupthink: In group settings, tunnel vision can be amplified by groupthink, a psychological phenomenon where members of a group prioritize conformity and harmony over critical evaluation and independent thinking. This can result in a narrow-minded consensus that overlooks important information and alternative perspectives.
  4. Emotional factors: Strong emotions, such as fear, stress, or overconfidence, can also contribute to tunnel vision in decision-making. These emotions may cloud judgment, cause people to fixate on specific aspects of a situation, and prevent them from thinking objectively and rationally.
  5. Inability to adapt: Tunnel vision can lead to rigidity and an inability to adapt to changing circumstances. Decision-makers may stubbornly cling to their initial plans or beliefs, even when faced with new information or challenges that call for a different approach.

How to avoid tunnel vision

To mitigate tunnel vision in decision-making, it’s essential to cultivate self-awareness, engage in critical thinking, and actively seek out diverse perspectives and alternative solutions. By challenging assumptions, being open to new information, and considering a broader range of factors, individuals and groups can make more informed and effective decisions.

brainstorming, by Midjourney
  • Get a second opinion
  • Have a brainstorming session to evaluate other points of view
  • Take a break for a while and come back to the problem or issue again after some time away from it
  • Do thought experiment exercises where you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to imagine how they would solve the problem, or what decision they might make given their own interests and beliefs.

More about how we think:

Think Better β†—

Mental models are a kind of strategic building blocks we can use to make sense of the world around us.

Mental Self-Defense β†—

You may not know it yet but you’ve been drafted into a war. A conflict of cognitive warfare, in which the battlefield is your mind.

30 Common Psychological Biases β†—

These systematic errors in our thinking and logic affect our everyday choices, behaviors, and evaluations of others.

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