We know the referendum result: and that’s a fact.

eu referendum

Have you decided how you are going to vote in the EU referendum? If you haven’t, you’ve got just under 2 days and 7 hours until the polls close on Thursday to make your mind up.

One of the main complaints we’ve heard from voters is the lack of facts being presented from either side.

One the face of it, this seems a reasonable complaint. When making important decisions, we need facts in order to decide what we are going to do. We need to weigh up the pros and cons and make a rational, informed decision.

In our work as private investigators, all we deal in is facts. Yes, sometimes we get the odd “hunch”, borne out by our years of experience, but on the whole facts are the only things we can make judgments on, when it comes to investigating a case.

It may come as a surprise to you that in fact, facts are often not the motivating factor in our decision making process.

We’ve spent a lot of time in our investigative work looking at the psychology behind the way the human brain makes and form opinions and decisions, and remembers detail. This is crucial when looking at defence cases, for example. Witness testimonies can be notoriously unreliable as there are so many factors which influence our ability to recall and process information (see our previous blog post “A tale of two dresses” about Confirmation Bias).

In a recent study at Lund University in Sweden, researchers carried out a series of experiments to look at the way humans make decisions and form opinions. In one experiment, they showed a group of volunteers two cards. The two cards showed faces of  two different women. The volunteer was asked to choose which face they found more  attractive. The card they chose was then handed to them face down, and they were asked to describe in detail why they preferred the face they had selected, and what factors influenced their decision.

What the volunteers didn’t know, was that the card they were handed, was actually the face of the person they had not chosen. The researchers had used an old sleight of hand magic trick to substitute the card.

Astonishingly, not only did the majority of participants not notice that the card had been swapped, but they also went on to describe in great detail the reasons for their (fictitious) choice. Some even made radically different claims – one participant explained their choice by saying he preferred blondes, as he was shown a picture of a blonde woman. In fact, when he had been asked a short while before to choose which face he preferred, he had originally selected a brunette woman.

After the study, the volunteers were asked hypothetically if they would have noticed if the cards had been swapped. 84% were confident they would have noticed. In reality, only 8% actually did.

The researchers termed this phenomenon Choice Blindness.

It’s yet another example, along with Confirmation Bias, of the way our minds confuse what we perceive to be a fact. And moreover, how we create evidence to fit the facts or support the choice we make.

Psychologically, our ability to make a decision comes down to many factors, of which the facts play only one part. Factors of which we are unaware come into play, even in our political decision making. For example, researchers have discovered that we are much more likely to vote for people whose personality traits are similar to our own, regardless of their political persuasion; physical attractiveness of candidates, their weight, their tone of voice also influence our decision making, though we do not realise it.

If you’re still undecided about which way to vote on Thursday, we have probably just made your decision an awful lot harder. So we’ll leave you with this bit of advice:

Trust your inner vision.

Don’t let others change your mind.

(with thanks to Bucks Fizz – Making Your Mind Up).