New Research Uncovers Why We All See the World So Differently

Two people looking out of the same window but seeing the world differently

Verywell / Julie Bang

Key Takeaways

  • A new study gives insight to the area of the brain that plays a part in how we understand others’ perspectives.
  • Researchers discuss “naïve realism,” the assumption that your interpretation of people and events is accurate or true over others' interpretations.
  • Experts share ways to understand others’ views that can help maintain relationships.

Everyone has their own opinions, views, and ideas about life and the world around them. But why is it often hard to understand and accept others’ take on the same matters?

New research by UCLA Psychology Professor Matthew Lieberman, PhD, sheds light on an explanation by pointing to a part of the brain he calls the “gestalt cortex,” that sits behind the ear and between the areas of the brain that process vision, sound, and touch.

What Does The Research Say?

In his research, which was based on an analysis of more than 400 studies and published in the journal Psychological Review, Lieberman explains that the gestalt cortex helps people make sense of information that is ambiguous or incomplete, as well as dismiss alternative interpretations.

Lieberman also discusses "naïve realism," which is the notion that people think their interpretation of people and events is accurate or true over other’s interpretation. This can lead to beliefs that other people got it wrong.

Lieberman claims naïve realism may be the biggest driver of conflict and distrust between people. 

While social psychology has analyzed how people make sense of the world, explanation of parts of the brain that play a part hasn’t been revealed.

Although Lieberman states in his research that the gestalt cortex isn’t alone in helping people process what they see, he claims it’s an essential component.

For instance, he says the gestalt cortex includes the temporoparietal junction, which he believes is linked to conscious experience and making sense of situations that people witness or encounter.

Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD, clinical psychologist and wellness expert, says this notion resonates with her. She explains that the term gestalt means “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

But practically speaking, she says, “it refers to a person’s adaptive capacity to ‘construct their own reality’ and is the way a person makes sense of things in the face of incomplete or ambiguous information.”

Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD

Most of the time, we fill the gaps with our own biases, assumptions, beliefs, thoughts, ideas, and conclusions.

— Natalie Christine Dattilo, PhD

Because most situations, especially social situations, are filled with incomplete or unclear information (i.e., what another person might be thinking or feeling), she says people fill in the gaps with their own interpretations.

“Most of the time, we fill the gaps with our own biases, assumptions, beliefs, thoughts, ideas, and conclusions,” says Dattilo.

“This is especially relevant and problematic for individuals prone to anxiety or depression, because the tendency would be to fill those gaps with negative, overly personal, catastrophic, or worrisome thoughts and conclusions.”

How The Research Was Done

Subjective construals are personal understandings of situations and the people and objects within them.

Lieberman’s review presents a model of subjective construals that are processed without a lot of effort. He calls these Coherent Effortless Experiences (CEE). Three distinct forms of "seeing" (visual, semantic, and psychological) are discussed to highlight the breadth of these construals.

The review states that the core CEE characteristics are accumulated in the lateral posterior parietal cortex, lateral posterior temporal cortex, and ventral temporal cortex, which are collectively called the gestalt cortex.

The link between subjective construals and gestalt cortex is backed by evidence showing that when people have similar subjective construals (meaning they see things similarly), they show greater neural synchrony with each other in the gestalt cortex.

The researchers conclude that “The fact that the act of CEEing tends to inhibit alternative construals is discussed as one of multiple reasons for why we fail to appreciate the idiosyncratic nature of our pre-reflective construals, leading to naïve realism and other conflict-inducing outcomes.”

How To Accept Others' Perspectives

Understanding areas of the brain that contribute to how we see the world is fascinating, yet finding ways to better accept others’ perspectives may help you navigate social interactions day-to-day. Experts offer the following tips.

Know you’re wired to fill in gaps with biases

Dattilo says there are primal reasons for this. 

“Our brains evolved to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of efficiency because our survival depended on our ability to ‘think quickly’ rather than ‘think correctly’ in the face of a potentially life-threatening situation,” she says. 

However, in modern times, she says people are more likely to experience a “socially threatening” situation, especially in a heightened state of stress and discord.

“This means that we are at least as likely to be wrong in our thinking about other people as we are right,” she says, adding that willingness to be "wrong" for the sake of growth and learning is a valuable mood management skill and promotes greater tolerance for different points of view. 

Realize it’s okay to change your mind

If you’ve held a fairly firm view on a topic and publicly shared it, it can be difficult to express an alternative or opposing view without fear of being seen as “wishy-washy” or worse, says Dattilo.

However, “in actuality, being open and willing to change your mind is considered a sign of emotional intelligence and wisdom,” she says.

Acknowledge others may be right

While it’s hard to think you’re wrong, Julian Lagoy, MD, psychiatrist at Mindpath Health, suggests being open to the fact that in some instances, others' opinions might be better or closer to the truth than your own. 

“We need to always be willing to listen and have some understanding of other people's perspectives, even if we think they are incorrect,” he says.

Learn both sides of the argument

Learning both sides of an argument well, especially the side you disagree with, is one way to gain perspective, says Lagoy.

He points to the famous philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas, who would always learn and understand the opposite point of view so well that he could explain it even better than those who believed that view, even though he disagreed with it.

Chloe Carmichael, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of your Anxiety, agrees and suggests learning three things about the other point of view and not considering them a danger.

“Sometimes people can be afraid that if they learn about an opposing view, they’ll get sucked into that point of view and ‘I’ll abandon my own view’ but the truth is, learning about the arguments on the other side can help us to be more grounded and have firmer feet in why we have the view that we do,” she explains.

Enhance your listening skills

Listening during times when difficult topics are being discussed involves regulating your emotions, being non-defensive, and compassionate, explains Dattilo.

She suggests practicing mindful listening, which is being fully present during conversations and reserving judgment. 

“Try listening to understand, not fix. Most of us are only half-listening, or hearing what we want to hear, or thinking about what we want to say in response, or what advice to give. This is not true listening,” says Dattilo.

Chloe Carmichael, PhD

Sometimes people can be afraid that if they learn about an opposing view, they’ll get sucked into that point of view...but the truth is, learning about the arguments on the other side can help us to be more grounded and have firmer feet in why we have the view that we do.

— Chloe Carmichael, PhD

True listening is an active process of asking questions for clarification or to express interest, being curious, trying to learn something new, or trying to understand someone else’s perspective or reasoning.

“This helps build both emotional and cognitive empathy,” she says.

Carmichael says to try to ask the person a few questions in order to demonstrate curiosity and willingness to listen and learn about their viewpoint. Then repeat back what they said so they know you are trying to understand them. 

Focus on just the facts

“Just the facts” is a technique therapists use in therapy to help clients minimize putting a “spin” on situations, especially in the face of incomplete or ambiguous information.

To practice it for a given situation that is upsetting, Dattilo suggests writing down the details and what you believe to be the cause of your distress. Then, cross out each detail that contains an opinion, either negative or positive.

“This could also include statements that place blame on another person or yourself, or ‘exaggerated’ terms like ‘always,’ ‘never,’ ‘everything,’ or ‘everyone,’” she says. 

Next, restate the explanations using only facts.

“Ask yourself ‘if there were 100 people here, what could we all agree on?’” says Dattilo.

“You’ll quickly realize how readily we insert our opinions, biases, and judgments into everyday situations and conversations.”

Think of things you have in common 

If you find yourself angry about someone’s point of view or getting over-focused on your differences, Carmichael says to take a deep breath and think about a few things you really like about the person and any bonding features you share.

“It could be ‘wow we sure do differ on politics, but I do enjoy talking about my romantic life or catching up on dating,’ or ‘it’s so nice that this person is a good neighbor to me and we watch each other’s kids or help each other out,’” she says.

What This Means For You

While having your own opinions of the world is natural, a new study explains how an area of the brain plays a part. Finding ways to understand others’ views can help maintain relationships.


1 Source
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  1. Lieberman MD. Seeing minds, matter, and meaning: The CEEing model of pre-reflective subjective construalPsychol Rev. 2022;129(4):830-872. doi:10.1037/rev0000362

By Cathy Cassata
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories around health, mental health, medical news, and inspirational people.