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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 04-Mar-18


Sunday 04-March-18

Don't don't. The mind doesn't know nothing about notable negatives

I was entering a PIN number into a credit card machine the other day. It asked me for my PIN, which I duly entered. It then said 'Accessing your details. Do not remove card'. I saw 'remove card' and grabbed it, but just stopped myself in time from pulling it out. Now on edge, I held onto the card. The message flashed off then a message flashed on. It was the same message, but my readied unconscious mind saw just the 'remove card' and pulled. The sales assistant looked exasperated. 'Now we'll have to start again' she said.

We see these confusing negatives everywhere. A classic American one, especially for Brits like me, is the road crossing 'Walk/Don't Walk' signs. It's understandable in the context of the technology when it was invented, but the psychology still sucks. For a sign intended to help with road safety, it still contains a rather pernicious embedded trap.

The mind does not process negatives well (and gets really confused by multiple negatives). Even soundalike words like 'know' and syllables such as 'notable' can add to the confusion.

As with many psychological effects, once you know about it, it is easier to combat. Whenever I see the word 'don't', for example, I always pause to think a little more before acting. You never know, don't you, whether or not you know it, it could one day save your life!

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