We clever little embarrassingly brilliant, brilliantly embarrassing naked apes never cease to amaze me… and I need help on this one.
Take a long, hard look at this little fellow. He has no name I’m aware of. He was dumped three weeks ago in our area; one of scores of dogs who’re “dropped off” in our neighbourhood by morally derelict, spineless fuckers who, I assume, must think this burb to be well-to-do because it has a lot of trees and parks and surely must be filled with people thrilled to deal with their problem. Whatever the reasons, our area is the recipient of an abhorrent number of abandon animals.
We, as a community, do our best. My car has an “emergency dog kit” permanently in the back: food, water, blankets. My wife and I have taken in five (3 cats, 2 dogs) and we’ve helped rescue Zeus only knows how many more over the years, pay for their neutering, whatever long and short-term treatment is needed, and help out with the adoption. The bad stories outweigh the good but this little guy is one of the good. Cut a long story short he found a home three days ago. Great, but that’s not what this post is about.
When he showed up in our street (he drifted back and forth between 5 or so streets and simply refused to be touched… but he did like grade-a prime mince!) we did something we’d never done before: we took photos and put up signs. You can tell a dumped animal. They’re typically mongrels, or what we call back in Australia, Bitzers: bit-of-this, bit-of-that. With them you just cut to the chase and get straight into the treatment and home-finding. This chap was an old ladies dog; a tiny little thing, with a collar. Until recently he was most definitely someone’s little champion. So, the signs went up, reading (in Portuguese, of course):
If this is your dog or know the owner please contact…
Now, people called. They started calling an hour after we’d finished posting the notices, and didn’t stop calling for 2 weeks. The problem was none of the people who called had actually lost the dog. They’d all phoned saying, “We found your dog!” They all meant well. They all had the right intentions, but in each case their brains had played tricks on them. They’d seen the dog, seen the sign, and then seen what they’d wanted to see. The sign clearly said “Found” but they wanted to see “Lost,” and that is precisely how they read it. They phoned happy to be the bearers of good news.
Now, what is this? What the hell was going on there?
I’ve been looking for a psychological definition for this phenomenon, an explanation, but haven’t really nailed anything definitive down. Possible contenders include the “halo effect” where people evaluate information to fit an existing emotional idea… but as far as I’m aware this mostly applies to how we perceive people, not situations. It could be something called “priming” where the brain is anticipating seeing something and as a result see’s that thing, not the thing (usually a word) that’s actually there. Or it could be cognitive dissonance where the need for the “happy ending” simply swamps the reality of what people are actually seeing.
To be sure, I’m no psychologist – the subject matter and its methods frustrate and annoy me more times than not – but I’d seriously like to know how so many people deluded themselves. Is there an explanation, a study, a theory, a condition known that does explain this?