'Why we are better at solving friends' problems than our own'


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A second online study with 356 participants produced a similar pattern of results.

A second online study with 356 participants produced a similar pattern of results. (Photo: Pixabay)

Researchers have decoded why we are often better at working through other peoples problems than our own, whether it is a romantic issue or tension at work.

While we may approach our friends problems with wise, clear-eyed objectivity, we often view our own problems through a personal, flawed, emotional lens, researchers said.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, explored the connection between personal ideals and reasoning.

"Our findings suggest that people who value virtuous motives may be able to reason wisely for themselves, and overcome personal biases observed in previous research," said Alex Huynh from University of Waterloo in Canada.

"This is in part due to their ability to recognise that their perspectives may not be enough to fully understand a situation, a concept referred to as intellectual humility," Huynh said.

Researchers recruited 267 university students to participate in this study.

The participants reported the extent to which they were motivated to pursue virtue by rating their agreement with statements like "I would like to contribute to others or the surrounding world" and "I would like to do what I believe in."

They, were then randomly assigned to think about either a personal conflict or a close friends conflict, imagine that the conflict was still unresolved, and describe how they thought and felt about the situation.

Finally, participants rated how useful different wise reasoning strategies eg searching for compromise, adopting an outsiders perspective would be in addressing the conflict in question.

Researchers noted that participants who thought about a friends dilemma considered wiser strategies to be more useful than did the participants who thought about their own personal issues.

However, the motivation to pursue virtue seemed to close this gap - participants who thought about personal problems rated wise-reasoning strategies as more valuable as their motivation to pursue virtue increased.

Further analyses revealed two specific components of wise reasoning that mattered most: considering other peoples perspectives and intellectual humility.

People who valued virtue may show wise reasoning because they recognise that understanding the full scope of their problem necessitates going beyond their personal perspective, researchers said.

A second online study with 356 participants produced a similar pattern of results.

"Everyone is susceptible to becoming too invested in their own perspectives, but this doesnt have to be the case for everybody," said Huynh.

"As these findings suggest, your own personality and motivational orientation can influence your ability to approach your personal problems in a calmer, wiser manner," Huynh said.