Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 28 September 2014





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

Illusions and the media

How many girls or even women try to have a fairer complexion? How many young men attend gymnasia and do rigorous exercises to get that perfect body? How many of us follow various courses to obtain a highly paid job? However, all these men and women have unwittingly succumbed to an illusion.

On television we are shown beautiful women with very fair complexion.We are shown how they apply a certain brand of cosmetics to get that glowing skin. What we fail to see is that all the models who appear on television advertisements are naturally endowed with a very fair complexion. They have not gained that extra glow by applying any brand of cosmetics. For that matter, they are highly paid models who are doing a job.

The same can be said about those young men who go the gymnasium regularly to get that macho look.Gymnasium owners employ well-built young men as instructors. Those who follow their instructions will rarely get that macho look.


The illusion has spread to the field of education as well. Private institutions offer Master of Business Administration and psychology courses from many foreign universities.The tuition fees are exorbitant.There are some students who really benefit from these courses However, there are many who drop out half way through the courses. The reason is that each and every person is not fit to follow such courses.We should know what we are capable of doing before enrolling ourselves to follow an expensive course.

Nassim Taleb:
We fall prey to swimmer’s body illusion

When the University of Colombo started offering external degrees in law in English, Sinhala and Tamil many decades ago,a large number of students enrolled themselves to follow these courses leading to the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree. Of the large number of applicants only a few passed out as law graduates and got into the legal profession. The majority of the applicants gave up their studies halfway through the course.


Whenever we confuse selection factors with results, we fall prey to what essayist Nassim Taleb calls the “swimmer’s body illusion.” Without this illusion, half of newspaper, radio, and television advertisements would not work. Today you cannot complete any degree course at a private institution without paying at least one million. But most of us are ready to pay it thinking our future rupees income would treble that amount.This does not mean that we should not pursue higher studies. But we must do it only if we have a passion to do such a course.

Most of us want to be happier than what we are. We never pause to think whether we were born happy. In a consumer oriented society we want to be happier by doing various things.But happiness is largely a personality trait that remains constant throughout life. The celebrated social scientists Lykken and Tellegen said, “Trying to be happier is as futile as trying to be taller.”

When we read self-help books to lead a happier life, the illusion can become treacherous. Most self-help books are written by authors who have made a name. People buy their books and read them voraciously to be happier. But how many of us benefit from such pseudo-psychological advice?

Halo effect

Apart from the illusion we are exposed to, there is a need to be aware of the “halo effect.” Look at the number of cricketers promoting various brands of fizzy drinks. Have you ever wondered whether they became celebrities by consuming such drinks? Similarly, some doctors promote medications to get a fairer complexion.Can a doctor who has taken the Hippocratic oath appear in an advertisement? But they work on our subconscious mind. We tend to think if a doctor recommends a particular medication, it must be good for us.

Is it really possible to remain unaffected by glitzy advertisements? Probably not. Being human, most of us are carried away by beautiful faces, glib talk and macho looks. It may not be possible for us to be aware of the trap advertisers place on our way. However, we must tread cautiously before we decide whether to part with our hard-earned money for something which is really not necessary. That seems to be the wisest course of action.

Donate Now |
LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)

| News | Editorial | Finance | Features | Political | Security | Sports | Spectrum | Montage | Impact | World | Obituaries | Junior | Youth |


Produced by Lake House Copyright © 2014 The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.

Comments and suggestions to : Web Editor