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All about Jumping to Conclusions

Human brains are finely tuned, decision-making machines designed to make quick judgments on a wide variety of confusing events. Our minds naturally take shortcuts so that we can make split-second decisions, this is very helpful in many situations as they allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action.

However, it is also easy to get caught up in jumping to conclusions, as sometimes those judgments are based on personal beliefs, so called intuition, insufficient data and past experiences for example, instead of factual information. Most of the time jumping to conclusions is harmless. Even if those judgments that are based on limited reasoning and quick thinking are wrong, the consequences are seldom disastrous. It is a problem however, when jumping to conclusions is habitual and consistent so that it becomes the default thought process used.

What is jumping to conclusions?

We repeatedly jump to conclusions in minor ways throughout our day, particularly when it comes to making observations or decisions that aren’t very important. When someone leaps to a judgement prematurely, without sufficient information to justify it, it is known as jumping to a conclusion.

Jumping to conclusions is a natural phenomenon, we use heuristics, or shortcuts that our minds naturally take that allow us to assess situations so that we can make split-second decisions. A heuristic in psychology is a mental shortcut or rule of thumb that simplifies decision-making and problem-solving. Heuristics often speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution, but they can also lead to cognitive biases, which is a systematic thought process caused by the tendency of the human brain to simplify information processing through a filter of personal experience and preferences.

Essentially, cognitive biases help humans find mental shortcuts to assist in the navigation of daily life, but may often cause irrational interpretations and judgments. So, jumping to conclusions can be a negative thinking pattern, commonly making negative assumptions, which is a type of cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are consistent unhelpful, unrealistic or irrational thoughts, or errors in our thinking, the way that we are thinking about something doesn’t match up with the reality of what is happening. Jumping to conclusions in this manner can become problematic when our heuristics are applied incorrectly, such as when they lead us to make a giant leap from a minor detail to a major conclusion.

Jumping to conclusions is also closely associated with other types of cognitive distortions such as:

  • Overgeneralisation – this is recognised as a cognitive distortion in its own right, but it can also play a role in jumping to conclusions. For example, a person assumes that because they have experienced negative results from an action once, they then jump to the conclusion that they will always experience negative results from that action. It is often accompanied by thoughts like “I can’t do anything right”, or feeling that no one likes them.
  • Fortune Telling – another type of cognitive distortion, when seen as a form of jumping to conclusions it means a person assuming that they know what is going to happen in the future. Someone who is fortune telling might jump to the conclusion that they are going to do a bad job on a project at work before they ever start.
  • Mind reading – a cognitive distortion where a person jumps to the conclusion that they know what someone else is thinking, usually in a negative sense, and generally tied to how the other person has acted in their presence. For example, if someone does not reply when a person says good morning, they might jump to the conclusion that the person dislikes them.
  • Labelling – this cognitive distortion means that someone makes assumptions about others based on opinions or behaviours stereotypically associated with a group that they are not a part of. For example, someone who engages in labelling might jump to the conclusion that their female friend doesn’t enjoy playing football since they assume only men play football.
  • Catastrophising In this very common form of cognitive distortion, a person only sees the worst outcome of a situation, jumping to all kinds of negative conclusions.

Overlap can also be involved between many other types of cognitive distortions, for example, labelling is also a form of overgeneralising.

Jumping to Conclusions

Why do people jump to conclusions?

Our thought processes such as jumping to conclusions are part of a complex system in our brains that is intertwined with our thoughts, behaviours, and emotions. There isn’t one underlying reason which is the cause of this thinking pattern.

People jump to conclusions all the time, one of the main reasons why people jump to conclusions is that our cognitive system relies on mental shortcuts, our brains use these mental shortcuts to save time and energy, so jumping to conclusions can be fuelled by minimal information and the need to reach a decision quickly and move on.

They can also be based upon life experiences, in particular, bad life experiences can lead people to create patterns of understanding designed to protect them. For example, if someone was criticised a lot by one of their parents as they grew up, they may have become extra sensitive to signs of disapproval from others, and at any of these signs such as a certain tone of voice, faulty negative thinking leads them to jump to the conclusion that they are being criticised, even when they are not.

Neuroscientist researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) looking for explanations of what triggers us to jump to conclusions, carried out brain scans on 47 volunteers, and identified a part of the prefrontal cortex, that is the large brain area located immediately behind the forehead that is associated with complex cognitive activities, appears to evaluate causal uncertainty, and enables us to jump to conclusions when needed. The results suggested to the researchers that we are most likely to jump to conclusions when we are uncertain about a situation. These default assumptions are one of the strategies the brain uses to judge the most likely interpretation of an ambiguous situation.

Another reason might be that people can be fooled by how things appear at face value and jump to hasty conclusions, rather than taking time to assess a person or a situation fully.

Jumping to conclusion thoughts are frequently a reflection of how we think and feel about ourselves, our self-esteem. If we hold the thought or core belief that, “I’m not good enough”, or, “I’m boring”, or “I’m not lovable”, then we will be looking for information in the environment to support that idea. We become hypersensitive to anything that might support this negative core belief about ourselves. We then jump to conclusions based upon those negative beliefs because we assume that if we think that we are no good, then other people will also think that.

Stereotyping is a very common reason why people jump to conclusions. For example, belief in a stereotypical notion may lead people to presume or jump to the conclusion that all people with certain characteristics are the same, hold the same values, display the same behaviours, have the same tastes etc. regardless of the individual person or group of people concerned.

Jumping to conclusions can be a sign of emotional distress, when stress and emotion become overwhelming, even mentally healthy people might jump to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions can also be an associate symptom of an underlying mental health condition, such as:

Examples of the ways people jump to conclusions

A classic example of how people jump to conclusions is revealed by the old riddle:

A father and son are in a terrible car crash that kills the father. The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he is about to go in to the operating theatre, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate, that boy is my son!”

A surprising majority of people jump to the conclusion that there is something awry with the story, how could that be, the boy’s father was killed in the crash?, rather than come to the more logical conclusion after examining all the evidence, that the surgeon could be the boy’s mother. What prevents most people from seeing that the surgeon is the boy’s mother is the reliance of the brain on the default assumption that a surgeon is a man.

Here are some more common ways that people jump to conclusions:

  • When a person’s friend walks past them in the street and ignores them one day, they immediately believe that their friend is having negative thoughts about them. That might be true, but a simpler explanation may be that the friend just didn’t see them.
  • A person’s partner is late home, they immediately jump to the conclusion that their partner must have been involved in an accident, rather than thinking that they have missed the train.
  • Arriving late for work, a person hears that their manager is looking for them, they then jump to the conclusion that their manager is going to sack them for being late, otherwise why would they be looking for them?
  • A person takes their family car to go shopping earlier than normal. When their partner wakes up and sees that the car is not there, they jump to the conclusion that it has been stolen and calls the police.
  • Thinking that there is no point in applying for a particular job as the company is probably looking for younger applicants.
  • You forget a friend’s birthday, although they say it is fine, you jump to the conclusion that they now think less of you and that you are probably off their Christmas card list.
  • You have told a couple of people about something that you wanted kept confidential, it then becomes public knowledge and you jump to a conclusion as to which of those two people have broken your confidence, without any evidence to support this.
  • The room goes quiet just as you walk in, you jump to the conclusion that they must have been talking about you.
  • Jumping to the conclusion that the mole that appeared on your skin must be cancer, rather than making an appointment with the doctor to have it checked out.
  • When talking to somebody and they look at their watch during the conversation. Your automatic thought is, “They think I’m boring. They want to get away from me”.
  • Making assumptions about a person’s character, socio-economic status or intellect etc. based upon things such as the school / university they went to, the car that they drive, the way that they dress, the way that they speak etc.

There may be times when the conclusion that you have jumped to is correct, however, more often than not you will not be. If this becomes your default thinking style, life can become quite troubling and stressful.

What are the impacts of jumping to conclusions?

Jumping to conclusions can make it difficult to see situations clearly and increases the risk of making poor decisions because it can cause “blind spots” when it comes to:

  • Methodical thinking and decision-making
  • Collecting information before making judgments
  • Considering alternative interpretations or presumptions
  • Focusing on unconventional evidence
  • Interpreting ambiguity in a non-threatening manner

This can lead to mistakes, assuming the worst, and taking defensive action unnecessarily as a less risky strategy, better safe than sorry.

Cognitive distortions, in general, and jumping to conclusions in particular, can make a person more vulnerable to:

  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression, or the worsening of depressive symptoms
  • Low self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Lack of self-worth
  • Feeling overwhelmed and / or less willingness to take risks
  • Having a distorted, unhealthy view of reality
  • Feelings of inadequacy and a sense of being defective

For some people, jumping to conclusions such as thinking “my new partner loves sport so I need to take an interest even though I hate sport, or I risk losing them” can lead to people pleasing tendencies and impact a person’s ability to just be themselves.

Jumping to conclusions about how people might view you if they knew more about you, can lead you to become guarded about yourself for fear others will judge you unfavourably.

Jumping to conclusions can also create conflicts in relationships both personal and professional, such as jumping to negative conclusions about other people, or second guessing someone, this can often lead to quarrels, resentments, and can make other people feel irritated, anxious or stressed.

One of the most serious impacts of jumping to conclusions happens when a person with suicidal thoughts jumps to the conclusion that people and the world would be better off without them.

Factors that affect the tendency to jump to conclusions

Various factors could make people more or less likely to jump to conclusions, however the exact role of these factors is difficult to predict as individuals’ thought processes are often based upon their own unique life experiences.

Certain factors increase the likelihood that people will jump to conclusions. For some people, this way of thinking may be such a regular part of their thought pattern that they have never thought to question it, they jump to conclusions unintentionally.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) found that when under stress, people reach undesirable conclusions based on weaker evidence than when they are relaxed and that stress can make people more likely to conclude the worst scenario is true and jump to conclusions.

Another factor that affects the tendency to jump to conclusions is certain mental health conditions such as:

  • Psychosis which is associated with a reasoning bias, that manifests as a tendency to jump to conclusions
  • Schizophrenia, when someone is experiencing this condition, they might think for example that the government is spying on them, because they jump to conclusions after hearing their phone make a strange sound
  • In Bipolar Disorder, thinking for example “I’ve done this, so now nothing can stop me, I can achieve anything” is jumping to positive conclusions which can be problematic, and may lead the person to taking unnecessary and even dangerous risks
  • Depression can cause negative thinking patterns such as jumping to conclusions, and also this thinking pattern can worsen depressive symptoms, such as constant sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness
  • Someone with social anxiety disorder (SAD) or social phobia often jumps to the conclusion that they are always being watched and judged negatively by others
  • Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience cognitive distortions that have been shaped by the traumatic event they experienced or others’ reactions to their trauma. PTSD can create negative beliefs about one’s self and the world and can lead to jumping to conclusions
Head in Hands After Jumping to Conclusions

How to stop jumping to conclusions

The difficulty with combating this particular cognitive distortion is that we all must make assumptions in life. We can never know exactly what another person is thinking or have complete knowledge of any situation we find ourselves in.

Breaking the habit of unwarranted assumptions that lead to jumping to conclusions starts by knowing when it happens in your day to day life. Signs that you are jumping to conclusions include making quick judgments without considering other explanations, interpreting ambiguous situations negatively, or changing how you see something based on just a small amount of evidence.

Pay attention to situations or feelings that tend to lead to jumping to conclusions. This can help you to recognise when the thought pattern is beginning. Once you know that you are thinking about something in an unhelpful way, dig into that. Write down what happened, what it means to you, and your proof of your final assumption. To keep from jumping to conclusions, the best thing we can do is reality test our thoughts.

Focus on alternative outcomes in situations, instead of thinking about an extreme negative outcome, try to focus on a less-negative one or even a positive option. For example, if a friend has not responded instantly to your text, consider that perhaps they are busy, or that they haven’t charged their phone, there could be a multitude of reasons why they haven’t replied to you. Establish the facts before jumping to any conclusions.

Slow down your thought process, things are not always as they seem, so take some time to think the situation through. Before making a judgement, look at it from all perspectives. Ask yourself “would others view it this way?”.

Think about the times when you have jumped to the wrong conclusion, when did this happen? how were you feeling? what was your thought process? If you were making that judgement again what else would you take into consideration that would lead you to the right conclusion?

Try noticing when people in films and TV programmes jump to conclusions, what emotions and behaviours are they displaying? What has led them to jump to that conclusion? Do you recognise any of their behaviours in yourself? Can see the logical errors that theirs and your own thinking might contain?

Mindfulness helps you observe your thoughts without judgment and be more present in the moment. Try breathing deeply, remaining present in the moment, and noticing small details of your surroundings, sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. Mindfulness means being present and grounded in the current moment rather than fixating on the past or future. Meditation and other relaxation techniques can help.

If you are struggling with jumping to conclusions thinking, particularly if it is affecting your mental wellbeing, you may want to get professional help. Therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which aims to teach people that while they cannot control every aspect of the world around them, they can take control of how they interpret and deal with situations may help. The NHS talking therapies services finder can help you find out which services are available in your local area. You can also find accredited CBT therapists through the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP)

Final thoughts

In some circumstances, it can be useful to jump to conclusions, it can be helpful when responding quickly to dangers. However, keep in mind that reaching a conclusion prematurely, on the basis of insufficient information is often a danger in itself, so try allow yourself to take the time to suspend judgment until you are better informed.

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Megan Huziej

Megan has worked with CPD Online College since August 2020, she is in charge of content production, as well as planning, managing and delegating tasks. Megan works closely with Freelance Writers - Voice Artists - Companies and individuals to create the most appropriate and relevant content as well as also using and managing SEO. She gained her Business Administration Level 3 qualification over the duration of being at CPD Online College as well. Outside of work Megan loves to venture to different places and eateries as well as spending quality time with friends and family.



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