What Our Assumptions Say about Our Blind Spots

Emily Madill
6 min readApr 29, 2020

How many times a day do you assume you know what others are thinking? How often do you assume you know what will happen next? Do you ever, ahem, make these assumptions when you have no evidence to back them up?

I do. A lot, it turns out. Which brings me to that age-old pearl of wisdom about assumptions: they make an ass of u and me.

That was how, a few weeks ago, I made an ass of myself when I should have been soaking up some priceless, kid-free, quarantine solitude.

As human beings, we are born curious and open. We start out like baby-sized scientists on a mission to make sense of our environment. As we master our senses, we gain confidence in our ability to understand and function in the world around us. Our learned experience, beliefs, traumas and triumphs combine to shape our perspective on the world.

But at some point, we plant our feet firmly on the ground and stop being so curious. We assume we have enough facts, knowledge and experience to thrive. We get comfortable accepting the truth as we know it without question or proof.

Why does this happen? Why do we become less curious and open-minded? Why do we stop giving others the benefit of the doubt?

It might be because we’ve accumulated years of wisdom. Maybe we’ve been hurt too many times. Perhaps it’s because we get worn down.

It could also have something to do with the science behind brain development. A process known as synaptic pruning occurs between childhood and adulthood. During synaptic pruning, the brain eliminates synapses or connections that it deems unnecessary. This process follows a use-it-or-lose-it principle to help the brain function with more efficiency as we age. Early synaptic pruning is thought to depend mostly on our genetics. Later synaptic pruning is thought to be influenced by our experiences. Synapses grow and become permanent in a child’s brain due to constant stimulation. Under-stimulated synapses get pruned away.

Losing the innocence and openness we have in childhood is necessary for us to live our adult lives with more focus and efficiency. But it can have undesirable side effects, like our tendency to make assumptions based on the biases and blind spots we’ve nurtured over the…

Emily Madill

Author & certified professional coach (ACC) • BA in Business & Psychology. • Thrive Global editor-at-large• Author of 11 books • Coach at BetterUp