Why would John Edwards risk his career for an affair? How our beliefs affect our perceptions

May 25, 2012

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Today marks the sixth day of deliberations for jurors in the John Edwards campaign corruption trial. At question is whether Edwards broke the law and inappropriately used campaign money to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, during his 2008 run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Edwards confessed to his affair with Hunter back in 2008 after much speculation surrounding their relationship. At the time, he told ABC’s Bob Woodruff that his actions were a result of his ego and success going to his head.

But Northwestern University psychology professor Eli Finkel offers a different, much kinder explanation as to why Edwards could risk throwing his career away by engaging in an affair AND create evidence along the way.  (Remember the John Edwards/Rielle Hunter sex tape?)

Finkel says that we humans tend to alter our perception of reality to be in accordance with what we want, and that's what happened with Edwards. Remember that saying, “Love conquers all”? Well in this case, it conquered Edwards’ perception of reality, Finkel argues.

Research supports this phenomenon more broadly as well. In one study, researchers gave some participants water, and others pretzels to induce thirst. When presented with a bottle of water, those who were thirsty from eating pretzels estimated shorter distances between themselves and the bottle of water. In short, their assessment of the situation was altered by what they wanted. Hear Eli Finkel break down the correlation between our beliefs and our perceptions Friday on Afternoon Shift.