In a TIME magazine story about the Penn State sex scandal -- rape of young boys by a football coach is alleged -- I came across an analysis of how people become blinded to what is right in front of their eyes.
These excerpts from "Penn State of Mind" reminded me of religious true believers. Their blind faith causes them to become equally blind to aspects of reality that don't mesh with what they desperately want to believe in.
Within a college bubble, say organizational psychologists, the urge to shape your mental picture of the world can be overwhelming. "Culture trumps everything," says Laura Finfer, a psychologist and a principal at a New York City executive consulting firm.
Colleges, Finfer has found, can be quite clannish. "Cultures define you, and you become blind to everything in front of your eyes."
Or the way you see things changes. Ral Aldag, a management professor at the University of Wisconsin's School of Business, points to two cognitive tricks: selective perception and subjective perception.
Selective perception is our bias toward ignoring information that is at odds with your worldview. Subjective perception explains our tendency to couple uncomfortable information with reaffirming facts in order to make ourselves feel better.
For example, Penn Staters decry abuse. But pair that with anger over the indignity of Paterno's dismissal, and Paterno becomes a victim.
Cohesive groups like the Penn State football leadership tend to draw boundaries around themselves. "We apply rules of fair and just behavior to our own groups and people within them," says Michelle Duffy, an organizational behavior professor at the University of Minnestota's Carlson School of Management.
"But we morally exclude outsiders. In some ways you are dehumanizing out-group members -- in this case, the victims."