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reality testing

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Reality testing is a check performed to try to determine if someone’s thinking conforms to the general perception of what is real. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, originated reality testing. Since Freud’s day, the idea that objective reality exists has lost currency, and especially the idea that any individual could apprehend it.

Today, reality testing is mostly used as a focus that helps clients explore how their beliefs and cognitive biases might be holding them back. Negativity bias, for example, leads people to place more weight on negative events and information than positive. Confirmation bias leads people to pay more attention to information that seems to align with their current beliefs and opinions and to interpret incoming information through that filter. If those beliefs are self-defeating, their confirmation can only increase the negative effect.

Although reality exists, it is an extremely complex system that is far beyond the human capacity for comprehension. Because reality is not objectively observable, it’s not actually possible to determine if any individual’s perspective is accurate. Reality testing can only explore whether or not an individual’s beliefs align with generally-accepted beliefs within a given population or culture.

This was last updated in June 2019

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