EppsNet Archive: Psychology

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

12 Dec 2014 /

The notion that we have limited access to the workings of our minds is difficult to accept because, naturally, it is alien to our experience but it is true: You know far less about yourself than you feel you do.

 

A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.

 

It is the consistency of information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.

 

The exaggerated faith in small samples is only one example of a more general illusion — we pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify.

 

Narrative fallacies arise inevitably from our continuous attempt to make sense of the world. The explanatory stories that people find compelling are simple; are concrete rather than abstract; assign a larger role to talent, stupidity, and intentions than to luck; and focus on a few striking events that happened rather than on the countless events that failed to happen.

 

Hindsight bias has pernicious effects on the evaluations of decision makers. It leads observers to assess the quality of a decision not be whether the process was sound but by whether its outcome was good or bad. . . . This outcome bias makes it almost impossible to evaluate a decision properly – in terms of the beliefs that were reasonable when the decision was made.

 

Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression. These stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding, imparting lessons of little enduring value to readers who are all too anxious to believe them.

 

For some of our most important beliefs we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold those beliefs.

 

Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.

 

We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.

 

The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained. . . Everything makes sense in hindsight . . . And we cannot suppress the powerful intuition that what makes sense in hindsight was predictable yesterday. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future.

 

[Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania] interviewed 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends. . . . In all, Tetlock gathered more than 80,000 predictions. . . . Respondents were asked to rate the probabilities of three alternative outcomes in every case: the persistence of the status quo, more of something such as political freedom or economic growth, or less of that thing.

The results were devastating. The experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned equal probabilities to each of the three potential outcomes. In other words, people who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than nonspecialists.

 

Rehearse the mantra that will get you significantly closer to economic reality: you win a few, you lose a few.

 

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.

 

During the last 10 years we have learned many new facts about happiness. But we have also learned that the word happiness does not have a simple meaning and should not be used as if it does. Sometimes scientific progress leaves us more puzzled than we were before.


Why “We” Believed Jackie’s Rape Story

7 Dec 2014 /

That’s the title (minus the quotation marks) of an article on politico.com regarding Rolling Stone‘s retraction of a story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia. The article is written by a female student at that university.

“We” believed the story for the same reason Rolling Stone didn’t fact check it: because when you know little, it’s easier to fit everything you do know into a simple story about the world, e.g., “white men are rapists.”

Also because people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they’re sustained by a community of like-minded believers.

On the flip side, a different group of people can now use the incident to confirm their simple story about the world, e.g., “women are liars.”

Personally I find labeling and smearing people based on genetic traits ugly and offensive no matter whose agenda is being advanced . . .


The Hedgehog and the Fox

6 Dec 2014 /

Stuffed hedgehogs outside a store in Athens

Hedgehogs “know one big thing” and have a theory about the world: they account for particular events within a coherent framework, bristle with impatience toward those who don’t see things their way, and are confident in their forecasts. They are also especially reluctant to admit error. For hedgehogs, a failed prediction is almost always “off only on timing” or “very nearly right.” They are opinionated and clear, which is exactly what television producers love to see on programs. Two hedgehogs on different sides of an issue, each attacking the idiotic ideas of the adversary, make for a good show.

Foxes, by contrast, are complex thinkers. They don’t believe that one big thing drives the march of history . . . Instead the foxes recognize that reality emerges from the interactions of many different agents and forces, including blind luck, often producing large and unpredictable outcomes. . . . They are less likely than hedgehogs to be invited to participate in television debates.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

I Was Never More Hated Than When I Tried to Be Honest

22 Jun 2014 /

I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied — not even I. On the other hand, I’ve never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to “justify” and affirm someone’s mistaken beliefs; or when I’ve tried to give my friends the incorrect, absurd answers they wished to hear. In my presence they could talk and agree with themselves, the world was nailed down, and they loved it.

— Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

On the Evaluation of One-Sided Evidence

2 Mar 2014 /

We examine predictions and judgments of confidence based on one-sided evidence. Some subjects saw arguments for only one side of a legal dispute while other subjects (called ‘jurors’) saw arguments for both sides. Subjects predicted the number of jurors who favored the plaintiff in each case. Subjects who saw only one side made predictions that were biased in favor of that side. Furthermore, they were more confident but generally less accurate than subjects who saw both sides. The results indicate that people do not compensate sufficiently for missing information even when it is painfully obvious that the information available to them is incomplete.

— Lyle A. Brenner, Derek J. Koehler and Amos Tversky, “On the Evaluation of One-sided Evidence” (emphasis added)

See You in Hell: The Fritz Pollard Edition

1 Mar 2014 /

Satan

Satan


[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan — PE]

The head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors diversity in the NFL, expects the league to institute a rule where players would be penalized 15 yards for using the N-word on the field.

The N-word. Let’s see . . . the N-word is “National,” the F-word is “Football” and the L-word is “League.”

Wait — what?! I’m now being informed that the N-word in this case is “nigger.” That’s what the Fritz Pollard Alliance wants to penalize. OK, that’s a great idea, Fritz Pollard Alliance, and by “great” I mean “bullshit.”

Has anyone at the Fritz Pollard Alliance read the Harry Potter books? In the Harry Potter books, Voldemort is known as He Who Must Not Be Named. He’s so powerful and scary and evil that you’re not even allowed to say his name! The only person who’s not afraid to say Voldemort’s name is Harry Potter.

I wish someone would ban my name from being spoken. I hate to hear my name bandied about — “Satan this” and “Satan that.” It makes me seem unremarkable, like someone you might chat with at a dinner party or meet at Starbucks for a coffee.

If people were banned from speaking my name, every time someone did speak it, accidentally or on purpose, it would be like “AUUUUGH! SATAN HAS BEEN UNLEASHED FROM THE DEPTHS OF HELL!” I’d be 10 times more fearsome than I am already.

You see where I’m going with this, Fritz Pollard Alliance? Banning the use of a word makes the word more scary and powerful, not less.

Who knows better than me that if you make a thing forbidden, people will want that thing more than ever? I call that Satan’s Paradox.

 

Except for the N-word, all racial, ethnic or religious zingers, epithets and provocations remain A-okay with Fritz and his boys. The Kailee Wong Alliance has proposed that calling a Chinese player a gook or a Vietnamese player a chink, instead of the other way around, be grounds for automatic ejection, but adoption of the proposal is considered unlikely.

See you in Hell . . .


The ‘Why’ Technique

16 Feb 2014 /

The usual purpose of ‘why’ is to elicit information. One wants to be comforted with some explanation which one can accept and be satisfied with. The lateral use of why is quite opposite. The intention is to create discomfort with any explanation. By refusing to be comforted with an explanation one tries to look at things in a different way and so increases the possibility of restructuring a pattern.

— Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking

Challenge Assumptions

15 Feb 2014 /

General agreement about an assumption is no guarantee that it is correct. It is historical continuity that maintains most assumptions – not a repeated assessment of their validity.

— Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking

EppsNet Book Reviews: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

10 Nov 2013 /

I worked in the information technology department of a mortgage bank in the run-up to the 2007 implosion of the subprime mortgage market . . .

Given that it was fairly evident at the time that complicated financial instruments were being dreamed up for the sole purpose of lending money to people who could never repay it, it’s remarkable that very few people foresaw the catastrophe and that even fewer actually had the nerve to bet on it to happen.

Long story short, the major rating agencies — Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s — were incompetent in their rating of subprime mortgage bonds, giving investment-grade and, in some cases, triple-A ratings to high-risk instruments. A lot of people took the ratings — which implied that subprime mortgage derivatives were no riskier than U.S. Treasury bonds — at face value and acted accordingly.

But there were also some interesting psychological factors in play, not specific to the investment arena:

  1. Nothing really bad had ever happened in the subprime mortgage market. Every tiny panic was followed by a robust boom. Since nothing really bad had ever happened (albeit over a short and statistically insignificant period of time), nothing really bad ever would happen.
  2. The collapse of the subprime mortgage market would be a national catastrophe, and was unlikely precisely because it would be such a catastrophe. Nothing that bad could ever actually happen.

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not just surrounded by assholes. — William Gibson


Online Porn May Make You Forget

7 Feb 2013 /

Pornographic Picture Processing Interferes with Working Memory Performance

Journal of Sex Research, 2012 Nov 20

Researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen found that looking at internet porn has a negative effect on working memory.

Wait a second . . . did I already post this link?


Rough Layouts Sell the Idea Better Than Polished Ones

29 Nov 2012 /

This was written by an ad man but I can see it applying to other endeavors, like designing a software interface:

Scribbling

If you show a client a highly polished computer layout, he will probably reject it.

There is either too much to worry about or not enough to worry about. They are equally bad.

It is a fait accompli.

There is nothing for him to do. It’s not his work, it’s your work. He doesn’t feel involved.

If he doesn’t like the face of the girl in your rendering, or the style of the trousers on the man on the right, or the choice of the car he’s driving, he’s going to reject it.

He won’t see the big idea. He will look at the girl’s face and think, ‘I don’t like her, this doesn’t feel right.’

It is very difficult for him to imagine anything else if what you show him has such detail.

Show the client a scribble.

Explain it to him, talk him through it, let him use his imagination.

Get him involved.

Because you haven’t shown the exact way it’s going to be, there’s scope to interpret it and develop and change it as you progress.

Work with him rather than confronting him with your idea.


Politicians Making Things Happen

6 Nov 2012 /

Now, if we want people to do certain things and if we are indifferent as to why they do them, then no affective appeals need be excluded. Some political candidates want us to vote for them regardless of our reasons for doing so. Therefore, if we hate the rich, they will snarl at the rich for us; if we dislike strikers, they will snarl at the strikers; if we like clambakes, they will throw clambakes; if the majority of us like hillbilly music, they may say nothing about the problems of government, but travel among their constituencies with hillbilly bands.


Accurate Self-Perceptions Considered Harmful

3 Sep 2012 /

Consider a survey of nearly one million high school seniors. When asked to judge their ability to get along with others, 100 percent rated themselves as at least average, 60 percent rated themselves in the top 10 percent, and 25 percent considered themselves in the top 1 percent. And when asked about their leadership skills, only 2 percent assessed themselves as below average. Teachers aren’t any more realistic: 94 percent of college professors say they do above-average work.

The human brain is a better lawyer than scientist. A scientific brain would form hypotheses, test them against the evidence and reject the ones that don’t pass. The lawyer brain starts with a conclusion that it wants to be true, formulates supporting arguments and discounts evidence to the contrary.

Studies show that people with the most accurate self-perceptions tend to be moderately depressed, suffer from low self-esteem or both. An overly positive self-evaluation, on the other hand, helps our minds defend us against unhappiness and inspires us to become what we think we are.


If You Tolerate It, You Insist On It

19 Nov 2011 /

Whenever you perceive that a virtue is missing or that a vice is present, you either tolerate the situation or try to change it. If you cannot “fix” it, you can at least withdraw your participation. The problem with tolerating the absence of virtue or the existence of vice is that this choice summons them into your life.

You might tell yourself stories about the problem you perceive and your tolerance of it:

  • That’s just the way it is in the real world.
  • Others will not listen even-handedly to your perceptions and advice.
  • It’s not your place to say truthful but difficult things.
  • The problem lies in another department.
  • You are not reading the situation correctly. You may not be able to discern beauty from ugliness or efficiency from waste, and your ignorance will be exposed. You’ll be rejected or ridiculed.
  • You will look dumb if you ask for help to resolve any uncertainty.

Acknowledge that if you tolerate it, you insist on it. If you insist on something, you are its creator.

— Jim and Michele McCarthy, Software for Your Head

The Law of Conservation of Ignorance

10 Sep 2011 /

A false conclusion once arrived at and widely accepted is not easily dislodged, and the less it is understood the more tenaciously it is held.


The Difference Between You and Me

30 Nov 2010 /

I was late because the directions were useless. You were late because you’re a disorganized person . . .

Tags:

Ask “What Would the User Do?” (You Are Not the User)

28 Jun 2010 /

We all tend to assume that other people think like us. But they don’t. Psychologists call this the false consensus bias . . .

Users don’t think like programmers. They don’t recognize the patterns and cues programmers use to work with, through, and around an interface . . .


Moving Away from Joy

16 Feb 2010 /
Friendship

Behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman suggests that we have two selves: an experiencing self and a remembering self. . . . Your experiencing self lives in the present and is happiest spending time around people you like. . . .

The remembering self cares about story, and about appearances. . . .

Your remembering self cares about money and mobility deeply. Why? No one wants to be remembered as the person who “didn’t do anything with their life.” Getting rich and moving around a lot adds dramatic, tangible plot-points to your story, which comforts your remembering self greatly. But your experiencing self can easily be less happy. What if you are unable to turn your money into people you enjoy spending time with? What if you move away from the people and places that bring you joy?

Dave Troy

The Conundrum of Fame

1 Apr 2009 /

Here’s conundrum of fame, as I see it: It’s always said that if you want to be famous, you must endure criticism. The fabled “trade off”…

…But the whole reason people want to be famous is to be loved. They’re love-addicts. Hating a celeb is like kicking a hemophiliac.

Like I bet Tom Hanks internalizes a shitty remark way more than, say, the HR lady in your office. He’s needy. That’s why he’s Tom Hanks.

All right, enough Psych 101. My Chihuahua looks like Billy Crystal and my Shepherd is Gheorghe Muresan. They need a development deal.


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