Responsicle to Ross Pomeroy’s 10 Problems With How We Think
Thanks Ross for this great summary of heuristics and biases. My BA is in this field (social psychology, specialized in influence and persuasion), so it’s near and dear to my heart.
I have a some additional considerations and a few suggested changed. You rightly point out that these heuristics are not just academic anomalies, they have significant real-world impact and we ignore them at our peril.
- Sunk Cost Fallacy
Finishing the restaurant meal is not really a sunk cost fallacy, I’d argue. Not necessarily, anyway. There are many people who believe in getting their ‘money’s worth’, by over-consuming in one way (food) even if it harms them in another way (digestion). The Sunk Cost Fallacy is backward-looking,but this would be forward-looking.
Similarly, I’m nots sure I buy the example of watching the horrible TV show to the end despite hating it. THere might be a bit of Sunk Cost Fallacy at work, but many shows nowadays are written to a storytelling crescendo, so people are afraid of ‘missing out’ of the good part.
I walked out of Mad Max: Fury Road. Even thought it was expensive, in an Imax theater and I was with friends, etc. I just didn’t enjoy it, and eventually did this calculation in my head: would I prefer another hour of this movie, or an hour of Facebook? Because Facebook won, I hightailed it downstairs (where, incidentally, someone had just OD’d in the bathroom, so the paramedics were there to revive and escort him to safety).
- Halo Effect
This is a big one, and is wholly responsible for a lot of lost time and money investigating scandals involving politicians and other public figures. For some reason, we humans have difficulty separating an occupation from a set of behaviors. But they’re not linked: a famous ‘Good Samaritan’ study of seminary students on the way to speak about ‘The Good Samaritan’ were asked by a (fake) needy person for help. Those running late didn’t help. Those who had time did help. The fact that they were about to lecture on the virtues of behaving kindly in that exact situation didn’t seem to matter.
Unfortunately, it also compromises our ability to see great leaders as the rich yet flawed human beings that they are or were. The pasts of Gandhi, MLK, and Mandela are more uneven and less praiseworthy than we’d like, so we alter history to make them more palatable.
- Confirmation Bias
This is really true, and very terrifying. A generation ago, everyone watched the evening news at 6 and again at 11, geting the same information from the same presenter who was expected to be neutral. Then cable TV and internet (then, strangly, cable TV again) emerged to divvy up the news among newscasters prepared to take sides. “Narrowcasting” was born, allowing people to choose their news a la carte with whatever political flavoring they fancied. Worse, they could completely block out the voices of dissent, literally if the voices were on on Facebook. This has served to make people more confident in their beliefs even as its made them more ignorant of other points of view. This is dangerous for any civil society.
The legal point is another angle on this that demonstrates just how dangerous this can be. I once served on a jury that returned a predictable yet highly disturbing result: every juror supported the side that matched them ethnically. How we call that justice is beyond me, but thankfully it was a civil case and no one was sent to prison. I know that’s not always the case.
It happened quickly: in the deliberation room, each juror saw the evidence as proof of the side they supported. Each new piece of evidence seemed to only convince them they were right, not challenge their beliefs. It was terrifying to see the legal system play out this way, and to know that we had real power over people’s lives yet were making decisions in such a blindly ad hoc manner.
- Discounting Delayed Rewards
I’ve always struggled a bit with this one, because the math is clear but the real-world implication is anything but. I agree with the quote of ‘perceived values at the time of decision, not potential final value’. But there’s a utility angle that this might not fully explore: let’s say the person being offered the decision was just diagnosed with cancer. Taking the $50 immediately would make sense. Also, holding out from 5 years to 6 for $100 also would make sense, if they felt that if they survived for 5 years their chances of making it another year would also be high.
Fortunately, most of us are not in that position, yet anything could happen. If you were just starting a business, $50 now holds more value than $100 next year, but $100 in 6 years would hold more value than $50 in 5 years, if the business was still around.
I’d love to see this repeated by varying the age, looking at teenagers vs. the elderly, and at size of sums, looking at small amounts vs major ones.