Posts Tagged ‘Amos Tversky’

Anne Treisman Has Passed Away

February 16, 2018

She died Feb 10 and was 82. Many readers are probably wondering who is Ann Treisman. That is a shame as she is one of the leading researchers in human cognition. Early in her career she worked with the British psychologist Donald Broadbent exploring attention, its limitations, and how we cope with these limitations. They studied how the mind can tune out music, laughter, and distracting conversations to focus on a single conversation. This is called the “cocktail party problem.” Her research addressed how we can focus on individual objects in the world and still retain a general sense of our surroundings.

She developed feature integration theory with Gary Gelade, that holds that an object in the world is first perceived not as a unified whole but as a series of discrete features, including color, shape, size, and orientation. It is attention that unites all these features, as the mind focuses on one object and the another. Different portions of the brain respond to different features of an object. In a matter of milliseconds, each feature—the orientation of a tree branch, its green color, its motion in the wind is bound together in a single perception. Attention must be paid for this to occur.

Her research involved both hearing and sight and now informs everything from airport package inspection to the design of classrooms and traffic signals. A former colleague of Treisman’s, Lynn C. Robertson, said, “Dr. Treisman’s theory changed the way we understood our brains and our perception as well as what goes into memory and our whole cognition. We think we see with our eyes, but we actually see with our brains.”

Speaking on the implications of feature integration theory Dr. Treisman said, “The implication was that in some ways we create our experience than it’s being determined directly by a camera-like process. Perception is more like a controlled hallucination than like an automatic registration of stimuli.”

In 1976 she married Daniel Kahneman. Readers of the healthy memory blog should be familiar with Daniel Kahneman and his two process theory of cognition. Kahneman was awarded a Nobel Prize for his development of Prospect Theory with Amos Tversky. Unfortunately, Tversky could not also be given the award as he had already passed away at the time the award was decided. Together Kahneman and Tversky founded the field of behavioral economics.

Dr. Treisman was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2013 for “a 50-year career of penetrating originality and depth that has led to the understanding of fundamental attentional limits in the human mind and brain.” Together with Kahneman they held positions at the University of British Columbia and Berkeley, where they collaborated and shared a lab, before moving to Princeton.

HM was privileged to hear the invited addresses they gave at the University of Michigan.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Richard Thaler Wins the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2017

November 15, 2017

Assiduous readers of the Healthymemory blog should recognize the name from previous healthy memory blog posts. Richard Thaler is a behavioral economist. Early in his career he met up with the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman formulated Prospect Theory. Most economic models are normative. That is they describe what a rational human should do if behaving optimally. Prospect Theory explained what people actually do. The theory states that people make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains rather than the final outcome, and that people evaluate these losses and gains using certain heuristics. The model is descriptive: it describes what people actually do. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in 2002 primarily for Prospect Theory. Unfortunately Amos Tversky had passed away and was not eligible for the prize.

Prospect Theory was the beginning of behavioral economics. In addition to describing how people actually behave in the economic realm, it develops techniques to nudge people in making good decisions. For example, making what is regarded as the best decision in a list of alternatives the default decision greatly increases the number of people who choose that option. For example, if making deductions for a pension is the default decision, that is the option most likely to be chosen.

Although it is good to know what the theoretical optimal decisions are, if the interest is in public policy, it is important to know what people will actually do. The field of behavioral economics is still young and there is much to be done. But they are working on how best to understand what people will do to better understand how to influence them to make decisions that will benefit them, individually, and society as a whole.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Behavioral Economics

August 29, 2015

A number of previous healthy memory blog posts have been on the topic of behavioral economics. Mainstream economics is based on the idea of the rational man.  In 1978 the psychologist Herbert Simon was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Science for his research showing that human beings do not, and often cannot, evaluate all available information before making a decision.  He found that people satisfice, that is, use only enough information they think they need to make a decision.  In 2002, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman shared the Nobel Prize in Economic Science for his work with Amos Tversky showing the relevance of psychological research on human judgment and decision making under uncertainty to economics.  Kahneman and Tversky formulated Prospect Theory that showed how human behavior deviated from the economic norm.  Unfortunately, Tversky had passed away, so he was ineligible to receive the Nobel Prize.

Misbehaving:  The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler provides a well-written and informative discussion of the development of behavioral economics.  Although he is an economist he had the good fortune to be able to work with Kahneman and Tversky early in his career.  So he was an early, perhaps the earliest, economist to come into the behavioral economics fold.  The book unfolds in chronological order so you are able to follow the development of Thaler’s career along with the development of behavioral economics.  His writing is quite entertaining.

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics covers the course of the development of behavioral economics up until current times, so the coverage of material is quite large. The book begins with the discussion of SIFs (supposedly irrelevant factors).  These are factors that classical economics wave off as being irrelevant, but which are most certainly not irrelevant.  Early in his career Thaler began making his list of phenomena which were relevant to economics, but which were waved off as being irrelevant.  There are two types of theories:  normative and descriptive.  Normative theories inform us the right way to think about some problem.  Right here refers logical consistency.  Descriptive theories explain how problems are handled.  That is, what people actually do.  This differences is central to the difference between classical and behavioral economics.  Classical economics explains how logically people should be  behave, and behavioral economics explains how people actually do behave.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this distinction can be found in the recent economic crash.  According to the rational model of man, this crisis should not have happened.  And, indeed, it was predicted by very few economists.   The crisis was due to the irrational, emotional nature of human beings.  The economics Alan Greenspan had a sign reading “Greed is Good” on his door.  Greed is also one of the Seven Deadly Sins.  I remember thinking that adjustable rate mortgages were a big mistake.  People tend to be overly optimistic and often overlook misfortune in their future.  This combined with increases in interests rates could cause many too default on their mortgages.  I had no idea of the extent of shenanigans  that were taking place.  Optimism regarding the never ending increase in real estate values precluded any rationality or safeguards.  Unfortunately, the changes in financial regulation were woefully inadequate, and another market crash looms in the future.  That is unless more attention is paid to behavioral economics and appropriate legislation is passed.  Unfortunately, although the influence of behavioral economics has grown, I was pleased to learn that Thaler had been elected President of the American Economics Association, it has yet to become mainstream.  Until it does, we remain at risk as the rational model of humanity is flawed.  Economics needs to be based on what humans do, not on a theoretical model based on rationality.

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics is a real gem.  Unfortunately it presents me with a real dilemma.  I could easily spend several months writing posts based on this book.  However, I fear that some readers would not appreciate the emphasis being placed on economics and become bored.  Moreover, focusing on Thaler’s book would force me to neglect some needed topics.  So, what I shall do is to occasionally reach back to this book for posts that seem especially relevant.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

What is Kahnemanite Advertising?

December 10, 2013

According to an article1 in The Economist “Kahnemanite advertising prizes emotion over information and pays more attention to a brand’s “purpose” than to its products.” Daniel Kahneman is the Nobel winning psychologist who is the author of the best selling Thinking Fast and Slow (enter Kahneman into the healthymemory blog search box to find many posts on Kahneman). System one is thinking very fast, most of which occurs below consciousness. System two takes the output of system one and processes, or in conventional parlance, thinks about it. If we didn’t have system one, we would have long ago become extinct. However, the efficiency of System one comes at some cost. It can produce erroneous or incorrect responses, and it is the role of System two to catch and correct these errors. Unfortunately, this frequently fails to happen. Emotional responding is part of System one.

Of course, it is not exactly news that advertisers like to exploit our emotional responses, but conventional advertising also likes to engage System 2. Kahnemanite advertising refers to the emphasis placed on System 1 and the cost of ignoring System 2. I found it interesting that marketers actually speak in terms of System 1 and System 2 processing.

Different methods are used to test whether System 1 is being effectively engaged. Brainjuicer asks subjects to rate an advert by saying which of eight faces, each expressing a different emotion, best reflects the feeling and intensity of the emotion. Another firm, Decode, uses implicit association in which subjects associate images (for example, a chocolate bar) with a concept (for example comfort) and times the reactions. Neuro-Insight monitors electrical activity in the brain when subjects view an advert.

The Economist article finds irony in this. It writes that “Most readers of Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow will end up of mistrusting system one for its propensity to misleading.” But if readers of Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow have correctly understood Kahneman, they will understand that most of the time System one is correct. It is only occasionally that System one will mislead.

Please understand that Kahneman, himself, is not directly involved in any of these activities. You should also be aware that Kahneman, together with his colleague Amos Tversky, are regarded by many as the fathers of behavioral economics. Behavioral economics exposes the fallacy of the rational human being, which is the foundation of conventional economics and which forms the basis of most contemporary policy. This needs to change. To read more about this enter “behavioral economics”, then “gross national happiness” into the healthymemory blog search block.

1Nothing more than feelings, The Economist, December 7th 2013, p.70.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thinking, Fast and Slow

January 29, 2012

Thinking, Fast, and Slow is the title of the current best selling book by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman has won the Nobel Prize, not in psychology as there is no Nobel Prize in psychology, but for his work with Amos Tversky in Economics. This work ushered in the era of behavioral economics and further debunked the myth of the rational human being. Kahneman has been misinterpreted for arguing that humans are irrational or seriously flawed. What he has been arguing is that our information processing capabilities are limited, and that we use clever heuristics to deal with this limitations. These limitations lead us astray.

The title refers to two systems we use for processing information. System 1 is fast and allows us to cope with high rates of information in a dynamic environment. Without System 1, we would not have survived as a species. But this fast processing speed has its costs, which sometimes lead to errors. System 2 is slow, and is what can be thought of as thinking. If you know your multiplication tables, if I ask you what is 6 time 7, you’ll respond 42 without really thinking about it. But if I ask you to multiply 67 times 42 you would find it difficult to compute in your head, and would most likely use a calculator or use paper and pencil (which are examples of transactive memory). This multiplication requires System 2 processing without or most likely with technological aids.

System 1 requires little or no effort. System 2 requires effort. It is not only faster, but also less demanding to rely on System 1 processes. Consider the following question.

A bat and a ball cost $1.10

The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.

How much does the ball cost?

The number that quickly comes to mind is 10 cents. But if you take the time and exert the mental effort you will note that the cost would be $1.20 (10 cents for the ball and $1.10 for the bat). If you do the math, which takes a little algebra, you will find that the ball costs 5 cents (the bat costing a $1.00 more than the ball would be $1.05 and $1.05 and $0.05 is $1.10). System 2 must be engaged to get the correct answer. This question has been asked of several thousand college students. More that 50% of the students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave the wrong, System 1, answer. At less selective universities more than 80% of the students gave the wrong answer. Good students tend to be suspicious of a question that is too easy!

If this example does not strike you as relevant, Kahneman provides many examples with clear relevance throughout the book. We shall be hitting some of these examples in future Healthymemory Blog posts. Kahneman’s Two System Theory is not new to the Healthymemory Blog (enter “Two System View” in the search block). Kahneman has already had a clear influence on economics. Additional behavioral and brain imaging research has further enhanced his view. Unfortunately it is still not the dominant view in economics, which still embraces the model of the rational man. An argument can be made that our current economic problems are due to an outdated paradigm in economics, and the wholesale adoption of behavioral problems could help us avoid these reoccurring disasters. I also think that the two system view is relevant to Political Science. I think a compelling reason why people do not vote in their own best interests can be found in the two system view. System 1 is automatic, whereas System 2 requires effort.

The Dumbledore Hypothesis regarding the effects of aging on the brain fits well within the two system view. According to the Dumbledore Hypothesis, we have learned so much as a result of our aging, that we rely on our old habits and do not make as many demands on our attentional resources. In other words, too heavy a reliance on System 1 at the cost of not engaging System 2 causes cognitive decline because we are not exercising System 2. It’s a matter of use it or lose it.

Thinking, Fast, and Slow is a must read for anyone interested in human cognition. Actually everyone should be interested because it provides examples and insights regarding the errors we make everyday. Although Thinking, Fast, and Slow is certainly not a cure all, it provides us with awareness and does offer some means of coping with our information processing shortcomings.

Note that the book is a best seller, so it is an easy read and not an imponderable academic tome. Kahneman also includes personal stories, especially of his relationship with Amos Tversky, that are interesting and entertaining.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.