Posts Tagged ‘cognitive misers’

Effortless Thinking: Why We’re All Born to be Status Quo Fans

January 9, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Graham Lawton in the series of articles in the 16 December 2017 Issue of the New Scientist titled “EFFORTLESS THINKING: Why some ideas come naturally to us—and why they’re usually wrong.”

The article begins, “There are no right answers in the world of politics—but whether we’re drunk or just pressed for time, the less we think, the further to the right our answers are.”

When researchers in the US loitered outside a bar in New England about their political views, they found that the drunker the customer, the more right wing their leanings. This wasn’t because right-wing people drink more, or get pissed more easily. Wherever people stood on the political spectrum when sober, alcohol shifted their views to the right.

The researchers, led by Scott Eidelman at the University of Arkansas, point out that alcohol strips away reasoning to reveal the default state of the mind. This is why they chatted with drunks: they were using drunkenness to test the hypothesis that low-effort, automatic thought promotes political conservatism.

The researchers also found that they could push people to the right by distracting them, putting them under time pressure, or simply telling them not to think too hard. However, participants who were asked to deliberate more deeply shifted their political thinking to the left. Similar effects have been seen with the three core components of conservative ideology: preference for the status quo, acceptance of hierarchy, and belief in personal responsibility. The researchers say that all three come naturally to the human mind. We think that way without trying, without even noticing. In contrast, more liberal views require effortful deliberation.

Our political views are shaped by many factors, including personality, upbringing, and education. As early as the 1950s, however, psychologists probing the appeal of fascism found that right-wing ideology was associated with dislike of ambiguity and cognitive complexity. The relationship between IQ and political leanings is complex. Broadly speaking, people with lower-than-average IQs tend to be lefties. This is likely due to economic self-interest. People of moderately above-average intelligence lean right for the same reason. But the top 20% swing left again, although highly intelligent people are also over-represented in the libertarian camp.

Nevertheless, dislike of—or lack of training in—analytical thinking is strongly associated with preference for the status quo. Conversely, people who are politically liberal tend to think more analytically than their conservative peers, and having studied science is strongly associated with progressive views.

The author concludes, “Whether you think our intuitive conservatism is good or bad probably depends on your personal politics, With around 85% of the world population’s largely untrained uncritical thinking, preference for the status quo is the clear winner. Nevertheless, progressive change does usually happen eventually.”

HM reminds readers of Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 distinction. System 1 is intuitive and occurs easily without cognitive effort. System 2, which involves reasoning and thinking requires cognitive resources and is effortful. Since System 2 involves cognitive effort, people who do not use System 2 can be called cognitive misers.

The problem of getting people to think critically has become much larger given the rapid changes in society and technology. Many are overwhelmed and take comfort in the old ways of thinking and doing things. Unfortunately, both society and technology are rapidly changing, and these changes need to be adapted with critical thinking.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this problem was the election of Donald Trump. Here is an individual who sees no need to think or to consult with experts because he already “knows” everything. But it is clear that he does not know how government is supposed to work and finds the Constitution to be an annoyance. It appears that his supporters are gradually recognizing his failures. But they have been obvious from the start for people using their System 2 processes. The many lies and contradictions make it obvious that he cannot be believed or trusted. So the problem is an overwhelming number of cognitive misers and a shortfall in System 2 processors.

At least one earlier healthymemory blog post predicted that people who voted for Trump will have a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s, than people who engaged in System 2

© 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.

The Plague of Our Time: Naive Realism

April 24, 2016

Everyone, not just healthy memory blog readers, should have a basic understanding of how our cognitive processes function. Absent this understanding, people are unknowingly likely to be naive realists. Naive realism has a restricted view in social psychology with respect to the perception of other people, but the broader meaning of naive realism is that people have direct knowledge of the world.

If you are a regular reader of the healthy memory blog, or if you only have read the immediately preceding post, you should be disabused of this notion.  Our cognitive processes build models of the external world.  These models are used by our memories to help us deal with the future.  Through learning these models are refined, but they are never complete and always need to be subject to change.  Absent any other information, we have the tendency to believe.  So as the result of our upbringing, schooling, and social acquaintances, we have a vast store of unexamined beliefs.  Our brain responds whenever information discordant with stated beliefs is encountered.  Remember Kahneman’s System 1 System 2 distinction.  System 1 is named Intuition. System 1 is very fast, employs parallel processing, and appears to be automatic and effortless. They are so fast that they are executed, for the most part, outside conscious awareness. Emotions and feelings are also part of System 1.  System 2 is named Reasoning. It is controlled processing that is slow, serial, and effortful. It is also flexible. This is what we commonly think of as conscious thought. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for processing errors, but System 2 is slow and System 1 is fast, so errors to slip through. System 2 can be thought of as thinking.  Discordant information requires thinking.  The easiest route is to disregard the discordant information and go the cognitive miser route.

Our memories are highly fallible, and these shortcomings need always be taken into consideration.  Scientific reasoning provides methodologies for minimizing the fallibilities and shortcomings.  The scientific method provides the Gold Standard for accepting or rejecting beliefs.  Near the beginning of the eleventh century, al_Haytham, an Islamic scholar who lived in Basra and Cairo, wrote the Book of Optics,which included a theory of vision and a theory of sight.  According to one authority, “Ibn al-Haytham was the pioneer of the modern scientific method.  His book changed the meaning of the term “optics” and established experiments as the norm of proof in the field.  His investigations were not based on abstract theories, but on experimental evidence, and his experiments were systematic and repeatable.  Unlike the Greeks, in his theory of vision rays of light came from the objects seen rather than from the eyes that see them.  Some of the European contributors to the development of the scientific method are Robert Grosseteste (c. 1125-1253), Roger Bacon (c. 1214-1294), Galileo (1564-1642), Francis Bacon (1561-1626), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and, of course, Isaac Newton(1643-1727).

The scientific method advances slowly, the speed of which has been accelerating.  It is primarily responsible for the development of our society today.  Actually, our society would have benefited from a greater application of the scientific method.  Unfortunately, too many do not believe scientific findings.  For example, in the United States, one of its major political parties refuses to accept the evidence for global warming.

Most of our problems stem from ideologies, and the True Believers (see Eric Hoffer) in these ideologies.  Ideologues do not need to think.  Their ideology informs them what the truth is and what to believe.  Any one or any organization demanding following ideological beliefs are to be avoided like the plague, because they are they plague incarnate.

Moreover, ideologues are the bane of democracy.  Democracy requires the consideration and evaluation of beliefs and evidence.  And they require compromise and negotiation, two requirements that are the bane of ideologues.

It needs to be understood that in our lives we never encounter absolute truth.  Rather we try as best we can through learning and science what are the best models to believe.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates)

© 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.

Cognitive Misers and Democracy

February 17, 2016

Cognitive misers are people who do not like to exert the effort involved in thinking.   In addition to entering “cognitive misers” into the healtymemory search block, you can also enter “System 1” or “Kahneman.”  Cognitive misers like to believe in things because questioning beliefs or principles or learning new things involves cognitive effort and thinking.

A short while back I read a poll that I found extremely discouraging.  The question asked what was more important to voters, a politician’s willingness to compromise or to  principles.
Here is a breakdown of the responses by political party.  Note that they do not add up to 100% as some respondents refused to answer.

Group                   Principles        Willing to Compromise
All Voters             40%                  50%
Republicans        54%                   36%
Independents     40%                  47%
Democrats           23%                  68%

I guess that the good news is that with the exception of one group, the remaining groups a larger percentage indicated a Willingness to Compromise.  In only one group did this percentage reach 50% and only one other group indicated a slightly greater than a two to one preference.  If the results are representative, then I argue that these beliefs present a far greater existential threat to the Democracy in the United States than does ISIS.

Before addressing cognitive miserliness per se, let me remind readers what a democracy is supposed to be..  A democracy is a system in which people vote for candidates and the candidates try to vote for what they think are the correct policies, but negotiate when the need to get the most palatable policy that they can accept.  There will be times when the vote goes against them, but they accept the result.  They do not threaten to shut down the government or actually shut down the government.  As you know this has already happened at least twice.

It is unfortunate that “politician” has negative connotations.  Using “politician” in a pejorative sense, “he’s a politician,” or he is doing this for “political reasons” is both unfair and wrong.  The first requirement of a politician is to make the political system work.  Sometimes that might correspond to political beliefs, sometimes it will not.  But beliefs or principals should not be the driving factor.

The advancement of mankind has been in direct proportion to the advancement of science.  Key to science is thinking.  Cognitive miserliness is anathema to effective science.  Whatever beliefs science has are beliefs that are subject to change.  It that is not the case, then the enterprise is not science.  There have been enormous changes in science during my lifetime.  There is not a single subject matter that has not changed.  Until fairly recently science believed that humans could not generate new neurons.  In other words there was no such think as neurogenesis.  Had I argued to the contrary as a graduate student I would have quickly been booted out of graduate school.  It was not until close to the end of the 20th century that neurogenesis was accepted and the notion of neuroplasticity  was advanced.

I become particularly annoyed when I hear reporters accuse politicians of flip flopping.  It seems like this is the stock in trade for many reporters.  This reminds me of the response the eminent economist John Maynard Keynes gave when he was accused of a statement that was in conflict with previous comments.  He responded,”when the facts change, I change my mind.  What do you do, sir.”  An argument can be made that opinions are not being changed by facts, but by political considerations.  Here I would refer you to the remedial exposition on democracy I offered above.

I also argue that cognitive miserliness is a problem for the Supreme Court of the United States.  There are two views of the Constitution.  One is that it is supposed to be a dynamic document that has been written that is expected to change with the times.  The other, originalism, is that the Constitution needs to be interpreted in terms of what the authors intended.  We need to remember that when the Constitution was written, slavery existed, black people were counted as three-fifths of a human being, and women could not vote.  It should also be remembered that one of the most advanced scientists of the time, Benjamin Franklin, did not know what current high school physics students know.  Moreover, I am virtually certain that if the framers of the constitution knew what we do today, they would have written a different constitution.  I am upset when the Supreme Court Justice who recently passed away is described as having a brilliant mind.  He was an originalist.  He believed that what the framers of the constitution believed at that time should provide the basis of judicial decisions.  I regard such individuals as intellectual runts.

The results of cognitive miserliness are readily apparent in the United States.  Realize that the United States is the only advanced country that does not have a system of national health insurance.  What we do have is the country with the most expensive medical costs with results comparable to third world countries.  We are the only advanced country that has no control over the cost of prescription medications.  And we are the only country that has a major political party that refuses to believe in global warming.  We also have a major TV network that insists on always having a denier of global warming on a show where a scientist is presenting data bearing on global warming and its ramifications.  This is in spite of the fact that this is a small minority of scientists, some of whom are paid scientific guns to counter the overwhelming evidence.

The reason that is often presented is one of American Exceptionalism.  This exceptionalism is a product of cognitive miserliness.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. 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.