Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Kahneman’

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 healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Daniel Kahneman and the Stupidity Pandemic

December 26, 2016

In case you haven’t noticed there is a stupidity pandemic.  It’s a pandemic because it rages throughout the world.  Perhaps the most conspicuous example are the religious wars.  These wars are several centuries out of date.  Terrorism is a religious war being largely fought within the Islamic faith with some terrorists groups targeting the west.  Then there is Brexit, a phenomenon that was not predicted by professional politicians.  In general there is lack of faith in what is called the “establishment” and in bodies of knowledge such as science.

In the United States there is the phenomenon of Donald Trump.  When Trump began his campaign it was regarded as a joke and was quite funny.  It is still a joke, but one that is no longer funny.  If every vote had counted in the United States, the Trump problem would not exist.  But an archaic and stupid institution called the electoral college elected Trump, therefore nullifying the will of the majority of US citizens.

So what has Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman have to do with this?  His two process theory of human cognition provides a means of understanding this pandemic.  System 1 refers to our normal mode of cognition.  It is very fast and allows for fluent conversations and skilled performance.  It is the default mode of cognition.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds to what we colloquially call thinking.  System 2 requires attention and mental effort.  One of the jobs of System 2 is to monitor System 1 for errors.  However, this requires mental effort and thinking.

Experiments have been run where statements are presented to the research participant.  The brain is monitored.  When a statement conflicts with a participant’s individual beliefs, a signature is reported from the brain.  The question is whether this statement will be ignored, or whether the participant engages in deeper thought to reconsider this statement.  There is a cognitive cost here and the simplest reaction is to ignore the statement and regard it as a mistaken belief.

Trump’s  victory was a victory for System 1 processing.  System 1 appeals to fears, emotions, bigotry, and so forth.  Trump is a genius at connecting with and exploiting the System 1 processes of people.  Trump himself rarely uses System 2 processing.  He does not read books, does not think he needs to attend briefings because he knows everything already.  His gut, his System 1 processing, tells him what is true.  However, Trump does not care what is true.  It is whatever he believes at the moment, and this does change from moment to moment.  This is one of the reasons he is such an effective liar.  He does not care what is true.  It is whatever is expedient for the moment.  When confronted with his lies, he denies the truth.  His promise to make America great again was predicated on the lie that the United States is not regarded throughout the world as a great country.  Enemies dislike the politics of Americans, but nevertheless respect its greatness.

Totalitarian countries have exploited the big lie, and so does Trump.  See the healthy memory blog “Sick Memory.”  Lying has become a profitable industry.  Dana Milbank had an interesting column in the 21 December 2016 Washington Post title “Hoping that he didn’t really mean it.”  Milbank pointed out that many areas of the country that went for Trump will suffer deeply from cuts in government spending that will occur if Trump acts on his promises.  The title of Milbank’s article provides the explanation of how these voters reconcile their vote with the adverse effects that will affect them personally.
It is clear that these people did not employ System 2 processing when they voted.  There is justification for believing that these people rarely engaging in System 2 processing.  Like Trump, they go with their gut feelings.  Unfortunately, there is some question if such people will ever realize that they have screwed themselves.  Trump can continue to exploit their fears and bigotry to keep them in line.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Donald Trump and Daniel Kahneman

October 4, 2016

What a strange title.  The Republican presidential candidate and one of the leading, if not the leading, cognitive psychologists who also is a Nobel Prize Winner.  What could they possibly have to do with each other?  The answer is that Daniel Kahneman’s Two Process Theory can explain Donald Trump’s appeal.  Kahneman’s Two Process Theory was summarized in his best selling book, “Thinking Fast and Slow.”  Kahneman posits that we have two basic processing systems.  System 1 is fast and is called intuition.  System 1 needs to be fast so we can process language and make the fast decisions we need to make everyday.  System 1 is also the seat of our emotions.  System 2 is called reasoning and corresponds loosely to what we mean by thinking.

As for Donald Trump’s appeal to bigots it is natural and resounds soundly to their beliefs.  But what about his appeal to people who are not bigots, but are dissatisfied with the ways things are and want change?  He promises change, and they respond.  The problem is that they respond by not invoking System 2 processes.  System 2 is supposed to monitor System 1 for processing errors.  Basically System 2 is supposed to respond to erroneous System 1 Processes and start thinking.

Clinton supporters have difficulty understanding how apparently intelligent people can support Trump.  He says that he will solve their problems.  But if System 2 processes are invoked they should realize that his proposals will not benefit them.  For example, his tax proposals benefit primary people like himself, not the middle or lower classes.  Most economists say that his proposals are unrealistic and would greatly increase the debt.  There should be no fear of bankruptcy, however, as Trump claims to be an expert on bankruptcy, and here is where his true genius lies.  Of course, his genius for exploiting the prejudices and biases of the general population should not be underestimated.

The problems with building walls and mass deportations have been raised as being unfeasible.  Similarly experts argue that his trade policies would hurt the economy.  Of course, Trump supporters dislike the “elite” and “experts”  so they do not listen to them.  That is understandable as these “experts” along with the “elite” think, something that Trump supporters are not wont to do.

However, there is a dangerous Trump characteristic that should be detectable by even System 1 processes.  That is his emotional instability.  He seems to be unable to control his emotions and strikes out very quickly at anyone who offends him.

Unfortunately, the most important characteristic for a President is emotional stability followed by an understanding of international affairs and the military.

HM has previously stated that Trump is an existential risk to the United States.  This is based on both his ignorance and contempt of the Constitution of the United States and government.  HM thinks that his election would place democracy at risk.  HM urges readers to read “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis.  It is about a legitimately elected presidential candidate who changes the United States into a fascist dictatorship.   The president did not campaign on a platform of changing the country to a fascist dictatorship.  However, people who exercised their System 2 processing could realize that this was a genuine risk.

HM thinks that Trump is an existential risk to the world, because giving him control of nuclear weapons risks a worldwide nuclear holocaust.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How Accurately Can We Predict Our Future Feelings?

August 12, 2015

This is an important question to ask as it affects the decisions we make.   This question was addressed in an article titled, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?  Predicting Future Feelings” by George Loewenstein and David Schkade in the book, Well-Being:  The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology edited by Daniel Kahneman, Ed Diener, and Norbert Schwarz.

The chapter begins by stating three principles:
1.   People often hold incorrect intuitive theories about the determinants of happiness, which in turn lead to errors when predictions are based on them.
2.  Different considerations might be salient when predicting future feelings than those that actually influence experienced feelings.
3.  When in a “cold” state people often have difficulty imagining how they would fel or what they might do if they were in a “hot” state—for example, angry, hungry, in pain, or sexually excited.  It may also be the case that, when in a hot state, people frequently have difficulty imagining that they will inevitably cool off eventually.    Such “hot/cold” empathy gaps can lead to errors in predicting both feelings and behavior.

The authors also offer ideas as to why we typically fail to learn from experience.  “Learning from experience does not seem to offer a broad cure for prediction errors because intuitive theories are often resistant to change, memories of experiences are often themselves biased or incomplete, and experiences rarely repeat themselves often enough to make diagnostic patterns noticeable.”

Take the lottery, for example.  Many think that all their problems will be over if only they win the lottery.  Here are the results from winners of lotteries varying between $50k and $100k.  The average rating of their happiness was 4.0 on a 5.0 scale.   A control group of comparable individuals rated their average happiness as 3.82, suggesting that the lottery boozed their happiness by about 0.18.  Consider also the rated happiness of people who had experienced a disability from an accident, which was 2.96.  This result is typical.  We tend to overestimate the happiness that good things bring, and overestimate the sadness that bad things bring.  We tend to adapt to our conditions be they good or bad.

We also tend to over predict how fearful we shall be in potentially threatening situations.  For example, military trains undergoing parachute training over predicted they level of fear they experience on the first and most difficult jump.

Forty-four dental patients were interviewed both before and after dental a dental appointment.  On average, patients over predicted the degree of pain they would experience.  The mean expected level of pain was 16.5 and the reported actual level of experienced pain was 9.0.  The correlation between expected and experienced pain was 0.16, which is quite small.

We can also under predict pain.  A majority if expectant mothers stated a desire and intention not to use anesthesia  during childbirth, but reversed their prior decision when they went into labor.  This reversal of preference occurred among not only women giving birth for the first time, but also for those who had previously experienced the pain of childbirth.

There are also differences between healthy and sick people’s attitudes toward “heroic measures”  to extend the lives of the terminally ill.  Many healthy Americans, this healthy American included, state that we don’t want to die in a nursing home or hospital or, worse yet, an intensive-care unit, but 90 percent of dying patients, most of whom die in acute-care hospital, view the care they receive favorably.

In another study, different groups of respondents were asked whether they would accept a grueling course of chemotherapy if it would extend their lives by three months.  No radiotherapists said they would accept the chemotherapy, only 6 percent of the oncologists, and 10 percent of healthy people, but 42 percent of current cancer patients said that they would.   Another study found that 58 percent of patients with serious illnesses said that when death was near they would want treatment, even if it prolonged life by just a week.

The experienced quality of life of sick persons also appears to be underestimated.  In a study of 126 elderly outpatients with five common chronic diseases (arthritis, ischemic heart disease, chronic pulmonary disease, diabetes mellitus, and cancer) found that these patients generally rated their quality of life to be slightly worse than, “good, no major complaints.:

We are especially prone to mis-predict our behavior under temptation or duress.  See the health memory blog post “Good vs. Evil.”  We tend to overestimate the strength of our own willpower and to underestimate the influence of being in a hot state.  Included here are matters of sexual desire, drug craving, curiosity, the urge to spend, and hunger.

It would be good to conclude by presenting the results of the mean rang of different items with respect to producing happiness.

The importance of family life is most important, followed by friends, a satisfying job, and a high income.  It is noteworthy that income comes in last.  Obviously a certain amount of income is required for a satisfactory family life, but once a particular level of income has been reached, we do not become much happier.  $75k is the figure commonly cited and that will likely increase over time and be a function of circumstances.  However, beyond providing security and the basic comforts of life, it does not add much happiness.  I would argue that the pursuit of wealth is primarily a matter of ego and prestige, rather than living a satisfying life, per se.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photos, Experiencing Selves, Remembering Selves

November 15, 2014

I might be the only serviceman who returned from the Far East without a 33mm camera. I’ve never wanted to bother with a camera. When I’m a tourist, I want to experience the trip, and not be troubled with a camera. I prefer to buy postcards to remember the trip. I think today there is money to be made by those who will photoshop your personal pictures into photos of exotic places. This could save a fortune for those who would have their personal pictures in these photos. They would be able both to impress and to bore their friends with their phoney vacation photos while saving a fortune. Fortunately, my wife is very good with cameras, so I never bother with them. Nevertheless I rarely look at the photos she takes of our vacations. I enjoy remembering the vacations, but I find it depressing when I look at the pictures years later. We just look older. The satisfaction of the vacations lies in my memories.

Daniel Kahneman makes a distinction between our experiencing selves and our remembering selves in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. He has done some interesting research pointing to differences in what we experience and what we remember. People who take many photos during their vacations my be sacrificing the quality of both their experiencing and their remembering selves.s

There was an interesting research report, “A Not-So-Photographic Memory in the June/July 2014 AARP The Magazine. This report was of a study done by cognitive psychologist Linda Henkel at Connecticut’s Fairfield University. The students toured a museum and told to look at 30 objects and to take photos of half of them. The next day students could remember nearly 90 percent of the items they observed, but only 78 percent of the items they photographed. So when on vacation you could pass on taking photographs or follow the advice offered by Henkel, “…think about what you are photographing, and talk about them. The act of reminiscing helped the memory not just taking a photo.” In other words, don’t sacrifice your experiencing self when you are taking photos. Your remembering self will benefit from your experiencing self.

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 healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Abduction and the Tri-Process Model of Cognition

November 17, 2013

 

The Tri-Process Model of Cognition has been discussed in the immediately preceding healthymemory blog posts. It provides an elaboration of Kahneman’s System 2, which Kahneman calls Reasoning. Stanovich breaks down System 2 into two components: an Algorithmic Mind and a Reflective Mind. The Reflective Mind monitors both System 1, which Stanovich calls the Autonomous Mind, and the Algorithmic Mind. Now suppose you are planning a trip downtown. You need to pick up items at a bicycle shop, a health store, and a photography shop. Initially, you want to get these errands out of the way, so you plan to leave early in the morning. However, when you use your Algorithmic Mind to run mental simulations of your trip, your Reflective Mind reminds you that the bicycle shop is next to a sandwich shop that makes delicious sandwiches. So you use your Reflective Mind and decide to leave later so you can add a delicious sandwich to your trip. You use your Algorithmic Mind and run some more mental simulations in planning your trip and your Reflective Mind reminds you that there is a parade downtown and streets will be closed. One of these streets is a street that you would normally take home. So you go back to your Algorithmic Mind and run additional simulations to choose an alternate route home.

 

Stanovich is developing this Tri-Process Model to deal more adequately with rationality, a component he has compelling argued is lacking from conventional IQ tests. There are cognitive biases that can serve as valuable heuristics, but can also lead to erroneous conclusions. This is the role of the Reflective Mind, to reflect on mental processes to eliminate or reduce rational errors.

 

I believe that Stanovich has made a substantial contribution to the understanding of human cognition with his Tri-Process Model. Nevertheless, and I could be wrong, but it appears to me that he is missing an important component, abduction. The concept of abduction was formulated by the American philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce. It is a third type of logic.

 

Induction goes from observations to a conclusions, from the specific to the general.

 

Deduction goes from premises to a conclusion that is guaranteed to be correct.

 

Abduction does not guarantee a correct conclusion. One can understand abductive reasoning as “inference to the best explanation.” Abduction implies creativity. It is a new explanation.

 

So to address novel thought or creativity, some type of abduction is needed. The fields of computer science and artificial intelligence employ abduction. Diagnostic expert systems frequently employ abduction.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

The Tri-Process Model of Cognition and Critical Thinking

November 10, 2013

The Tri-Process Model of Cognition has been developed to elaborate on how rational thought, and, hence, critical thinking is accomplished. Critical thinking should be a goal for all of us. One of the first steps is making a commitment to fair-mindedness. A primary obstacle to fair-mindedness is our egocenticity. What follows is a set of questions we need to ask to ascertain the role our egocentricity is playing on our “fair-mindedness.”
“It’s true because I believe it.” (Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because we believe it.” (Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because I want to believe it.”(Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because I have always believed it.”(Paul & Elder, 2002)
“It’s true because it is in my selfish interest to believe it.”(Paul & Elder, 2002)

The key word in this last item is “selfish.” It is not meant to imply that you never do anything or believe anything in your self interest. But when your self interest breaks legal or moral grounds, then it needs to be questioned.
These are all examples of what is called my sidedness or we sidedness.Another term that has been used is “hardening of the categories.”

Most likely these processes occur during System 1 (Kahneman) or the Autonomous Mind (Stanovich). In other words, these processes typically occur below our level of conscious awareness. Consequently we must invoke System 2 (Kaheman) or the Reflective Mind (Stanovich). We need to examine our thought process and ask why. What is the evidence and logic that leads us to these beliefs and how sound is the evidence and the logic.
This is one of the reasons that politics and religion are often topics to avoid in social situations. They can lead to arguments, and these arguments rarely yield insight into the others’ position, and almost never result in changing the others’ position. Many beliefs appear to be hard wired. They should be inspected to see if they should be tweaked or changed.
One of the problems in examining these beliefs is that it requires attention and extensive thought. In other words, cognitive effort. There is a reluctance to expend this cognitive effort that leads to what is called cognitive miserliness.

Reference

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.39.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

Paul, R.W., & Elder, L. (2002). Critical Thinking. Pearson Education, Inc., p.40.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Nobel Prize Recognizes Behavioral Economics

October 27, 2013

Two of the three economists awarded the Nobel Prize for 2013 are behavioral economists. Historically and, unfortunately, currently, economic theory is largely dominated by the rational model of man. In 1978, the psychologist Herbert Simon, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his research showing the 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 to think they need to make a decision (see the healthymemory blog post, “More on the Dangers of Information Overload”). In 2002, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman shared the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work with Amos Tversky showing the relevance of psychological research on human judgment and decision making under uncertainty to economics. Readers of the healthymemory blog should be familiar with Kahneman’s work on the Two System View of Cognition.

Of the three economists awarded the Nobel Prize in 2013, Eugene Fama is a traditional economist who employs the rational model of human beings. He has argued for efficient markets in which all relevant information is immediately incorporated into an asset’s price. Robert Shiller‘s work has criticized the efficient market hypothesis by showing that stock prices behave in a manner not predicted by the efficient market hypothesis. Lars Peter Hansen, who is sympathetic to behavioral economics, built on Shiller’s work and developed statistical methods to test exactly what drives stock price volatility. The financial crises of several years ago were the result of irrational human behavior with respect to the value of real estate and the financial instruments underlying real estate. We humans are not rational, but rather have limited information processing capabilities and are also driven by emotions. These psychological factors are what, at bottom, drives economies. It is interesting to note that Shiller is married to a psychologist.

I am compelled to note that Daniel Kahneman has been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In addition, the White House has invited psychologists to help transform policy.1

The influence of behavioral economics is only slowly being felt, but there are questions as to why with all this automation we are working so hard (enter “why are we working so hard” into the healthymemory search block to see relevant posts on this question). Perhaps we shall eventually move from measures such as Gross National Production (GNP) as measures of economic success, to more relevant measures such as Gross National Happiness (GNH) (enter “Gross National Happiness” into the healthymemory search block to find relevant healthymemory blog posts on this topic).

1(2013). A Seat at the Table, Observer, September 2013, p.21.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Putting Mindfulness to Work

July 24, 2013

Putting Mindfulness to Work is the title of an article by Tara Healey of Harvard University in the August 2013 edition of Mindful (pp. 70-74). Although the article is specifically about putting mindfulness to work in the workplace, it generalizes to the application of applying mindfulness to life. People need to think of mindfulness not just with respect to meditation but to the an activity that can be applied to thinking and life. The following is taken directly from the article:

The mind contains untold resources and possibilities—for creativity , kindness, compassion, insight, and wisdom. It’s a storehouse of tremendous energy and drive. And yet it can also be a matter of annoyance, an untamed animal, or a millstone that drags us down. Sometimes we would just like to shut it off so we can get some work done or have a moment’s peace.

Yet the mind is one thing we can’t shut off. So why not make the most of it instead? Why not put it to good use? Through mindfulness we can train our minds to work better.”

Healey provides four general guidelines:

“Check Your Lenses.” Here she is referring to the deeply held views, ideas, and opinions that serve as lenses through which we perceive. In Kahneman‘s Two system View, these would be System 1 processes that run off automatically. “Check Your Lenses,” reminds us to engage our System 2 processes and try to think from a different perspective. This might enable us to understand or be more receptive to the way others do or think about things. It might even allow us to think of a more encompassing view that allows us to merge or develop new ideas.

“Put Some Space Between You and Your Reactions.” Again, this is a matter of engaging System 2 processes, thinking. One way of doing this is regarding ourselves from a third person perspective. So if it is a matter of a perceived slight or wrong done by another person, we examine the situation as a yet a third person looking at both of us and develop a narrative or storyline of the situation. This has the potential of thinking of a way of, at least, accepting or coming to grips with the situation, or, at best, of coming up with a resolution to the problem.

“Pay Attention to the Small Stuff.” Here is another quote to the article, “No action, reaction, or relationship ever feels uninteresting or unworkable if a curious mind is brought to bear on it.” If all else fails, the default activity is to focus on our breathing. That is, to disengage our System 1 processes and think about our breathing. Or we can focus on how different parts of our body feel, or on simple activities such as the way we place a phone to our ears when we hear it ring.

“Make a Habit of It.” We need to have a formal practice of mindfulness and to extend mindfulness into our everyday life. A formal practice of mindfulness means meditative practice done on a regular schedule. Many posts on meditation can be found in the healthymemory blog. Placing yourself in an uncomfortable position is not required, it could even be counterproductive. Simple practices such as simply focusing on one’s breath can be beneficial. It is hope that this current blog post has provided some ideas as to how to integrate mindfulness into everyday life.

Mindfulness is a means of training our brains, so that they function more effectively and so that we lead more satisfying lives. Mindfulness actually changes our brains and develops new synaptic connections.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Stupidity

June 9, 2013

This blog post was inspired by an article by Sally Adee, “Stupid Is as Stupid Does” published in the New Scientist, 30 March 2013, 30-33. It begins with this quote from the 19th century French writer Gustav Flaubert, “Earth has its boundaries, but human stupidity is limitless.” Flaubert devoted his final years collecting thousands of examples for a kind of encyclopedia of stupidity. He died at age 58 before this magnum opus was completed.

Were Flaubert alive today, I would wager that he would still be astounded by the vast amounts of stupidity. In spite of advances in both the physical and social sciences, stupidity prevails with people disowning these advances. That is, they disown selected findings, not the products and services that have emerged from these advances. The survival of civilization is put at risk by Costa’s five supermememes (enter “supermemes” into this blog’s search box). And people play lotteries and flock to casinos where the odds are stacked against them.

Adee does address the work of Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues (enter “Thinking Fast and Slow” into the healthymemory blog search box). Their research has documented two systems for human information processing. System 1 is virtually automatic and very fast. System 2 is slow and deliberate. System 1 is fast due to heuristics and practice. It enables us to interact quickly with our environment. Without System 1 we never would have survived. Unfortunately, this speed is purchased at a cost. Occasionally it leads to the wrong decision. System 2 is supposed to monitor System 1 and correct it. But again, System 2 is slow, so it is prone to miss many errors. Many of these errors lead to erroneous decisions regarding risk. The cognitive scientist Keith Stanovich is working on developing a rationality quotient (RQ) to assess our ability to transcend cognitive bias. This RQ would also measure rational intelligence, which defines our ability to calibrate the likelihood of certain probabilities. It is hoped that feedback on our rational intelligence will help us sharpen our meta-cognition, our knowledge regarding the strengths and weaknesses of our own cognitive processes. Although this RQ is much needed, it is still being developed. Nevertheless, we do need to focus on our own meta-cognitive processes.

Our working memory is severely constrained to the number of items (1 to 7 depending on the nature of the items) it can consider. We have limited attentional resources that are needed both to store information into memory and to retrieve information from memory. Moreover, these acts of storing and retrieving information alter the information in memory. And, as we all know, information can be difficult to retrieve.

Philip E. Tetlock is a psychologist who has done an important study of Expert Political Judgment.1 This study was done with the cooperation of Political Experts over a period of twenty years in which he recorded their predictions of political events. Their predictions were poor, virtually worthless. Their expertise enabled them to give impressive reasoned arguments regarding their predictions, but the predictions were frequently wrong or off the mark. This leads one to conclude that perhaps some areas of study are too complex to predict. Nate Silver has written a very good book, “The Signal and the Noise,” on what types of data are amenable to modeling along with suggestions as to how to deal with these difficult types of data. Time will tell whether different areas of expertise can achieve reasonably accurate predictions, or whether there are fundamental biological and cognitive limitations.

In math and science we often make simplifying assumptions or conjectures to proceed with our work. When this is done, there is always the possibility that these assumptions or conjectures are wrong, and we are unaware to what extent the results and conclusions are altered by mistaken assumptions or conjectures. Many phenomena are too complex to be understood or captured in mathematical equations. In these cases, simulations are done so that these complexities are found and understood. Yet all of this is dependent on the accuracy of the simulation.

Adee does not get into the issue of fundamental constraints to our intelligence resulting from biological and cognitive limitations, but there might be a bottom line to stupidity.

Nevertheless, we must do the best we can with the capabilities we have. Hubris is inappropriate either as a species or as individuals. We must take the effort to think and exercise System 2. We should be wary of relying too much on System 1 processes. We need to be wary of ideologies that promise easy answers and circumvent the mental effort needed to understand our world. The knowledge in science is constantly changing and we need to make an effort to keep up with it.

1Tetlock, P.E. (2006) Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can we Know?

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Back from APS

May 28, 2013

That is, I’m back from the convention of the Association for Psychological Science. It was an outstanding meeting. This blog post will present a brief synopsis and will promise some blog posts for the future. As I mentioned in my previous post, there were so many interesting topics that some overlapped and I could not attend both. I actually needed to miss a program with Daniel Kahneman, whom I regard as the leading psychologist today. I am not going to review every presentation I attended. Some were primarily for psychologists and of little interest to the general public, some were too technical, and, frankly, some didn’t warrant further discussion.

The Keynote Address was delivered the split-brain researcher, Michael S. Gazzaniga. It was titled “Unity in a Modular World.” I going to discuss his presentation along with the presentation by Edwin A. Locke, “Whatever Happened to the Conscious Mind” in a later healthymemory blog post.

Diane Halpern gave what was perhaps the most timely and relevant presentation, “The Psychological Science Behind Hyperpartisanship and What to do About It.” This certainly deserves its own healthymemory blog post, which will be appearing later.

Helen J. Neville gave an APS William James Fellow Address titled, Experiential, Genetic, and Epigenetic Effecs in Human Neurocognitive Development.” Here talk was highly technical, and I shall not go into a detailed presentation. However, it’s importance is easy to assess. She found that there was a much higher incidence of difficulties in focusing attention in pre-schoolers from low socioeconomic status families than from higher socioeconomic status children. She was able to develop a training program that was able to correct this problem. As the ability to focus attention is important to learning and success in school, this program is highly relevant. Moreover, it is fairly short term and can be administered cheaply. More can be found about this program at chaingingbrains.org.

David Strayer gave a presentation on multi-tasking and using a cell phone while driving. In short, the risk is becoming greater. Much more will be written in a later healthymemory post. This is a message that people do want to hear, but it needs to be told.

At the Presidential Symposium,r Ted Abel gave a presentation on “Epigenetics and Memory Storage.” Remember the Healthymemory blog, “How the Brain and Mind Work.” That might have sounded complicated, but Abel is studying the epigenetics of the translation from DNA to RNA to protein, which underlies the formation of our memories. This work is most remarkable, as is the complexity of our brains and their emergent phenomena.

At the same symposium, Elizabeth Loftus updated her work on False Memories. This work will also be addressed in a later healthymemory blog post.

Stanovich presented his latest work on a Rational Intelligence Quotient. He has persuasively argued that the standard IQ misses an important component of cognitive activity, rational thinking. I will be following up on his work after I finish his latest book.

Ralph Hertwig gave an invited talk, “The Psychology of Decisions from Experience. People behave differently when they make decisions based on written descriptions than when they make their decisions based on experience. Vulcanologists are convinced that Mount Vesuvius will erupt in the near future. However, most of the residents of Naples, who are at risk from Vesuvius, do not want to move, because an eruption has not occurred in their lifetimes.

Mortan Ann Gernsbacher gave an address on Diversity and the Brain. This, too, will receive a later blog post.

Finally, there was a session on the cognitive reserve. Most certainly, this will receive its own blog post.

Do not expect all these posts to follow directly. First of all, they take time to write. Secondly, some posts will better fit in the context of other healthymemory blog posts.

Now for some general comments. I am continually impressed by the ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, and other personal devices at these conventions. This observation will get its own blog post. And I was disappointed about cognitive psychologists who were unfamiliar with meditation. It reminded me how parochial our discipline can be. It also reminded me of when I was a graduate student and there was a lively argument about whether the autonomic nervous system could be controlled by individuals. Well proficient meditators were already doing this, so the answer was already known. So if you read the healthymemory blog posts on meditation (enter meditation, Davidson, and Mindfulness in the healthymemory blog search post), you can consider yourself more knowledgeable about the topic than some cognitive psychologists.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Irrational Opposition Supermeme

February 10, 2013

In The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse by Rebecca D. Costa, she outlines five supermemes that lead to the stagnation and collapse of civilizations: Irrational Opposition, The Personalization of Blame, Counterfeit Correlation, Silo Thinking, and Extreme Economics. This healthymemory blog post will address the irrational opposition supermeme. According to Costa, Irrational Opposition Occurs when the act of rejecting, criticizing, suppressing, ignoring, misrepresenting, marginalizing, and resisting rational solutions becomes the accepted norm.   Again according to Costa, “When oppositional thinking and behavior is merely a meme, tenacity and evidence might be all that is required to allow rational solutions to prevail. But when opposition evolves into a supermeme, solutions to our greatest threats may be prevented from coming to fruition because the resources required to overcome the opposition may simply be too great.

The standing rule should be that if you oppose something, you need to propose an alternative solution, or justify why what you are opposing is not needed or that any adverse consequences are small or inconsequential. Take taxes, for example. The United States, or the colonies at that time, revolted against the British because of the taxes they were imposing were done without representation from the colonies. The proposed solution was a war that they won. Today many citizens and politicians are against taxes. Grover Norquist has made a career lobbying against taxes. Indeed he has encouraged politicians to sign pledges against raising taxes. Since the presidency of Ronald Reagan the national debt of the United States has grown drastically, its infrastructure has deteriorated to an alarming extent, and the cost of a college education has risen to levels causing students to either forgo a higher education or to acquire ridiculous levels of debt. I do not believe I have ever heard Norquist queried regarding these matters. It is perfectly legitimate to be against taxes, but you most also address the consequences of being against taxes.

The typical justification given is that the person is against “big government.” For me “big government” is another supermeme. It’s something to be against, and presumably these individuals are for small or no government. But what does this mean? What is “Big Government?” Some would say that it is socialism. Again, this is a term used clearly in a pejorative sense that is not defined. There are many socialistic democracies that function quite successfully. If you are against “Big Government” you should define the services that should not be provided by government. These services would either be eliminated or provided by private companies. So who should provide the services, of defense, education, safeguarding food and drugs, safeguarding the financial markets, health services, special populations such as those who are physically or mentally challenged, veterans, and retirees, to name just a few. One can take the position that something is not the responsibility of government. So we could let the elderly without financial resources rot arguing that these people should have provided for themselves, it is not our responsibility. We shall just ignore the dying elderly we pass in the streets or have them arrested for vagrancy.

However, assuming that certain services are needed, a reasonable question is whether they can be better provided by government or the private sector. Many people have strong opinions regarding this, but here is the time to marry facts with beliefs. For me, if your opinion is based solely on your beliefs, I don’t want to hear it. You can wipe your keister with your opinion. So find your facts, first. Often there is no clear answer, but there is the option of doing controlled studies to pin the answer down. When we move from yelling our opinions without accurate facts, to justifying them with accurate facts, to doing controlled studies when the solution is in dispute, then we shall be deserving of the name homo sapiens. Clearly we are not there yet.

To understand why we are not there yet we can go to Daniel Kahneman‘s Two System View of Cognition. According to Kahneman, we have two systems for processing information. 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. 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. So we need to engage System 2, but System 2 is effortful. Thinking is hard. Thinking through ramifications of being against something and trying to think of a solution is hard. Ideologues, those who have a set of strong beliefs, are usually happy. Give them a problem and they have a solution to it. But they live in a fools paradise, because their beliefs and reasoning are flawed.

So, when you encounter the Irrational Opposition Supermeme, challenge it. Force the person to work through the ramifications and propose a solution. Force the engagement of System 2 processing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Solutions and Good Practices for Misinformation

October 10, 2012

The preceding three blog posts, “Misinformation,” “The Origins of Misinformation,”, and “Cognitive Processing of Information,” have painted a pessimistic view of the problem of misinformation. This post will propose some solutions to the problem. All four posts draw heavily on a review article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.1 This post also draws on Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman‘s two system view of human cognition.2 According to Kahneman, we have two systems for processing information. System 1, called Intuition, is very fast, and seems to work effortlessly. System 2, called reasoning, is slow and effortful. System 1 is the default system that we use when we are walking, driving, conversing, engaging in any type of skilled performance. System 2 is what we might term conscious thinking. One of the reasons that System 1 is so fast is that it employs heuristics and biases in its processing. Although most of the time they are correct, occasionally they are wrong. System 2 is supposed to monitor System 1 processing and should step in and do some thinking to assure that nothing is wrong. (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “The Two System View of Cognition.”)

It is System 1, which facilitates the processing of good information, that inadvertently processes misinformation. System 2 is supposed to monitor and correct these mistakes, but it is a very difficult task. A person’s worldview, what the person already believes, has an enormous effect on what is regarded as misinformation. One person’s information can be another’s misinformation. Skepticism reduces susceptibility to misinformation effects when it prompts people to question the origins of information that may later turn out to be false. One way of dealing with this worldview is by framing solutions to a problem in worldview-consonant terms. For example, people who might oppose nanotechnology because they have an “eco-centric” outlook might be less likely to dismiss evidence of its safety if the use of nanotechnology is presented as part of an effort to protect the environment.

There is a danger one needs to recognize when trying to correct the effects of misinformation, particularly misinformation about complex real-world issues. People will refer more to misinformation that is in line with their attitudes and will be relatively immune to corrections. Retractions might even backfire and strengthen the initially held beliefs.

So much for the difficulties. Four common misinformation problems follow along with associated solutions and good practices.

Continued Influence Effect. Despite a retraction, people continue to believe the misinformation. The solution is to provide an alternative explanation that fills the gap left by retracting the misinformation without reiterating the misinformation. Then continue to strengthen the retraction through repetition (without reinforcing the myth).

Familiarity Backfire Effect. Repeating the myth increases familiarity reinforcing it. The solution is to avoid repetition of the myth by reinforcing the correct facts instead. When possible provide a pre-exposure warning that misleading information is coming.

Overkill Backfire Effect. Simple myths are more cognitively attractive than complicated refutations. The solution is to provide a simple, brief, rebuttal that uses fewer arguments in refuting the myth—less is more. Try to foster healthy skepticism. Skepticism about information source reduces the influence of misinformation.

Worldview Backfire Effect. Evidence that threatens worldview can strengthen initially held beliefs. The solution is to affirm worldview by framing evidence in a worldview-affirming manner by endorsing the values of the audience. Self-affirmation of personal values increases receptivity to evidence.

It should be clear that correcting the effects of misinformation is not easy. Moreover, the effects are likely to be modest. Nevertheless, correcting misinformation is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Clearly more research is needed.

We also need to be aware that our own worldviews influence System 1 processing and the failure to reject misinformation. Here I am reminded of something Mark Twain said. “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

1Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U.K.H., Seifert, C.M., , Schwarz, N., & Cook, J. (2012). Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13, 106-131.

2Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognitive Processing of Information

October 9, 2012

This is the third in a series of four posts on the topic of misinformation and its correction. All four posts draw heavily on a review article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest.1 The first post, “Misinformation,” introduced the problem of misinformation. The second post, “The Origins of Misinformation” discussed the mechanisms of misinformation. The current post discusses how we process information, assess its truth, and correct misinformation we have received and, mistakenly, believed. This post draws on Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman‘s two system view of human cognition.2 According to Kahneman, we have two systems for processing information. System 1, called Intuition, is very fast, and seems to work effortlessly. System 2, called reasoning, is slow and effortful. System 1 is the default system that we use when we are walking, driving, conversing, engaging in any type of skilled performance. System 2 is what we might term conscious thinking. One of the reasons that System 1 is so fast is that it employs heuristics and biases in its processing. Although most of the time they are correct, occasionally they are wrong. System 2 is supposed to monitor System 1 processing and should step in and do some thinking to assure that nothing is wrong. (See the Healthymemory Blog post, “The Two System View of Cognition.”)

The default mode for System 1 processing is that the information is true, unless the source is questionable at the outset. Then System 2 would raise an alert regarding the accuracy/truth of the information. Otherwise our processing of information would be quite slow and others would tend to lose patience with us. There is a sense of familiarity or fluency regarding the information. Should it be unfamiliar System 2 will likely pay more attention to the information including its veracity.

System 2 does raise some questions. For example, is the information compatible with what I believe? If it isn’t, it is likely either to be disregarded or to be examined quite carefully. If it is a story, System 2 will judge whether it is coherent. If it is incoherent and does not fit together, it will be regarded with suspicion.

Repeated exposure to a statement is known to increase its acceptance as true. Repetition effects can create a perceived social consensus even when no consensus exists. This is important as one of the factors determining whether the information is believed is whether others believe the information. Social-consensus information is particularly influential when it pertains to one’s reference group. One possible consequence of this repetition is pluralistic ignorance, which is the divergence between the actual prevalence of a belief in a society and what people in the society think that others believe. The flip side of pluralistic ignorance is the false-consensus effect in which a minority of people incorrectly feel that they are in the majority. These effects can be quite strong. It has been found that people in Australia who have particularly negative attitudes toward Aboriginal Australians or asylum seekers overestimate public support for their attitudes by 67% and 80% respectively. Although only 1.8% of people in a sample of Australians were found to have strongly negative attitudes towards Aboriginals, those few individuals thought that 69% of all Australians (and 79% of their friends) shared their extreme beliefs.

Unfortunately research indicates that retractions rarely eliminate the influence of misinformation. This is true even when people believe, understand, and later remember the retraction. This is true of research in the laboratory where misinformation is often retracted immediately and within the same narrative. Of course the situation is even worse when misinformation is presented through media sources and a correction is presented. This correction is usually presented in a later edition, so the format is temporally disjointed.

Most misinformation is the result of fast System 1 processes. The failure of retractions is due to faulty System 2 processes. We construct mental models of events. When a portion of this model is disrupted, System 2 processes should recognize that the entire model falls apart. But we don’t. Sometimes the false information that was retracted is still employed in the model. So System 2 is not doing the strategic monitoring it is supposed to do. Misinformation can have a fluency and familiarity about it, which is the result of System 1 processes and the failure of System 2 processes to correct the misinformation even when the correct information is available.

There is also the psychological phenomenon of reactance. People generally do not like to be told how to think or how to act, so they may reject especially authoritative retractions. This effect has be documented in courtroom settings where mock jurors are presented with a piece of evidence that is later ruled inadmissable. When the jurors are asked to disregard the tainted evidence, their conviction rates are higher when an inadmissable ruling was accompanied by the judge’s extensive legal explanations than when the inadmissability was left unexplained.

To this point the presentations have been pretty pessimistic. Misinformation is a large problem produced by many sources and processed by cognitive mechanisms that are vulnerable to misinformation but fairly indifferent to corrections. The next post, the final one in these series, will provide some partial solutions to this serious problem.

1Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U.K.H., Seifert, C.M., , Schwarz, N., & Cook, J. (2012). Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13, 106-131.

2Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com, 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 healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.