In another installment exploring Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, we’ll look at two more heuristics (mental shortcuts) that influence our thinking and behavior.
CONFIDENCE OVER DOUBT
Emotion suppresses ambiguity and doubt by constructing coherent stories from mere scraps of data. Logic is our inner skeptic, weighing those stories, doubting them, and suspending judgment. But because disbelief requires lots of work, logic sometimes fails to do its job and allows us to slide into certainty. We have a bias toward believing. Because our brains are pattern recognition devices, we tend to attribute causality where none exists. Regularities occur at random.
A coin flip of 50 heads in a row seems unnatural, but if one were to flip a coin billions and billions of times the odds are that 50 heads in a row would eventually happen. The Nobel Prize-winning author states, “When we detect what appears to be a rule, we quickly reject the idea that the process is truly random.” Attributing oddities to chance takes work. It’s easier to attribute them to some intelligent force in the universe. Kahneman advises, “Accept the different outcomes were due to blind luck.” There are many facts in this world due to chance and do not lend themselves to explanations.
- Potential for error? Making connections where none exists.
THE ANCHORING EFFECT
This is the subconscious phenomenon of making incorrect estimates due to previously heard quantities. For example:
- If I say the number 10 and ask you to estimate Gandhi’s age at death, you’ll give a lower number than if I’d said to you the number 65.
- People adjust the sound of their stereo volume according to previous “anchors.” The parents’ anchor is low decibels; the teenager’s anchor is high decibels.
- People feel 35 mph is fast if they’ve been driving 10 mph but slow if they just got off the freeway doing 65 mph.
- Buying a house for $200k seems high if the asking price was raised from $180k but low if the asking price was lowered from $220k.
- A 15 minute wait to be served dinner in a restaurant seems long if the sign in the window says, “Dinner served in 10 minutes or less” but fast if the sign says, “There is a 30 minute wait before dinner will be served.”
- Potential for error? We are more suggestible than we realize.
Increased awareness of our mental shortcuts can help us avoid pitfalls and recognize when our biases are clouding our judgment.
Onward and Upward,