Is there ever a point…
When decision-making can be ‘cracked’ by science?
[via New Scientist] DECISION-MAKING was supposed to have been cracked by science long ago. It started in 1654 with an exchange of letters between two eminent French mathematicians, Blaise Pascal and Pierre Fermat. Their insights into games of chance formed the foundation of probability theory. And in the 20th century the ideas were developed into decision theory, an elegant formulation beloved of economists and social scientists today. Decision theory sees humans as “rational optimisers”. Given a choice, we weigh up each option, considering its value and probability, and then choose the one with the “highest expected utility”.
With your experience of making decisions, you have probably noticed some flaws here. There’s the risible idea that humans are rational, and the dubious notion that we would be capable of the on-the-hoof calculations of probability, even if we could access all the necessary information. Decision theory explains how we would make choices if we were logical computers or all-knowing beings. But we’re not. We are just rather clever apes with a brain shaped by natural selection to see us through this messy world.
Decision researchers had largely ignored this inconvenient reality, occasionally patching up their theory when experiments revealed exceptions to their rules. But that make-do-and-mend approach may soon change. Earlier this year, an independent institute called the Ernst Strüngmann Forum assembled a group of big-thinking scientists in Frankfurt, Germany, to consider whether we should abandon the old, idealistic decision theory and start afresh with a new, realistic one based on evolutionary principles. The week-long workshop provided a fascinating exploration of the forces that actually shape our decisions: innate biases, emotions, expectations, misconceptions, conformity and other all-too-human factors. While our decision-making may seem inconsistent or occasionally downright perverse, the truly intriguing thing is just how often these seemingly irrational forces help us make the right choice.
We must start by acknowledging that many of our choices are not consciously calculated. Each day we may face between 2500 and 10,000 decisions, ranging from minor concerns about what brand of coffee to drink to the question of who we should marry, and many of these are made in the uncharted depths of the subconscious mind. Indeed, Ap Dijksterhuis at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands and colleagues have found that our subconscious thinking is particularly astute when we are faced with difficult choices such as which house to buy or deciding between two cars with many different features (Science, vol 311, p 1005).
What drives these gut feelings? Being inaccessible to conscious examination, the processes are particularly difficult to fathom. One idea is that they are based on heuristics – mental rules of thumb which, applied in appropriate situations, allow us to make fast decisions with minimal cognitive effort. The “recognition heuristic”, for example, will direct you to choose a familiar option where there is very little information to go on. The “satisficing heuristic”, meanwhile, tells you to pick the first option that meets or exceeds your expectations, when delaying a choice for too long is not in your interests.
Heuristics are shaped by previously successful choices – either hard-wired by evolution or learned through trial and error – so it’s no wonder they tend to work. Peter Todd from Indiana University, Bloomington, has shown, for example, that satisficing is a sound basis for choosing a romantic partner (New Scientist, 4 September 1999, p 32). The recognition heuristic, meanwhile, may underpin some of your better guesses in multiple choice quizzes. However, some critics doubt whether our subconscious choices really are based on heuristics; they argue that this approach to decision-making would be neither fast nor cognitively simple since we would need a complex mental mechanism to select the correct heuristic to use.
Our emotions may instead be the driving force in subconscious decision-making. We now know that far from being the antithesis of rationality, emotions are actually evolution’s satnav, directing us towards choices that have survival benefits. Anger can motivate us to punish a transgressor, for instance, which might help us to maintain social order and group cohesion. So says Peter Hammerstein from Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, who helped organise the workshop. Disgust, meanwhile, makes us fastidious and moralistic, which should prompt choices that help us avoid disease and shun people who don’t play by the rules. And while fear often seems to lead to overreactions, this makes sense when you consider the dangers facing prehistoric humans, says Daniel Nettle from Newcastle University, UK. On that one occasion where a rustle in the bushes really was made by a predator, the less neurotic peers of our ancestors would have paid the ultimate price, failing to pass their laid-back genes on to the next generation (Personality and Social Psychology Review, vol 10, p 47).
Heuristics and emotions help us subconsciously focus on what matters. This is just as important when we make conscious decisions. Even the most basic everyday situations are too complex for our brains to compute all the necessary information. Instead, we must simplify. [Read More--Additional Pages!]
Have you seen some of the nuts things people can do?
With that in mind…
I think the ‘science’ of decision-making?
[via NewsLite]A US man who is full of the festive spirit has been arrested after breaking into a home and decorating it ready for Christmas.
The 44-year-old then proceeded to put up the Christmas decorations and lights before sitting back on the sofa and continuing to watch TV.
When the 11-year-old son of the family returned home, Trent — reportedly high on bath salts — apologised for scaring the lad and offered to leave.
However the boy called 911 and cops say the man, who was carrying a pocket knife, was arrested and charged with burglary.[Read More]
No so much a science.
And more like?
A crap-shoot of wild guesses.
Rule of Thumb: Breaking into someones house, decorating it for Christmas? Bad decision!
One to remember.
I better write that one down.