Oracle of Delphi, the largest temple of ancient Greece, welcomes all those seeking wisdom with a short message written on the frontispiece: “Gnoth seauton”, which means advice “know thyself.” Today, nearly 3,000 years after writing this post, we continue to examine the functioning of one of the most mysterious subjects encountered: the human mind. Because studies in recent decades, which highlights many of the mechanisms of cognition, today we are much closer to achieving this goal.
The two systems that guide our
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, one of the most famous specialists in cognition and pioneer of behavioral economics, has studied for over four decades, decision-making mechanisms of the human brain and identified a number of cognitive errors that influence our decisions without realizing it. In 2002, Kahneman was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work that have demonstrated that man is a “rational actor”, as some economists, but one subject to many pitfalls of intuition. Kahneman’s Nobel was awarded a first, as for the first time the top prize for economics went to a specialist from another field (in this case, psychology).
Kahneman argues that human thinking is controlled by two systems: one, which he called “fast thinking” (thinking fast) is unconscious, intuitive and requires no voluntary effort or control the system 2, called “slow thinking” (thinking slow) is aware, using deductive reasoning and require much effort.
To see that person in the picture is furious is no need for a conscious effort, realizing this instant and involuntary, in an example of quick thinking, a typical system. However, to solve a problem and the operation of multiplication of 17 by 25 target requires conscious attention to a voluntary effort, without which the answer can not be obtained. The latter is an example of application of the second system.
System 1 is born, a consequence of evolution and adaptation to the environment results over time, while system 2 is a specific component of man. In fact, what we perceive as specific system 2 is self – self conscious and rational, who manages beliefs, choices and decisions.
Although we live under the impression that system 2 is responsible for most decisions we make, our life is controlled largely by the first system. The reason? Every day we take very many decisions, making it impossible to use the second system for most. Because rational decisions require time for analysis and deduction, energy-consuming efforts, the second system is used rarely.
Most times, a system generates suggestions for the second (impressions, insights, intentions and feelings) that it adopts without modification. System 2 occurs when a system does not respond immediately (for example, if the problem 17 x 24) or when it detects that an error will occur (as when we refrain to react in an inappropriate way in a difficult situation, the system control mechanism 2 blocks will generated by system 1). System 2 has, however, limitations: researchers found that when a person is dealing with a problem that requires the use of system 2, decreases self-control ability, being more likely to succumb to temptation.
The errors are however a systemic cognitive errors that lead, often to decisions wrong. In the most recent book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Dr. Daniel Kahneman expose some of the mistakes of thinking, hoping that through their determination to help others to identify and better understand their own decisions.
Because a system is always (in contrast to 2, which requires conscious effort), are more prone to cognitive errors. An example of the autonomy system 1 is the Müller-Lyer optical illusion in which two parallel lines seem to have different lengths. Even if we measure the two lines and convince us (using system 2) that their length is the same, a system will continue to perceive them as unequal
Just as optical illusions, cognitive illusions tend to be hard to beat, but the first step toward leaving the domination of these errors is to understand their thinking. When people are in a crisis, in uncertain situations, decisions are taken by the system 1. It is therefore essential to know its weaknesses.
Cognitive errors influence our decisions
It is vital to understand that there are people who do not are not affected by the weakness of a system. This is demonstrated by a simple test that Kahneman applied it a thousand times: “A baseball bat and a ball together cost $ 1.10. Bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much is the ball? “. Even if the most intelligent students, like those of Harvard and Princeton, more than half gave the obvious answer, given a system, but also wrong: 10 cents. The correct answer was, of course, 5 cents.
One of the most common cognitive errors is “the overconfidence bias” – tend to have excessive confidence in themselves. Statistics show that the chances of a new company established in the U.S. to work for 5 years about 35%. However, a survey among entrepreneurs showed that they tend to estimate chances of success of a new company to 60% and 81% chance to own companies. Kahneman says that optimism is the engine of capitalism, as confirmed by the leaders, inventors and others who touch the lives of many people tend to be optimistic, taking risks being convinced that they will be successful in their attempt.
Another cognitive errors identified by Kahneman is “the planning fallacy” – estimation error in planning. Psychologist has met this problem first in 1970, the Ministry of Education of Israel asked him to design a curriculum manual and a trial on the issue decisions. Kahneman has formed a team of specialists, among whom was an expert in the design and programming, and after a year of work colleagues asked to estimate how long believed that it was still necessary. Most estimated project completion in about two years, with a margin of error of 6 months. Then, Kahneman asked the expert programs such as project lasted, on average. He explained that their average duration was 7 to 10 years and 40% of them complete. Although he knew this, even this expert predicted a period of work for another two years. Finally, the project was completed in eight years, and meanwhile the Ministry of Education was not interested.
Another example of error in planning comes from the USA. A survey conducted among homeowners indicated that they expected to spend an average of $ 18,500 on kitchen refurbishment. Actual average cost rises, but at 39,000 dollars. An example of Scotland demonstrate that differences can be even higher: in 1997, when it was revealed a plan for a new Parliament building, cost estimates amounted to 40 million pounds. In 2004, when construction was completed, the total cost was 431 million pounds.
Another mistake of thinking is what Kahneman calls “the availability bias” – tend to judge based on what comes easily to mind. An American survey revealed that they believe that the probability of a fatal accident is 300 times higher than that of death caused by diabetes, although the actual rate is 1:4. Kahneman consider this a proof that the media influence how we perceive the risks, which may have negative consequences on our lives. A study conducted after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 showed that many Americans have chosen that year to drive around long distances instead of taking the plane. Of these, about 1,500 have died in road accidents, underestimating the risk of traveling by car and overestimating the one of a terrorist attack.
A serious cognitive error is “the anchor effect” – the anchor. One of the examples that illustrate this “shortcut” thinking is a study of a group of German judges over 15 years of experience. In the experiment, they were read a description in which case the defendant was caught stealing in a shop, and before deciding punishment, judges were asked to throw two dice. They were phony, so totaling either 3 or 9. Then they were asked to decide the proper punishment for the accused. Although dice should not influence the decision of experienced specialists, researchers found that nine judges whose dice însumaseră decided, on average, a sentence of eight months in prison, and those whose dice totaling 3 gave an average , a sentence of five months in prison. Effectiveness of this error led to constant exploitation in trade, to model price expectations of buyers. For example, a company might offer three versions of the same service, so the cheapest option appear more attractive compared to more expensive alternatives than if they had only proposed. For the same reason, the auctions are usually set a starting price.
Another important aspect of a system is that, when faced with a difficult question, he tends to give the answer to another question, simpler, without us realizing it. Professor Kahneman gives the example of a study on a group of German students. Some of them have received the following two questions: “How happy are you?” And “How many meetings did you have last month’s romantic?”. Others received the questions in reverse order. If the first case there is no correlation between the answers in the second case will see a correlation between the number of meetings and the happiness of students indicated. Professor Kahneman explains: “To properly the question” How happy are you? “, You need to think more. Students were asked first romantic encounters have never felt the need to think, because they have substituted the answer to this question the answer to another – “how happy are sentimental in my life?”. Students are aware that their emotional life is not only important for them, but the system gave an easy answer, and they used it “.
In terms of happiness, explains Dr. Kahneman, memories play an important role. People did not own one, but two: experimental self (Experiencing the self) and self memory (Remembering the self).
Most people are guided by the second. To illustrate, Dr. Kahneman readers a question: would you be willing to pay for a great holiday, but at the end that they should drink a potion that would erase any memory of the trip and while you remain free pictures and videos? Probably not.
To illustrate the difference between memories and experiences, Kahneman reports that the dialogue held with a member of the public after a lecture. The caller told about when listening to a symphony captivated exceptional, following which there was a hellish noise, because the disc was scratched. “The end ruined my audition,” he said. Kahneman explained that, in fact, experience has not been destroyed, for he enjoyed the music for 20 minutes. Was affected, indeed, the memory of this experience.
Confusing the two issues is a cognitive error that can have unpleasant consequences. This was demonstrated in an experiment in which volunteers were subjected to two painful experiences. Then asked to choose one of these to be repeated, they chose the most painful of them overall, which lasted longer, but ended with a less intense pain, because it left a better memory . “Self experimental tends to have a voice strong enough when we plan activities. When people make decisions not ask ‘what you feel and for how long? “And tend to neglect in favor of living memory that will remain,” says Kahneman. “In the past we learn, usually to maximize the quality of future memories, not the quality of future experiences. I call this “the tyranny of self memory” “write Kahneman.
How to avoid mistakes in thinking?
Only if we understand our weaknesses will be better able to identify mistakes in thinking, even though we will not always be avoided. “To counter the flaws of one are, in principle, a simple solution: recognize signs suggesting that we are in a delicate, slow decision making and appeal to system 2,” suggests psychologist. “We can not do this all the time, but when it is an important decision must reflect and ask ourselves whether we fall into a trap of thinking”, added Kahneman.
Another thing you should take into account is that the use of system 2 involves consumption of resources and a failing system takes over. An example is a study in Israel on a group of eight judges who decide the role of parole for persons convicted. Predominant decision is to reject requests for parole, only 35% of which were approved. Researchers have found that good decisions are taken largely condemned immediately after lunch break for judges, approval rate then decreased gradually to a minimum level recorded immediately before the next lunch break. Researchers concluded was that tired and hungry judges tend to choose the joint decision not involving the use of system 2: refusal of parole.
Even if we know the mistakes of thinking, we are not safe from them. “My thinking is prone to commit such mistakes as before to study,” said Daniel Kahneman. What can we do, in this case? Kahneman’s advice is to use the current vocabulary phrases that describe these mistakes, and then contact friends. Because people is easier to recognize one’s mistakes than your own, talking to relatives, using a vocabulary that includes evidence of cognitive errors, we will help you avoid. “The purpose of my book is to raise the current conversation, to make people think more complex decisions when judging others. If we have a society in which people use richer language when talking about these things, I think it would have an indirect effect on our decisions, because we always understand others opinions about us “, concludes Kahneman