Monday, September 09, 2013

twymyn llinell wen

This is a terrific example of a likely system one decision, endorsed by system two without checking, and then compounded by a further ignorance-of-crowds endorsement.

(Recap: System one being the set of cognitive processes that operate automatically without the need for 'thinking' and by which the majority of our behaviours are driven, while system two drives the slower more effortful critical thinking process)

To explain this process, I've often used the bat and ball example that came to fame as part of Daniel Kahneman's Nobel prize acceptance speech.

It's probably too well known now to be of further use, but just in case...

Consider a bat and a ball for sale in your big box retail store of choice.

The bat and ball together costs one dollar and ten cents.
If the bat costs a dollar more than the ball, then how much would the ball cost?

I once used this when giving a talk to 150 analytics professionals and around 80% of the audience raised their hand for ten cents.

Of course, they were wrong.

Ten cents sounds pretty plausible, this is system one throwing up an answer, then the answer is endorsed by system two and on you go with your day.

If you still haven't worked it out yet the correct answer is five cents.

Similarly, someone in the Swansea City council roads department let their system two endorse a system one decision routinely without checking.

All official road signs in Wales are displayed in English and Welsh language, so the roads department e-mailed its in-house translation service for the Welsh version of:

'No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only'.

All simple enough so far, except the sign was manufactured and placed with the translation below that reads:

'I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated'

While this is funny enough, and can be attributed to a simple individual mistake in the first instance, one has to wonder how many sets of Swansea council eyeballs this passed by and no-one saw or questioned the error.

Most of the time the common tendency to adopt the opinions and follow the behaviors of the majority around us is perfectly sensible, it feels safer and helps to avoid conflict.

Except when it doesn't.

And most of the time, the automatic decision making of the highly skilled system one, endorsed by system two, serves us pretty well.

Except when it doesn't.

Filed also under change blindness, authority bias and 'no nurse, I said remove his spectacles!'

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