Monday, September 22, 2014

(another) inconvenient truth?

Kahneman and Gigerenzer have clashed many times over the years with regard to their individual points of view on intuitive heuristics.

Why they are at each others throats is slightly puzzling to this reader, as they are both saying the same thing, for the most part.

When confronted with a problem that requires some degree of thinking, and where there is at least partial ignorance (ie just about everything) - some examples often cited are; choosing a chess move or deciding whether to invest in stock — decisions are governed mostly by intuitive thought, and the intuitive mind does the best it can with whatever information it can use.

In Gigerenzer's writing he identifies a number of smart heuristics - 'take the best' and 'recognition validity' are two.

Similarly, Kahneman would say that if the individual has at least some relevant 'expertise', she will recognise a solution, and that this intuitive solution that comes to mind is quite often correct.

But what happens when the question is more difficult and a 'skilled' solution or smart heuristic is not available?

DK would say that we instead answer an easier and related question, automatically and usually without noticing the substitution.

Indeed, attribute substitution is thought to underpin a number of cognitive biases and perceptual illusions, something GG and DK can agree upon, and is part of a larger set of shortcuts that form the effort-reduction framework as proposed by Shah and Oppenheimer, which states that people use a variety of techniques in order to reduce the mental effort of making decisions.

So, an easier question to answer might be one that allows us to simply look at our previous behaviour. If that feels related to the problem at hand we then feel reasonably happy proceed in-line with what we have previously done.

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable thing, of course.
We want our attitudes to be in line with our behaviours.
Whilst we might believe that we are not the sort of person who drinks and drives, once a couple of beers have gone down and we have to get home we soon change our minds.
The behaviour has been done so that's impossible to change, so of course we want our attitude to be consistent and tell ourselves a story to rationalise it. It's just easier to do this.

I've done some of my own research that seems to indicate that despite having more access to information than at any point in history in order to do proper evaluation of alternatives in choice situations, we simply cannot be arsed and will use all manner of effort reduction strategies to dramatically simplify and limit consideration sets.

Especially, as it would appear from our studies, in categories such as insurance; where making the wrong choice could have pretty serious consequences. Yet the vast majority of buyers are happy to buy from an existing FS provider, or if they do switch; then the brands with biggest share of market and share of voice tend to pick up most of the switchers and new to market buyers.

So, for example,  if the difficult question (or computationally complex attribute) asked is “Should Scotland be an independent country?”.

The reality is that for many voters perhaps an easier to calculate heuristic attribute might be “Am I already deeply invested in a pseudo-religious and political sectarian Unionist or Republican 'philosophy', (imported from somewhere else) and based on my allegiance to a particular Glasgow based football club?”

Despite the fluffy rhetoric about a nation engaged in a new passion for political discourse, debate and democracy, we fear that this description does not account for all of the voting public.

But for a number of the reported 1.4million Scots who are R*ngers supporters this will almost certainly be the case. Numbers for C*ltic are unavailable, recognition validity indicates they will be similar, though...

Whether those numbers are enough to have made a significant impact on the final poll we will never know. Perhaps they cancelled each other out, in which case an engaged minority held the balance.

What was clearly visible were the ugly scenes of from George Square last week.
Far from any intellectual jousting of political and national ideologies the scene resembled more closely the famous 1980 Scottish Cup Final. A sorry affair in which a narrow one-nil victory for the green half of the great unwashed resulted in a pitch invasion from the blue side, a mass bricks and bottles battle between thousands, and TV commentator Archie MacPherson prompted to remark 'its like a scene from Apocalypse Now'.

The Unionists won the vote, of course. Goodness knows what might have happened had they lost.

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