bias

Irrational

Laurie Santos looks at evolution by looking at how primates view the world. Now remember these are not our direct ancestors, but a proxy.

Often her work is asking the question, are these other primates as smart as us? For example, primates can count. They also know some simple Newtonian physics.

She's interested not only in how smart we are, but also the downsides of our abilities. Why are we irrational? Can we see seeds of our own economic biases in primates?

We're all walking around with a set of biases, per Daniel Kahneman. For example, we set different reference points - we frame decisions based on how we start; and loss aversion - the pain of loss outweighs the pleasure of gain. These biases are everywhere. 

So she tested monkeys to see if they exhibit some of the same biases that humans do. Turns out that monkeys play it safe like humans and avoid loss, too. Monkeys are often as irrational as we are, but they didn't fall for the pricing effect (when for example people say they like a wine that is more expensive). Monkeys do understand price - they respond to sales. But in her experiments they selected expensive versus cheap food at random. 

What more we can take from this remains to be seen. 

In the meantime, can we change these biases? It's difficult to shut off our intuitions. But Santos and the research shows that setting up different kinds of situations that protect us from ourselves do seem to work - these are nudges. To battle your biases you need to set up your environment to counter-act them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can You Be Too Confident?

Yes. Because, according to Daniel Kahneman, author of the new book "Thinking Fast and Slow," "people are blind to their own blindness." In this great NYTimes article excerpt from his book, he demonstrates how people, even when faced with evidence that their conclusions are incorrect, will continue to insist that their process yields good results. Which immediately makes me think about all the nonsense out there around hiring.

And entrepreneurship - how does anybody predict who will be a good entrepreneur/CEO? It's difficult. As Kahneman puts it, "True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. ...To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes."

Why the Voice You Hear is Female

Ever wonder why most automated voices are female? Even that of Apple's Siri? This Atlantic article does a great job of breaking down some largely unacknowledged biases. From the article:

"In 1987, people didn't rely on their devices the way we do today. They didn't trust them as much. Apple needed to build that trust and wanted its then-imaginary personal assistant to project an air of competence. Natural choice? Manly avatar. But as people have gained confidence in their gadgets, the question for Apple has shifted from performance to likability. And that brings us to another point Nass makes: marketers have an easier time finding a universally likable female voice than a male one. This dovetails with the way stereotypes work; our prejudices make us dislike hearing a man go about secretarial work."