My psychology professor just sent my class an interesting article about perception from good ol’ David Brooks over at the NY Times. We’ve talked a lot in my class about the way you essentially see what you want to see. You pay more attention to facts that fit with what you already know; you attribute your own successes to hard work and others’ successes to dumb luck; etc.
In this article, “The Behavioral Revolution,” Brooks links this idea to The Second Great Depression. It’s a thought-provoking article, and worth reading at least these excerpts:
[Nassim Nicholas Taleb] believes that our brains evolved to suit a world much simpler than the one we now face. His writing is idiosyncratic, but he does touch on many of the perceptual biases that distort our thinking: our tendency to see data that confirm our prejudices more vividly than data that contradict them; our tendency to overvalue recent events when anticipating future possibilities; our tendency to spin concurring facts into a single causal narrative; our tendency to applaud our own supposed skill in circumstances when we’ve actually benefited from dumb luck.
He goes on:
If you start thinking about our faulty perceptions, the first thing you realize is that markets are not perfectly efficient, people are not always good guardians of their own self-interest and there might be limited circumstances when government could usefully slant the decision-making architecture (see “Nudge” by Thaler and Cass Sunstein for proposals). But the second thing you realize is that government officials are probably going to be even worse perceivers of reality than private business types. Their information feedback mechanism is more limited, and, being deeply politicized, they’re even more likely to filter inconvenient facts.
This meltdown is not just a financial event, but also a cultural one. It’s a big, whopping reminder that the human mind is continually trying to perceive things that aren’t true, and not perceiving them takes enormous effort.
[Posted by Mallory]