Tuesday 24 Jul 2018 | 03:47 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 24 Jul 2018 | 03:47 | SYDNEY

Don\'t let your brain fool you


Sam Roggeveen


24 January 2011 14:15

I have noted previously the strong appetite we all seem to have for learning more about our own decision-making methods; the success of The Gruen Transfer demonstrates the fascination Australians have with the ways we are persuaded and deceived. I now see that Jonah Lehrer, blogger and author of a number of books on cognitive science, agrees:

...people love to learn about their biases. There’s really something fascinating about reading your own user manual and going, ‘Oh that’s what made me do that stupid thing all the time!’

If you ask me, there's a great TV concept in this. You can set up filmed experiments showing how the layout of a supermarket changes our dietary choices. You can interview doctors and patients about their opinions of a particular treatment depending on whether they are told 'the chances of survival are 5%', rather than 'the chances of death are 95%'. Or you could trap some hapless contestants in a prisoner's dilemma (OK, that one's been done).

It could be entertaining television but also helpful. As Lehrer says, the only real solution we have to these perpetual decision-making problems is 'meta-cognition' (sometimes called 'self-overhearing') — you need to need to know about your cognitive biases so that you can correct for them.

All of which is a long-winded way of alerting you to this Stephen Walt column on why bad ideas seem to keep coming up in international relations, and why it is so hard to kill them. Go read.

Photo by Flickr user "lapolab".