“If today, in social psychology, I submit a paper to a social psychology journal showing that people think rationally, logically, act in their self-interest in situations I won’t only be rejected they will send the men to my house to kill me. They will be like you are not a social psychologist you are a fool.” – Robb Willer, Stanford University Professor.
This post is an attempt to show you how inefficient our opinions are due to our cognitive limitations along with less relevant information available about observed physical phenomena. I will be exploring how people formulate their opinions and solidify them through reinforcements coming from their environment. Even though at times it may seem like it, this post is not an academic paper on social psychology hence the limited amount of biases discussed. In my attempt to explain the insufficiencies of our opinion I will briefly discuss the hypotheses formed during the “Age of Enlightenment” era to show the reader that even though people started discussing controversial subjects with their limited cognitive tools at the time, these hypotheses continue to stagnate societies’ progress as a whole. Of course, I do not disregard the fact that there had to be a slow process of social evolution but resisting new information to protect outdated established practices is detrimental to humanity. We will look at cognitive biases and errors to an extent relevant to this post; I will conclude by explaining how the scientific method can help us as a tool to arrive at decisions without using our subjective opinions.
Age of Enlightenment
In the 17th and 18th century, during the “Age of Enlightenment,” the standard model of rationality explained that human reasoning is and should be logical. Basically that the universe works with logical and consistent principles, and we could understand the laws of nature and the human deductively. Rene Descartes’s view and the views of other philosophers in his era were that human reasoning is always very mathematical. This view placed the blame on the individual for his behavior rather than the environmental conditions he was immersed in. This approach is inadequate today since according to modern social psychology we do not always think logically and rationally. It seems to me that philosophers arriving at the standard model of rationality through deduction proves the inadequacy of their methods.
Unfortunately centuries later, people still believe in the opinion that we are these conscious, cold, reasonable and logical beings. We punish people for their behavior; we execute some; we also get angry at people for being perfectly ‘normal.’ Normal according to their background. This behavior is reinforced, not by the latest information received, but reinforced by our very own social system. Supported by our families, famous leaders, and even friends. The punishing behavior is further reinforced by our media and the personal satisfaction we get when a person causing trouble in our life has been ‘removed,’ neglecting the fact that removing someone does not get rid of the value system which shaped the behavior of this person in the first place.
It seems to me that economic inferences of human behavior also dominate the justice system as well, in particular ‘Rational choice theory,’ as it assumes that individuals will always make logical and prudent decisions that yield the most benefits for themselves, but of course we don’t see that in people who volunteer in the program such as ‘Doctors Without Borders.’ Also, that they are driven naturally by personal desires and motivated by personal goals or selfishness. Within the monetary system, this is evident: we live in perceived scarcity, and this generates a certain pattern of behavior. This is the basis of most economic theories and is also considered by some a general theory of public policy. One of the assumptions made by the rational choice model is that one has full or perfect information about the alternatives, in other words, the ranking between two alternatives involves no uncertainty. This would be interesting to observe in practice but detrimental to competition. The ‘survival of the fittest’ attitude which businesses have to adapt to stay in business will not allow perfect information to be advertised. In the ‘real’ world a company that spends more money on advertising will make their product more attractive than the product of their competitors, which spend less money on advertising. So, you might see one product being marketed more often on television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and billboards, by very convincing actors and a well-written script, and a competing product being in a local newspaper marketed by an easily missed advertisement.