“When you are fighting racism or bigotry of any sort, or stereotyping of any sort, you are in combat with the way the mind works. You are, in a weird way, in the world where you are trying to overwhelm impulses. It’s hard to get rid of it. This is how people think.”
Michael Lewis – an American non-fiction author.
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People think fast and often automatically, respond strongly to social incentives, and use mental models or specific worldviews to interpret information and perceptions. So, shouldn’t we be taking into account their thinking and behaviors while designing policies?
In 2014, Australian startup founder Evan Thornley gave a talk at a technology startup conference about why he likes to hire women. So far, so good. However, things quickly deteriorated when he explained that part of the reason was that women were “still often relatively cheap compared to what we would’ve had to pay someone less good of a different gender”, illustrated by a slide that read “Women. Like men, only cheaper”.
While the ensuing media outcry quickly forced Thornley to backtrack on his comments, the reality his slide so eloquently put into words is not so easily revised. Even in Silicon Valley, considered one of the most forward-thinking industries in the world, women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts.
We’ve all been there. Leafing through a magazine, or on the subway, glancing up at the billboards, and then a moment of painful awareness as our eyes meet those of a starving child. Limbs grotesquely proportioned, belly distended, the image is accompanied by a request for help. For some small sum of money you too can save a life. Again you see the image… and reach for your phone. You text CHILD or SAVE or LIFE to the relevant organization. Then, conscience temporarily assuaged, you encounter a sinking feeling as you remember you’ve seen this before. How exactly will your donation help the child? What purpose do these images really serve?
If there’s one common theme that resonates across Western democracies this past year, it’s a rejection of the status quo. Some outsider politicians have ridden this wave of populism to political office or to strong second-place finishes, stretching the boundaries of political expression. Frustration, anger with the status quo, globalization and the tradeoffs that come with it, and inequality are all basic concerns of the voters catapulting these politicians to power.
Globally, it also seems that fault lines have been erected between cultures, religions, genders, and so on.
Regardless of where the frustration comes from, though, polarization along ideological lines and negative rhetoric are pervasive. While polarization is a complex issue (and not something we can explain in its entirety in a blog post), how people process information is a significant factor.
If people are not open to other viewpoints or do not think critically about the negative rhetoric they encounter— which often involves self-reflection— then how can change really be achieved? How can the frustration fueling the polarization be addressed if we cannot compromise?
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
Imagine watching a commercial, and the TV or mobile phone on which you are watching immediately knows if you’d like to buy the product being advertised. Imagine feeling stressed out while driving, and your car automatically starts talking to you and adjusting the air and radio controls. Or imagine a video or film that changes the storyline based on your reactions to characters. This is the future, in which devices react not just to our behavioral and physiological clues, but also to our emotions.
Affective computing is the study and development of systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate human the emotional states of humans. It is an interdisciplinary field spanning computer science, psychology, and cognitive science.
Most of the software in the field of affective tracks emotions, like happiness, confusion, surprise, and disgust, by scanning an environment for a face and identifying the face’s main regions—mouth, nose, eyes, eyebrows. The software then ascribes points to each and tracks how other points move in relation to one another. Shifts in the texture of skin, such as wrinkles, are also tracked and combined with the information on facial points. Finally, the software identifies an expression by comparing it with those it has previously analyzed.
Learning to give preference to long-term goals over more immediate ones is known as deferred gratification or patience and considered a virtue in many cultures. However, there is logic behind asking for rewards immediately, and those who live in poverty know this all too well.
The comedian Jerry Seinfeld, once joked “I never get enough sleep. I stay up late at night because I’m ‘night guy’. ‘Night guy’ wants to stay up late. ‘What about getting up after five hours of sleep?’ ‘Oh, that’s morning guy’s problem. That’s not my problem—I’m night guy! I stay up as late as I want.’
Such decisions are described by the theory of intertemporal choice, the idea that decisions have consequences that come at different points in time. People weigh the relative trade-offs of getting what they want in the immediate future with the trouble associated with waiting but potentially getting something better.
We all face these kinds of decisions in our day-to-day lives, from deciding to work now or later or save or spend money, to whether or not we should stay up late to enjoy the night or go to bed early to feel better the next day. In each of these cases, a decision maker needs to assess the utility (or value) of one outcome that is will occur sooner with another one that is more distant in the future.
Few people doubt the merits of pausing to "think things through" before making a decision. Without doing so, we fear we may end up making a decision that leads to harm and misfortune. However, this process is itself a double-edged sword that can lead us astray.
We've all been forced to make tough decisions in life. From career progression and where to live to which route to take on a trip, we navigate life's choices by considering our options and weighing them against each other. In the context of these decisions, we attempt to predict the negative consequences from an action or decision and the likelihood that those consequences will actually occur.
Regret- we seek to avoid it when we can
In a famous study on Regret Theory, Loomes and Sugden present the idea that in making decisions, individuals not only consider the knowledge they have and the resources at their disposal, but also the likely scenarios that will result from their choices. They further suggest that the pleasure associated with the results of their choices depends not only on the nature of those results but also on the nature of alternative results. Individuals consider the regret their future selves may feel if they know they would have been better if they had chosen differently. Likewise, they consider the joy their future selves may feel if the consequences of their decisions turn out to be optimal. Thus, both a cause and a consequence of our desire to avoid losses (loss aversion) is our desire to avoid the pain of regret.
According to researchers, individuals exhibit “regret aversion” when they fear their decision will turn out to be wrong in hindsight. Sometimes, we engage in regret aversion before making a decision, leading us to hem and haw and lose out on opportunities. Other times, we engage in regret aversion after a decision is already made, leading us to hold on to losing assets or undesirable positions because we don’t want to admit our choice was not the best one. Many of the interventions that behavioral economists suggest, such as automatic enrollment, default options, and providing information to consumers, are set up to reduce the ex post regret individuals will face for not doing something that’s in their interest.