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WDR 2015

Mime your manners

Ryan Muldoon's picture

The following post is a part of a series that discusses 'mind and culture,' the theme of the World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report 2015.

When the former Mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus, began his first term in office, a major quality of life problem in the city was the awful traffic, aggravated by reckless driving and mass disobedience of traffic rules. The situation increased air pollution, reduced labor productivity, and created a sense that the city was dysfunctional. The traffic police were at the time notoriously corrupt:  drivers had merely to bribe the police to avoid more substantial penalties for traffic violations. Mockus fired all the traffic police and in their place hired approximately 400 mimes. The mimes were trained to mock people’s traffic violations and to demonstrate better behavior. The mime demonstrations succeeded - traffic improved greatly and traffic fatalities declined 50% in the center city where the mimes operated. Traffic police were later reinstated after retraining, but already traffic flowed more smoothly. (See here)

Do our minds play tricks on us?

Karla Hoff's picture

The following post is the first in a series exploring 'mind and culture: pathways to economic development,' the theme of the World Bank's upcoming World Development Report 2015.

Try to guess the answer to the question:

How many seven -letter words of which the sixth letter is “N” (_ _ _ _ _ N _) would you expect to find in four pages of a novel in English (about 2,000 words)? 

Now guess the answer to another question:

How many seven-letter words of which the last three letters are “ING” (_ _ _ _ ING) would you expect to find in the same four pages? 

If you are responding as most people have, then your estimate is several times greater for ING words than for _N_ words.  This violates logic. With some reflection, it’s easy to see that every ____ING  word is also an _____N_ word.  The mistake is famous and so is its explanation.    _ING words are a standard category, _N_ words are not, and standard categories shape how we think.  We confuse what it is easy to think of with what is frequent. This bias, called the availability bias, is just one of a multitude of biases that appear to be universal.

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