Episode 4 − Intuition and Rationality: Pupils and anchors

Episode 4 − Intuition and Rationality: Pupils and anchors


So there we have it: directly from Danny Kahneman,
talking about system one and system two. Now I think it’s important to remember the point
of this episode. We’re looking at the difference between system one and system two. He makes
that distinction clear, I think, when he was talking about some of the early work that
he did with Jackson Beatty, in the 60’s actually, on pupil dilation. He just mentioned
it briefly, but what he was actually measuring—we know that pupils when you are measuring—what
you can actually do is film somebody’s pupil, and you can project it onto a wall beside
them, for example, and you can measure it literally with a ruler. Measure the size of
the pupil as it gets larger and smaller. Now we know that the pupil responds to things
like light. So if you have bright light, the pupil dilates [sic]. Dark, and then it gets larger.
But it also responds to cognitive effort. So it’s actually responding to system two,
essentially how hard your brain is working. It’s not even how hard you feel like you’re
working, but it’s actually how much effort, how much heat the brain is producing almost.
So what you can do—the way that they tested it, he and Beatty, was by presenting people
with a digit-span task. If I ask you to remember, for example, 6-4-3—that was three digits.
I measure your pupil. Then I add a digit: 6-4-3-2. You keep those four digits in mind,
and I measure your pupil. 6-4-3-2-7. We can keep doing this and adding digits, and as
you try to remember the digits span as you keep adding more and more digits, your pupil
just keeps getting larger and larger, until one of two things happens: one, you report
the number, so you say, “Okay, 6-4-3-2-7,” and then your pupil constricts again; or you
give up. In his book, he talks about this really nice
example where they’re watching—they have somebody participating in the experiment,
in this digit-span task, and they’re remembering the digits, and they’re outside of the room;
they’re watching this large pupil in the screen outside. When the person gave up, they
just see and they say inside of it, “So you gave up on the problem?” The person
was like, “How did you know?” It’s almost like you had a window into their own mind,
which is, I think, quite cool. That’s cool. Danny Kahneman also talked
about this phenomenon known as anchoring. Fritz Strack, a researcher, has a pretty cool
example of this. He asked people to guess how old Gandhi was when he died. He put them
into two groups. One group he asked, “Was Gandhi older than 140 years old when he died?”
Another group he asked, “Was Gandhi older than 9 years old when he died?” These people
responded—they were guessing how old Gandhi was when he died—and the people that were
given the high anchor of 140 guessed that Gandhi died at 67 years old. People that were
given the low anchor of 9 guessed that Gandhi died when he was 50 years old. Now he actually
died when he was 78, but you can see that the high anchor pushed people in one direction,
and the low anchor pushed them into another. Now you may think that, “Well, that’s
kind of reasonable if an experimenter or someone, they might have some inside information about
the correct answer to the question, and so it’s quite reasonable to anchor your decision
based on a number that they say,” but it can’t be working like that because there’s
another great example by Dan Ariely. He asked people to bid on bottles of wine and
chocolate. Before the experiment, he asked participants to write down their social security
number, just the last two digits, and then he split them into two groups. If their social
security number is higher than 50, they go to this group; lower than 50, in other group.
Then he asked them, “How much would you bid on these things, on these bottles of wine
and these chocolate?” Now he found that people who had a high social security number,
greater than 50, for example, they were willing to pay way more for these things than people
who wrote down a low social security number before the experiment.
You can see that this arbitrary writing down of a number is influencing their decisions.
I think people with a high social security number were willing to pay 60 to 120 percent
more for these things than the low social security number, which I think is pretty cool.
This idea of anchoring, I think, is really good. It highlights what we’re
talking about when—the point of this episode is that we’re operating under less-than-ideal
conditions, and so we have to rely on shortcuts in order to be able to navigate the world
obviously. When you’re in this anchoring position, if you’re given any number, any
number, obviously, even random numbers, the same thing happens with the roll of a roulette
wheel. If a number that comes up, say 10, then you use that as your anchor, regardless
of whatever random process generated it—but under most conditions it’s not random. Under
most conditions, when we’re operating in the world, a number appears, that’s something
to start with. But in complex scenarios, if you have no idea, for example, of the percentage
of African countries in the UN, or the population of Australia, say, you have to start somewhere,
and any number that you have is better than no number at all. So we have to deal with
what we have. But that’s just anchoring. We can deal with
a whole bunch of other types of heuristics and biases. We’re going to talk about one
next called availability, but what we’re going to do first is revisit the faces that
we’ve presented in the first part of the episode. Now what we want you to do is think back to the list of faces we’ve presented earlier
in the episode, so don’t watch the video again. Just think back to that list that we
presented. What we want you to do is estimate whether, in that list, there were more males
or whether were more females that we presented. Think back and go into the next section and
indicate whether there were more males or more females in that list.

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