Shortcuts: Math (repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

(T(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

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Behavioral economics fascinates me. Humans have amazing abilities to miscalculate risk with extreme confidence they accurately assessed it. These appear to be rules of thumb which work in certain situations, but really are not applicable to others yet most people do.

Part of the problem gauging risk, I think, comes from a lack of consequences in low risk situations. Switching from writing a script to answering an email and back while sitting at my desk is extremely low physical risk. Switching back-and-forth between driving and answering a text message can seem like no big deal when even 23x more likely to have an accident is still one in thousands. A lack of having an accident or close call while driving is seen as evidence of the ability to text and drive without a problem. (After all how risky is it operating a car of several hundred pounds?)

Following the causal chain of events presents us with problems. We sometimes pick the wrong causes. We then are more likely to pick that wrong cause over and over. Logic and science are tools invented to combat these problems. Testing the idea with large samples eliminate variation as a confound. Others testing with the same or slightly different experimental designs point out the relevant scope.

“Garbage in; garbage out” can also trip us. We poorly assess the reliability of inputs from illusions I discussed earlier, so the calculations based on garbage were never going to be good anyway.

Strangely enough slowing the process down and thinking about it from many different angles can even exacerbate the problem as we get mired in so much data or processes we cannot make a decision.

Technology helps us do the same calculating just faster. Some helps us validate the outputs. I look forward to technologies that help us identify the correct inputs. My big beef with predictive analytics is doubt the correct inputs are being identified, so the outputs might have lots of garbage. 

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Prima manducare

halloween candies

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Part of parenting seems to be to tasting foods given to our children. We get that taste in before it is put in front of the child. Call it a toll or tithe.

My wife still does it to Galahad before letting him have an interesting new drink or dish. Or one that she likes but did not get.

They argue about whether or not she took too much. She calls it a bite or sip. He calls it a mouthful or guzzle.

He also complains about her taking the best candy from his Halloween exploits.

Primarily, he is suffering from loss aversion. He envisioned having it. Only now Mama is taking it away from him and diminishing the value.

Doing > Being

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“Charles A.Lindbergh Perfusion Pump | Science Museum Group Collection” is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA NULL

Having a love of science, I naturally was interested in the pipeline from starting to learn to becoming a scientist. Fleur has a couple strikes against her in the current environment in that she is not white and female. We are a long way from getting there, but of course, I am interested in foundation work now. The framing nudge described below is interesting. I think it probably applies to many different kinds of interests. People who conceive of themselves as capable of doing the work are more likely to have an interest in doing it than those who think of themselves as budding members of the job.

Ryan Lei and colleagues recruited 212 children in 2nd and 3rd grade (about 7-9 years old) at two diverse publicly funded schools in New York City. The kids were randomly assigned to one of two groups: one group always received “identity-focused” language about science (that implied that scientists are a specific category of people), while the other always received “action-focused” language (that implied science is an activity that anyone can do).

For instance, at the beginning of the study the kids saw a video that introduced them to the scientific process. For the identity-focused group, the narrator of the video used phrases like “scientists make thoughtful guesses to help them learn about the world”. The action-focused group, on the other hand, heard language like “when people do science, they make thoughtful guesses to help them learn about the world”.

At three points across the academic year, the children answered questions measuring their attitudes towards science, including their levels of interest (either how much they wanted to “be a scientist” or “do science”, depending on the group they were in), and how good they thought they’d be (either at “being a scientist” or “doing science”). At the second and third testing points, they were also asked to judge how many parents of other children at school “were scientists” or “did science”.

Overall, the children in the action-focused group had a greater interest in “doing science” than those in the identity-focussed group had in “being a scientist”. The action-focused group also rated themselves higher in their scientific abilities, and they thought that more adults “did science” compared with how many people the identity group thought “were scientists”.

Loss of possession is 9/10ths of the screaming

“Mine” is not yet in the vocabulary, but surely it will enter it soon. Taking things Fleur has in her hands upsets her. So. Very. Much.

  • Her sippy cup
  • Her Whiffleball flail
  • Her puff or melt container
  • Food we missed getting up off the floor after a meal

closeup photo of black and green foosball table

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Humans have a well developed and easy to exploit sense of loss aversion. (Kahneman and Tversky) We experience far more pain when losing something than the pleasure we experience from gaining. The gambler who “feels” their luck is about to change for the better, is experienced severe pain and relies on the hope of restoration to relieve it by winning back enough to not be down.

At her age, we find it more effective to give Fleur something she enjoys to occupy both hands which necessitates letting go of the something we want to take.

No all the time am I consistent about this. This morning she found an M&M someone had left on the floor. When I asked, “What did you find?” She speed-toddled away from me. The room was gated up, so she could not go far, but she got as far as she could as fast as she could. I was so proud that she knew I was coming to take it and made the choice to hold on to it as long as possible.