Shortcuts (Repost)

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

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We humans laud our superiority over the rest of the world. We even claim to be better than other humans. The chief attribute we compare is intelligence.

An interest of mine regarding Psychology in college was failures of the mind. Phineas Gage suffered a brain injury that drastically changed his behavior. That was really cool! Yet, that and other cases are relatively rare. More universally, the brain works much more nuanced than most people give credit. I think much of the problems of society tie back to how the brain works and maybe even societal attempts at glossing over the limitations.

Rather than one really long post, I am going to break these up into several. And much of this has been bumping around in my head for months, but I took a few hours to lay it all down.

  1. Illusions
  2. Labeling
  3. Math
  4. Multitasking
  5. Rules

For going on a decade, I have called these Cheating. Rather than taking in all the information, completely processing it, and strategically acting upon it, our brains selectively attend to a small portion, throws out even more, and acts upon incomplete information. Most of the time it works. Much of the time it doesn’t and we have no idea so we just think it works. Every once in a while we get burned by our brains not following the rules we expect them to follow. So to make this more palatable, I am going to try calling these Shortcuts.

Shortcuts: Rules (repost)

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

After some debating with the toddler about whales vs sharks, I started down a thought experiment that Dunbar’s Number might not be about seeking justice and instead be about winning arguments.

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

adult american football athlete audience
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Rules exist to help reduce the friction of society so that we can more easily work with strangers. Without rules, we need to have potentially damaging interactions with individuals, establish a series of data points about them to decide what kind of person they are to know how to handle them in the future. Instead, we create laws, policies, and traditions to define how we interact with each other. This frees our brains from Dunbar’s Number such that we can have larger social groups over that about 150 person limit.

We also have an instinctive bias to when others break the rules. People who severely or habitually do so need to be punished. We will claim it to be that others see that society will not tolerate the behavior, but really it is so we feel better that a rule breaker did not get away with it this time.

I started thinking about this because I had a conversation with a coworker about an odd claim about a rule. One problem with rules is there are too many for any individual to understand them all. We have specializations, so experts in an area are expected to know the rules for that knowledge domain.

People are human and may inform us about things that are less true and more desires of the way things ought to be. Traditions can sometimes fall into the latter. Sometimes when properly challenged, traditions find their way into being codified as laws or policies so that people properly behave.

Hammurabi almost 4,000 years ago solved this misunderstanding about what the rules are by writing them down. It really is a good way to handle it. One can read the rules oneself to check to see if how it was explained is correct or missing an important distinction.

And then, there is intentional rule breaking. Do you drive faster than the speed limit? Read all the terms for using a website? Criminals are deemed people who break the rules intentionally. Most of us are breaking some rules several times a day. Some intentionally, some by ignorance. Some because we were set up for failure. Some because the likelihood of being caught and punished are so low the wasted effort at complying is not worth it.

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

Shortcuts: Illusions (repost)

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

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

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We like to think only those things we experience exist. Or even can experience. What about those things we can experience that do not or never did exist? That is what illusions are. They are cases where we trick the brain into believing something happened that did not. Or tricking the brain into thinking is experiencing reality when it is missing crucially important.

Michael Bach has a nice optical illusions page to demonstrate how easily our eyes are tricked. Every sense we have can be tricked. The food industry has worked wonders in devising how to trick our senses of smell and taste. When you feel something crawling on you and look to see nothing, that is your sense of touch going haywire.

Illusions can also be dangerous. Eyewitness testimony is the worst evidence we use in the legal system. Witnesses rarely capture and retain all the details. And how they are interviewed can allow them to fill in these gaps with other evidence and skew their results to confirm that same evidence. Say the police pick up a suspect and present that photo with others to a witness. The witness picks the photo of the suspect and later out of a line up. If the suspect actually only resembles the culprit, then these two steps confirm for the witness (and the police) the suspect’s guilt even though the witness saw someone else. We attend to similarities when searching and ignore the differences. And we will go with the closest option given choices.

Inattentional blindness also falls into my illusions category. Paying too much attention to something means we have no idea about what else is happening. The train operator on his cell phone not noticing the curve for which he needed to slow down and derailed. Multitasking while operating a vehicle is dangerous because of this.

Of course, everything we experience is really the interpretation of signals to the brain. One of my favorite experiments was people wore goggles that inverted the image so everything appeared upside down. The brain just adapts to the error and interprets the picture to the desired orientation. Do not like what you see? The brain can solve that problem. Another favorite experiment was ending phantom pain in missing limbs by using mirrors to make the limb appear to exist again.

My favorite metaphor for how the brain works is Object-Oriented Programming. Different parts of the brain perform different functions. The functions adapt (are reprogrammed or reconfigured) based on the needed interpretation of the data. Of course, the adaptations are not always 100% correct. Nor do they always adapt in time not to avoid errors.

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

Daddy’s Little Helper

dad with kid dishwashing at kitchen

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The other day we went out to play. I grabbed a towel to dry off the slide, swings, and chairs. After watching me dry the slide and finding there was still some water, Fleur walked over to the towel, grabbed it, and dried the slide more. 

The blatant imitation had me tempted to roll around in the wet grass laughing. But, I was proud of the problem solving at play here. She totally assessed the problem, decided on the solution, and took care of it. It makes me excited and terrified for the future.

  1. She is developing the capability to do things we want her to all by herself.
  2. She is developing the capability to do things we don’t want her to all by herself.

Chimes

Last summer we spent a week at the house of my aunt and uncle. They have three chiming clocks. A grandfather clock and two small ones.

We have something similar. Auditory reminders at 9, 10, 3, 4, 5, 6 that announce: Check diaper. This is essentially our chimes. I find I don’t really need a clock during this period.

We don’t need the automated system when we get up from sleeping and prepare for it at naptime and bedtime. It is the in between that we need brought to our attention. In the focused zone, it can be easy to assume the other parent is going to take care of it. The chime brings back to our attention that maybe we should. We have saved on diaper cream since setting these up as we are better at making sure to address the diaper before the acidic defecation causes a rash.

On the plus side, Fleur loves the announcements. She runs around repeating it. If I am in the middle of work, then her running around letting us know keeps it on the brain.

Reminders are my main way of remembering to do things. The strange thing to me is this working from home means I am on my phone less. So, I miss more of the ones through it.

Achieving self-service

As a technologist, we aim for self-service solutions. The tool should allow people accomplish their work without the direct intervention of support staff.

As a parent, we aim for our children to do the same. The time sink is doing everything for them, so the more they take care of themselves the more time we get back. With the toddler, I see the gross understanding of processes and some mastery.

She can feed herself with her hands and is getting better at using a spoon. In putting on clothes, arms are placed in a position to make it easier to pull on or off a shirt or coat. Or switching a toy to another hand. Or climbing into the high chair for dinner.

Baby steps to getting dressed herself. Though, this morning she did pick the outfit: her Star Trek Lieutenant Commander (TNG) onesie. So, you know I am proud.

Study: Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response

board game business challenge chess

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This caught my eye because I’ve read about the growth mindset often over the past several years. And, I feel that how I responded to stress in my professional life is responsible for my achievements.

Study 1: I found the use of the invention of a Work Performance Scale adapted from a Role-Based Performance Scale interesting. I’d like to compare the two. But, offhand, it is self-reporting, which I dislike for the tendency of the taker to say what they think is wanted not what they think. (And even if they put they think, our view of ourselves is skewed from inner dialogue biases and justifications.) They decided the data shows that stress mindset is a distinct variable among others already determined for stress. They probably overly generalize to health and well-being when their measure was just on work performance.

This additional variable thing seems to trigger warning bells about confirmation bias in my head. It strongly confirms my existing worldview in that I’ve seen people who take on challenges head-on and others who squander the opportunity.

I just skimmed the rest from here. Study 2 appears to try to determine if it works similar to growth-fixed mindsets. Study 3 appears to look at positive and negative feedback with stress mindsets.

Crum, AJ and Salovey, P and Achor, S. “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716 –733. DOI: 10.1037/a0031201

Baby hypothesizing

Saw a testing of a hypothesis. Fleur had a puff in her hand. She offered it to the cat who just looked at it. She paused and then tossed the puff on the floor exactly the same way I earlier tossed some treats for the cat.

This choice made me realize I don’t have the cat eat out of my hand. The puff looks enough like a treat that I agreed with her choice to try the method to see if the cat would go for it.

The test subject still just looked at it. Fleur picked up the puff and tossed it again getting the bounce that I normally get when I do it. Still no reaction from the cat.

Fleur tosses new foods from the high chair to see if the cat will eat it. She also will give the cat a share of foods, though sometimes she doesn’t give the cat any at all. And the cat expects food now. While dog sitting, it only took a day to realize the bounty of a high chair for both baby and elderly dog.

 

Smile timing

Fleur makes us work at times to get great smiles for photos. As she has gotten older, it seemed like she has gotten more crafty about getting more. Then I ran across this nugget of confirmation bias:

The research team found that by timing their smile precisely, babies can elicit maximum smiles with little effort on their part.

My wife fills up her phone trying to get the perfect smile because the toddler is manipulating the adults to get entertained enough to bestow upon us a photo worthy one.

Proud of her.

Being a Musician Is Good for the Brain

Highlights from an Inc article on the benefits of music on the brain caught my attention:

  1. Musical training reorganizes neuron structures in the brain, specifically the corpus callosum which integrates the two sides plus areas involving verbal memory, spatial reasoning, and literacy.
  2. It improves long-term memory, in part because it teaches the hippocampus how to store memories and recall them on demand.
  3. It improves executive function, things like processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, making decisions, and problem solving
  4. Musicians tend to be more mentally alert with faster reaction times.
  5. They tend to have better statistical use of multisensory information, so they are better able to integrate inputs from the various senses.
  6. The earlier a musician starts, the more drastic the changes.
  7. Music reduces stress and improves happiness.*
  8. Increases blood flow in the brain.

* Wonder if all this singing we do with Fleur plus Galahad’s piano practice is part of why she is a happy child? After all, we’ve been leveraging singing as a way to distract Miss Wriggly.