Behavioral Economics Parenting

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)

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

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)

Parenting Problem Solving

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.

Child Development Parenting Psychology


fb_img_1552696891627Fleur has gleeful look when adults make weird sounds before doing something funny. Nose boops, tickles, and the like. She loves the stuff from people she likes. And doing it well, is a good way into her favorite people list.

Dopamine is thought of as the reward neurotransmitter. But, it is more complicated. It is what we get anticipating a reward. Say, you are playing a video game, dopamine surges to ensure you focus and persevere to achieve the level or match.

The noise right before tells her it is coming. Classical conditioning pairs a neutral stimulus with a desired one. The prior one is neutral the first time, but after she has paired it with the desired stimulus and anticipates the desired one. It seems like she enjoys the anticipation almost as much.

In getting mobile and manipulating objects, she is learning to use operant conditioning as well. She exerts her will on the world around her. This takes the form of doing the same thing over and over both using the same technique to confirm it works and adjusting to see what might work better. The other day she was trying to get into my tablet and tapping different spots to see how it reacted. You could see the Scientific Method in action: hypothesis, design test, execute test, evaluate result, new hypothesis.

Something I never thought about in university psychology classes was the impressive nature of linking things into causal chains. If this, then that. Over and over. Both forms of conditioning require understanding causation. The sponge that is Fleur’s brain seems to seek out understanding causation. And happiness to me is creating an environment for her try things and figure out how they work.