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 Pexels.com

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)

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.

 

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”.

Meditation instead of a timeout

I despised timeout. Not because it was effective, but because it seemed pointless. I failed to spend the time thinking about what I did wrong. Instead, I spent the time thinking about how stupid it was. And what I could be doing or what I would do when it was over. Or playing with whatever I had around me: wall textures, things on my person, etc. This approach looks interesting.

Instead of punishing disruptive kids or sending them to the principal’s office, the Baltimore school has something called the Mindful Moment Room instead.

The room looks nothing like your standard windowless detention room. Instead, it’s filled with lamps, decorations, and plush purple pillows. Misbehaving kids are encouraged to sit in the room and go through practices like breathing or meditation, helping them calm down and re-center. They are also asked to talk through what happened.

Mindful meditation has been around in some form or another for thousands of years. Recently, though, science has started looking at its effects on our minds and bodies, and it’s finding some interesting effects.

One study, for example, suggested that mindful meditation could give practicing soldiers a kind of mental armor against disruptive emotions, and it can improve memory too. Another suggested mindful meditation could improve a person’s attention span and focus.

Smartphones and teens

5418219441_021f82e512_oVox has a good article on the effects of smartphones on the brains of teenagers:

Is there anything that tells us there’s a causal link? That our media use behavior is actually altering our cognition and underlying neurological function or neurobiological processes? The answer is we have no idea. There’s no data.

The article talks about what data we have, the limitations, why the limitations matter, and what would fix it. Science is hard. Medicine and parents are in a tricky place as they have to make recommendations with imperfect data. The news is sensationalist.

Galahad wants to discount all science on this, of course. He might be an addict. (Take his phone away from him and he goes through the typical behaviors of an addict.) The non-causal link does say there is something going on with smartphones and kids, so limiting usage probably leads to better outcomes. Enough so, that it is worth at least trying.