Whenever I read through behavioral economics books, I really do feel like they should all be titled “Why We’re Stupid,” “Why Humans Suck at Life,” etc. (I’m not really sure, however, whether those titles would be a help of a hindrance from a marketing perspective.) It’s probably not surprising, then, that my new favorite web site is entitled “You Are Not So Smart: A Celebration of Self-Delusion.”
The site posts on the ways in which humans deviate from what economists would consider “perfectly rational,” (read, boring) and I think it both makes for an interesting read and is helpful from either a self-help or analysis perspective, depending on whether your role in the social sciences is that of a consumer or a producer. For example, the latest post is on the concept of confirmation bias:
The Misconception: Your opinions are the result of years of rational, objective analysis.
The Truth: Your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.
Have you ever had a conversation in which some old movie was mentioned, something like “The Golden Child” or maybe even something more obscure?
You laughed about it, quoted lines from it, wondered what happened to the actors you never saw again, and then you forgot about it.
You are flipping channels one night and all of the sudden you see “The Golden Child” is playing. Weird.
The next day you are reading a news story, and out of nowhere it mentions forgotten movies from the 1980s, and holy shit, three paragraphs about “The Golden Child.”
You see a trailer that night at the theater for a new Eddie Murphy movie, and then you see a billboard on the street promoting Charlie Murphy doing stand-up in town, and then one of your friends sends you a link to a post at TMZ showing recent photos of the actress from “The Golden Child.”
What is happening here? Is the universe trying to tell you something?
No. This is how confirmation bias works.
Psychologically, it’s hard to make confirmation bias go away, but it helps to at least be aware of it in that “knowing is half the battle” sort of way…plus, previous experience shows that even my readers are not immune to the phenomenon.
(Update: The site could also be titled “This is Why You’re Dumb,” and could even become part of the larger “This is Why You’re Fat” media empire.)