Imagine you've been accused of a crime. The police say that you stole something, but the evidence is murky. So the judge comes up with a creative solution: He decrees that you must plunge your arm into a caldron of boiling water. If you come away unhurt, you will go free; if your arm is disfigured, you will go to prison. ... This is what happened in Europe for hundreds of years. During the Middle Ages, if a court couldn't determine whether a defendant was guilty, it often turned the case over to a priest who would administer an "ordeal" using boiling water or a smoking-hot iron bar. The idea was that God, who knew the truth, would miraculously deliver from harm any suspect who had been wrongly accused. ... As a means of establishing guilt, the medieval ordeal sounds barbaric and nonsensical. But according to Peter Leeson, an economist at George Mason University, it was surprisingly effective—because it let the garden weed itself. ... how can a Nigerian scammer tell who is gullible and who isn't? He can't. Gullibility is, in this case, an unobservable trait. But the scammer could invite the gullible people to reveal themselves. ... How? By sending out such a ridiculous letter—including prominent mentions of Nigeria—that only a gullible person would take it seriously. Anyone with an ounce of sense or experience would immediately trash the email. "The scammer wants to find the guy who hasn't heard of it," Dr. Herley says. "Anybody who doesn't fall off their chair laughing is exactly who he wants to talk to." Here's how Dr. Herley put it in a research paper: "The goal of the e-mail is not so much to attract viable users as to repel the nonviable ones, who greatly outnumber them."
A Harvard English major wrote The Inner Game of Tennis in 1972. A million copies later, its ideas are still some of the most influential in sports — and beyond, taken seriously by actors, politicians, and even sex researchers. What’s its secret? Maybe that there is no secret.
Thinking about it makes you a better person, not a worse one … “THE love of money”, St Paul memorably wrote to his protégé Timothy, “is the root of all evil.” “All” may be putting it a bit strongly, but dozens of psychological studies have indeed shown that people primed to think about money before an experiment are more likely to lie, cheat and steal during the course of that experiment. … Another well-known aphorism, ascribed to Benjamin Franklin, is “time is money”. If true, that suggests a syllogism: that the love of time is a root of evil, too. But a paper just published in Psychological Science by Francesca Gino of Harvard and Cassie Mogilner of the University of Pennsylvania suggests precisely the opposite.
A remote island, an Arctic expedition, a one-way trip to Mars – what drives our urge to explore the farthest reaches? ... People tend to go out to the edges of things. Which things, exactly, depends on the era: 1.8 million years ago, our early ancestors moved overland out of Africa. Thousands of years ago, early Polynesians sailed outrigger canoes over the horizon, eventually populating the entire Pacific. In the late 19th century, nearly every year a new batch of European explorers headed northwards, throwing themselves into the jaws of the ice. Today, the planet’s atmosphere seems to be the edge of choice. It is not clear how many people applied to be on Mars One’s much-discussed mission to colonise the Red Planet, but what is clear is that a one-way ticket away from Earth sets some people’s eyes alight. ... That the urge to explore is glorious and universal is one of today’s most persistent romances. It has yielded great rewards for the people who go and for their societies; leaving the known is a fast way to learn new things. ... Yet exploration is not as obvious a thing to revere as you might think. It is often absurd. ... The tendency to become restless in the absence of something new they dubbed ‘sensation-seeking’. ... The key, though, is that there must also be people who don’t want to ramble, who turn their talents and energies to exploiting, to the best of their abilities, the place where they have settled. If there are too many explorers, the group is likely to starve.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health. ... Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma. ... The dangers that these trends pose to scholarship and to the quality of American universities are significant; we could write a whole essay detailing them. But in this essay we focus on a different question: What are the effects of this new protectiveness on the students themselves? Does it benefit the people it is supposed to help? What exactly are students learning when they spend four years or more in a community that polices unintentional slights, places warning labels on works of classic literature, and in many other ways conveys the sense that words can be forms of violence that require strict control by campus authorities, who are expected to act as both protectors and prosecutors? ... social media has also fundamentally shifted the balance of power in relationships between students and faculty; the latter increasingly fear what students might do to their reputations and careers by stirring up online mobs against them.
Exposing the reasons we fail to understand the minds of others. ... No human being succeeds in life alone. Getting along and getting ahead requires coordinating with others, either in cooperation as friends, spouses, teammates, and coworkers, or in competition as adversaries, opponents, or rivals. Arguably our brain’s greatest skill is its ability to think about the minds of others to understand them better. ... the ways in which our sixth sense works well, but not nearly as well as we might think. The truth is that you are likely to understand much less about the minds of your family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, competitors, and fellow citizens than you would guess. ... One of the biggest barriers to understanding others is excessive egocentrism. You can’t see into the mind of others because you can’t get over yourself. You can’t overcome your own experiences, beliefs, attitudes, emotions, knowledge, and visual perspective to recognize that others may view the world differently. Copernicus may have removed the Earth from the center of the universe, but every person on this planet is still at the center of his or her own universe. ... The important point is to relax a bit when others don’t seem to appreciate you as much as you think they should. ... The point here is that few of us are quite the celebrity that our own experience suggests we might be; nor are we under as much careful scrutiny from others as we might expect. ... Knowledge is a curse because once you have it, you can’t imagine what it’s like not to possess it.
I made a commitment to take ownership of my life. I started to get more connected, and then I just kept going with tangible daily goals. It wasn’t about a destination. Getting back to number one was something I was pretty convinced I’d never achieve. But that journey from rock bottom to the summit a second time was a great accomplishment for me. Without it I don’t know if I would believe in myself as much as I do when I face other challenges now. ... regardless of what the score is, the most important point is that next point. ... A great rival is like a mirror. You have to look at yourself, acknowledge where you fall short, make adjustments, and nurture the areas where you overachieve. There were times my rivals brought out the best in me; there were times they brought out the worst. They probably helped me win things I never would have otherwise; they also cost me titles. I don’t know how you quantify what it would have been like without a rival like Pete Sampras. I would have won more. But I think I would have been worse without him.
Humans are social and generally want to be part of the crowd. Studies of social conformity suggest that the group’s view may shape how we perceive a situation. Those individuals who remain independent show activity in a part of the brain associated with fear. ... We are natural pattern seekers and see them even where none exist. Our brains are keen to make causal inferences, which can lead to faulty conclusions. ... Standard economic theory assumes that one discount rate allows us to translate value in the future to value in the present, and vice versa. Yet humans often use a high discount rate in the short term and a low one in the long term. This may be because different parts of the brain mediate short- and long-term decisions. ... We suffer losses more than we enjoy gains of comparable size. But the magnitude of loss aversion varies across the population and even for each individual based on recent experience. As a result, we sometimes forgo attractive opportunities because the fear of loss looms too large.
Before he became a novelist, Matthews spent 33 years in the Operations Directorate, the clandestine wing of the CIA. For three decades he was undercover overseas, collecting secrets to help America fight the Cold War and the global war on terror. He began as a junior case officer pounding the streets of Iron Curtain-era Europe and rose to be chief or deputy chief at seven different CIA stations, winning a vaunted Intelligence Medal of Merit along the way. There’s a long tradition of British novelists — le Carré, Fleming, Cumming — with real-life intelligence backgrounds. But Matthews is the only American spy writer who spent most of his life as a spy. ... "Espionage is the world’s second-oldest profession. And what it has in common with the first profession is: Someone’s going to get it in the end." ... "You can tell a lot about a person from the way they eat," Matthews says, digging in. The way they hold their knife and fork, how well they hold their liquor. It’s all part of what he calls "opening the human envelope" — the psychological process of getting to know a potential source and exploiting his vulnerabilities. He says the process can take years, and the success rate is low. ... To recruit someone is to get him or her to agree to something absolutely illogical: committing treason against their country. So there is a modicum of being a little sneaky, a little manipulative, and sometimes a little cruel."
Is every healthy child a potential prodigy? ... Before Laszlo Polgár conceived his children, before he even met his wife, he knew he was going to raise geniuses. He’d started to write a book about it. He saw it moves ahead. ... By their first meeting, a dinner and walk around Budapest in 1965, Laszlo told Klara, his future bride, how his kids’ education would go. He had studied the lives of geniuses and divined a pattern: an adult singularly focused on the child’s success. He’d raise the kids outside school, with intense devotion to a subject, though he wasn’t sure what. "Every healthy child," as he liked to say, "is a potential genius." Genetics and talent would be no obstacle. And he’d do it with great love. ... Computers have long since outclassed humans in chess; they’re vital in training, but their recommended moves can seem quixotic. "No, it’s very human," Polgár assured them. The students, most of them grandmasters, grew quiet, searching the more than 100,000 positional situations they had ingrained over their lifetimes, exploring possible moves and the future problems they implied — moving down the decision tree. It’s the knot at the heart of chess: Each turn, you must move; when you move, a world of potential vanishes. ... "It’s important to look at top performers to look at the limits of human abilities — the maximum adaptations people can undergo." By looking to the best, we can understand the rest.
These kids might never read a map or stop at a gas station to ask directions, nor have they ever seen their parents do so. They will never need to remember anyone's phone number. Their late-night dorm-room arguments over whether Peyton or Eli Manning won more Super Bowl MVPs will never go unsettled for more than a few seconds. They may never have to buy a flashlight. Zac is one of the first teenagers in the history of teenagers whose adult personality will be shaped by which apps he uses, how frequently he texts, and whether he's on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or Snapchat. Or whatever comes after Snapchat. Clicking like, clicking download, clicking buy, clicking send—each is an infinitesimal decision in the course of the modern American teenager's life. They do this, collectively, millions of times a minute. But together these tiny decisions make up an alarming percentage of their lives. This generation is the first for whom the freedom to express every impulse to the entire world is as easy as it used to be to open your mouth and talk to a friend. ... You hear two opinions from experts on the topic of what happens when kids are perpetually exposed to technology. One: Constant multitasking makes teens work harder, reduces their focus, and screws up their sleep. Two: Using technology as a youth helps students adapt to a changing world in a way that will benefit them when they eventually have to live and work in it. Either of these might be true. More likely, they both are.
Athletes and the people who coach them may be unfamiliar with stoicism, but they are stoics. They endure pain or hardship without feeling or complaint. They control what they can control. They talk ad nauseam about controlling only what they can control. They’re on to Cincinnati. They stay in the moment, and take things one game at a time. And by doing that, they are voicing a philosophy—living a philosophy, training under a philosophy—without knowing of or understanding it. ... “Stoicism as a philosophy is really about the mental game,” Holiday said. “It’s not a set of ethics or principles. It’s a collection of spiritual exercises designed to help people through the difficulty of life. To focus on managing emotion; specifically, non-helpful emotion.” ... this was the exact kind of stuff they were exploring—not how to hit better, or pitch better, but how to sleep better and travel better and recover better and think better. That made the connection between the book and the sports world clearer. ... “Stoicism is the distinction between what you can control and what you can’t,” Holiday said.
Intelligence quotient (IQ) and rationality quotient (RQ) are distinct. Think of IQ as the horsepower of an engine and RQ as the output. ... We share the results of a classic test of calibration, which is an important facet of rationality. Well calibrated people know what they know and know what they don’t know. ... Consistent with past research, we find that participants overestimate their accuracy as their subjective probability estimates tend to be higher than the actual percent correct. ... Investors and executives can improve their rationality by keeping score, asking about others, using base rates, and updating probabilities. ... A large-scale forecasting project has shown that the best forecasters use inductive and numerical reasoning, have cognitive control and a growth mindset, and are open-minded and effective working as part of a team.
Kase says the tape works by lifting the epidermis of the skin, allowing blood to flow more easily to an injured area, improving the circulation and reducing inflammation and pain along the way, effectively making incremental changes to fascia over time. But studies of the tape have failed to show any significant benefits or changes in muscle strength and performance. Despite this, the popularity of the tape continues to grow and many who use it for day-to-day activities, like running, maintain that it has therapeutic value. ... In sports, where every athlete is searching for a competitive advantage, or to find a way to lengthen their careers, Kinesio Tape is another shot in the dark, but one that doesn’t come in the form of a pill or injection. The tape operates under the idea that it can improve performance, and even if its physiological effects are limited, that psychological boost might be all that really matters.
Hard realities in these three fields are inconvenient for vested interests and because the day of reckoning can always be seen as “later,” politicians can always find a way to postpone necessary actions, as can we all: “Because markets are efficient, these high prices must be reflecting the remarkable potential of the internet”; “the U.S. housing market largely reflects a strong U.S. economy”; “the climate has always changed”; “how could mere mortals change something as immense as the weather”; “we have nearly infinite resources, it is only a question of price”; “the infinite capacity of the human brain will always solve our problems.” ... Having realized the seriousness of this bias over the last few decades, I have noticed how hard it is to effectively pass on a warning for the same reason: No one wants to hear this bad news. So a while ago I came up with a list of propositions that are widely accepted by an educated business audience. They are widely accepted but totally wrong. It is my attempt to bring home how extreme is our preference for good news over accurate news. When you have run through this list you may be a little more aware of how dangerous our wishful thinking can be in investing and in the much more important fields of resource (especially food) limitations and the potentially life-threatening risks of climate damage. Wishful thinking and denial of unpleasant facts are simply not survival characteristics.
This memo is my attempt to send the markets to the psychiatrist’s couch, and an exploration of what might be learned there. ... One of the most notable behavioral traits among investors is their tendency to overlook negatives or understate their significance for a while, and then eventually to capitulate and overreact to them on the downside. ... “Everyone knew” for years that the Chinese economy had been overstimulated with cheap financing, and that this had led to excessive investment in fixed assets. … One of the most significant factors keeping investors from reaching appropriate conclusions is their tendency to assess the world with emotionalism rather than objectivity. Their failings take two primary forms: selective perception and skewed interpretation. ... The bottom line is that investor psychology rarely gives equal weight to both favorable and unfavorable developments. Likewise, investors’ interpretation of events is usually biased by their emotional reaction to whatever is going on at the moment. ... in the real world, things generally fluctuate between “pretty good” and “not so hot.” But in the world of investing, perception often swings from “flawless” to “hopeless.” ... There is a general sense among my colleagues that investors have gone from evaluating securities based on the attractiveness of their yield (with company fundamentals viewed optimistically) to judging them on the basis of the likely recovery in a restructuring (with fundamentals viewed pessimistically).
There is no universally accepted definition of boredom. But whatever it is, researchers argue, it is not simply another name for depression or apathy. It seems to be a specific mental state that people find unpleasant — a lack of stimulation that leaves them craving relief, with a host of behavioural, medical and social consequences. ... Researchers hope to turn such hints into a deep understanding of what boredom is, how it manifests in the brain and how it relates to factors such as self-control. ... The scientific study of boredom dates back to at least 1885, when the British polymath Francis Galton published a short note in Nature on 'The Measure of Fidget' — his account of how restless audience members behaved during a scientific meeting. But decades passed with only a few people taking a serious interest in the subject.
As self-help workshops go, Applied Rationality’s is not especially accessible. The center’s three founders — Julia Galef, Anna Salamon and Smith — all have backgrounds in science or math or both, and their curriculum draws heavily from behavioral economics. Over the course of the weekend, I heard instructors invoke both hyperbolic discounting (a mathematical model of how people undervalue long-term rewards) and prospect theory (developed by the behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky to capture how people inaccurately weigh risky probabilities). But the premise of the workshop is simple: Our minds, cobbled together over millenniums by that lazy craftsman, evolution, are riddled with bad mental habits. ... Some of these problems are byproducts of our brain’s reward system. ... logical errors may be easy to spot in others, the group says, they’re often harder to see in ourselves. The workshop promised to give participants the tools to address these flaws, which, it hinted, are almost certainly worse than we realize. ... Most self-help appeals to us because it promises real change without much real effort, a sort of fad diet for the psyche. ... CFAR’s focus on science and on tiresome levels of practice can seem almost radical. It has also generated a rare level of interest among data-driven tech people and entrepreneurs who see personal development as just another optimization problem, if a uniquely central one. Yet, while CFAR’s methods are unusual, its aspirational promise — that a better version of ourselves is within reach — is distinctly familiar. The center may emphasize the benefits that will come to those who master the techniques of rational thought, like improved motivation and a more organized inbox, but it also suggests that the real reward will be far greater, enabling users to be more intellectually dynamic and nimble. ... CFAR’s original mandate was to give researchers the mental tools to overcome their unconscious assumptions. ... What makes CFAR novel is its effort to use those same principles to fix personal problems: to break frustrating habits, recognize self-defeating cycles and relentlessly interrogate our own wishful inclinations and avoidant instincts.
Words have power, especially in meetings. A new study from MIT’s Sloan School of Management finds that saying “yeah”, “give”, “start” and even “meeting” can boost a person’s persuasive powers among co-workers. … Statisticians Cynthia Rudin and Been Kim studied 95 meetings for the vocabulary used in proposals that were accepted by the group. They concluded that the most persuasive words are those that build consensus. … “Yeah” signals agreement with a previous idea, the authors posit. Using the word “start” in sentences like “I think we should start with the basics” is useful for building early alliances early; group participants want to appear interested in being productive. The word “give” indicates some benefit to the group.
To be an active investor, you must believe in market inefficiency to get opportunities and in market efficiency for those opportunities to turn into profits. ... The Mr. Market metaphor is very powerful because it makes an abstract idea concrete, encouraging an appropriate way to think about markets. ... One way to animate Mr. Market is to consider the wisdom of crowds. What’s key is that crowds are wise under some conditions and mad when any of those conditions are violated. ... Diversity breakdowns, which can happen for sociological as well as technical reasons, lead to extremes. ... Look for cases where uniform belief has led to a mispricing of expectations and hence a way to make money.
The internet has spawned subtle forms of influence that can flip elections and manipulate everything we say, think and do ... Most of us have heard of at least one of these methods: subliminal stimulation, or what Packard called ‘subthreshold effects’ – the presentation of short messages that tell us what to do but that are flashed so briefly we aren’t aware we have seen them. In 1958, propelled by public concern about a theatre in New Jersey that had supposedly hidden messages in a movie to increase ice cream sales, the National Association of Broadcasters – the association that set standards for US television – amended its code to prohibit the use of subliminal messages in broadcasting. ... Subliminal stimulation is probably still in wide use in the US – it’s hard to detect, after all, and no one is keeping track of it – but it’s probably not worth worrying about. ... what would happen if new sources of control began to emerge that had little or no competition? And what if new means of control were developed that were far more powerful – and far more invisible – than any that have existed in the past? And what if new types of control allowed a handful of people to exert enormous influence not just over the citizens of the US but over most of the people on Earth? ... It might surprise you to hear this, but these things have already happened. ... The shift we had produced, which we called the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (or SEME, pronounced ‘seem’), appeared to be one of the largest behavioural effects ever discovered.
Our data-saturated age enables us to examine our work habits and office quirks with a scrutiny that our cubicle-bound forebears could only dream of. Today, on corporate campuses and within university laboratories, psychologists, sociologists and statisticians are devoting themselves to studying everything from team composition to email patterns in order to figure out how to make employees into faster, better and more productive versions of themselves. ... Five years ago, Google — one of the most public proselytizers of how studying workers can transform productivity — became focused on building the perfect team. In the last decade, the tech giant has spent untold millions of dollars measuring nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives. Google’s People Operations department has scrutinized everything from how frequently particular people eat together (the most productive employees tend to build larger networks by rotating dining companions) to which traits the best managers share (unsurprisingly, good communication and avoiding micromanaging is critical; more shocking, this was news to many Google managers). ... No matter how researchers arranged the data, though, it was almost impossible to find patterns — or any evidence that the composition of a team made any difference. ... kept coming across research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on what are known as ‘‘group norms.’ ... Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team. ... noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ ... Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. ... to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations.
All of her reactions, and her answers to the questions Motte asked as Megan used the site, went into a growing database. Expedia, the parent company of more than a dozen travel-oriented brands in addition to Expedia.com, is obsessed with figuring out how to make booking travel online more intuitive, more efficient, and more enjoyable. That means, among other things, understanding the psychodrama of trip planning: the shifting desires and paralyzing wealth of choices, the unsettling gyrations in room rates and ticket prices, the competing demands of family members and budgets and schedules, the need to balance the thirst for adventure against the fear of Zika virus in Latin America or Islamic State in Europe. ... The goal of Expedia’s usability researchers is not only to make Expedia’s various sites and mobile apps more efficient but also to make them an extension of the vacation fantasies that are always running in the back of our heads. ... What distinguishes Expedia is its dedication to understanding the psyche of the modern travel planner. That may be most apparent in the Usability Lab, but much of it happens on the sites themselves, as the company relentlessly tests new ideas about look and feel and function. ... each of Expedia’s brands has its own technology and marketing teams, and they’re encouraged to set their own course. They all benefit from the massive inventory of hotel rooms and plane tickets and the financial resources and technological firepower of the parent company. ... Two-thirds of the A/B tests Expedia runs show no effect or a negative effect, and most of the successful ones are only marginally so.
To get to ReSTART you can either ruin your life by playing video games 20 hours a day or you can take Route 202 15 minutes south from downtown Redmond. The road runs between stands of pine trees so tall that they register as dark green canyon walls. The whole landscape, once you get clear of the strip malls and self-storage facilities, feels damp, forested, vaguely Jurassic. ... has treated something like 200 people. A typical stay lasts between 45 and 90 days, and costs $26,000 (expensive-sounding, but typical for live-in rehab of any type). Upon arrival patients must surrender all digital devices. Nearly every ReSTART patient is a male between the ages of 18 and 28. ... video games are the meth of the digitally addicted world: wildly popular and horribly destructive. It isn't that video games are so different from other online fixations, the founders of ReSTART believe, it's just that they're more extreme. The devout social-media user might worry what people think of the witty “character” he plays on Twitter; Callum cared so much about the fate of his World of Warcraft alter ego—a tall blue-haired elf he named Voga—that he adopted the schedule of a Navy SEAL.
Should we make decisions based on intuition and emotion, or should we make decisions more rationally, with data, analytics, and numbers? The best process for making decisions under pressure is to use the data and numbers to inform our intuition. In addition, leaders must recognize and avoid falling prey to a number of mind tricks and biases. Power dynamics can also lead to poor decisions, and leaders do best to pursue an inquiry-based—rather than advocacy-based—approach. ... When making decisions under pressure, there are four tensions. Any decision in an organization generally has an ethical issue, a strategic issue, a financial issue, and a legal issue. Sometimes, there is tension among those issues. What makes perfect sense strategically might not make sense legally, or what makes the best sense financially might not make sense ethically. Part of the decision-making process is having the ability to recognize and manage the fundamental tensions that exist in most of the decisions we face. ... The way to do that is by answering three questions. First, how do I motivate and encourage the people and the organization to be aligned with what we are trying to achieve? Second, operationally, when we are under threat, how do I make sure that the business will be able to continue during these threatening circumstances? Third, how do I communicate the decision that I am about to make?