Episode 3: Know Thyself?

Episode 3: Know Thyself?

“What makes us happy? … Strangers to ourselves … Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 1) … Change someone’s behavior without them knowing … Predicting badly … Pursuit of happiness … Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 2) … The interview illusion … Heads or tails? … Heads question … Tails question … 10 questions … On campus … What do you think? … Uncut conversation with Richard Nisbett”
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  • Episode 3 - Know Thyself? > Strangers to ourselves > Strangers to ourselves
  • Episode 3 - Know Thyself? > Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 1) > Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 1)
  • Episode 3 - Know Thyself? > Predicting badly > Predicting badly
  • Episode 3 - Know Thyself? > Pursuit of happiness > Pursuit of happiness
  • Episode 3 - Know Thyself? > Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 2) > Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 2)
  • Episode 3 - Know Thyself? > The interview illusion > The interview illusion

Episode 3 – Know Thyself? > Strangers to ourselves > Strangers to ourselves

  • We’re going to see this week that people don’t have any real privileged access to their own memory, their own perception, and the determinants of our own behavior.
  • Now they set up a table at market on a busy Saturday morning with four pairs of stockings that labeled A, B, C and D, and this sign that said “Consumer Evaluation Survey: Which is the best quality?” Now they encouraged people to feel the stockings, and then they asked them to choose which pair they thought was the best quality.
  • Now what people didn’t realize was that the four pairs of stockings were identical, so they shouldn’t have been any more likely to pick one over the other.
  • That’s what you might think, but what actually happened was people picked pair A 12 percent of the time, pair B 17 percent of the time, pair C 31 percent of the time, and pair D 40 percent of the time.
  • Now Nisbett and Wilson did a follow-up experiment, where, again, they asked people to choose from these four pairs of identical stockings, and, again, people were more likely to choose those that were on the right, compared to the left.
  • So you ask people to do this, and then you say, “Why did you like this the best,” and they give you, “Well, the color is better. The feel…” They’re all identical, by the way, except that they looked slightly different.
  • I mean, either, “I didn’t understand the question,” or, “I’m dealing with a madman.” Now I think this makes clear that people had very little insight into the basis of their judgments and why they picked this particular stocking over another.

Episode 3 – Know Thyself? > Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 1) > Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 1)

  • Some of the work that’s come out recently about these priming effects, trivial little things, embarrassing that we’re affected by them.
  • It’s the fishy thing, the metaphor, because there are some countries that don’t have the metaphor: “There’s something fishy about this”.
  • Who knows what a rat smells like? I don’t know if there’s rat essence that you can spray in the air.
  • There is no such thing as awareness of cognitive process.
  • The thing I most want people to understand is that we solve problems-everything, from the most common everyday problem like, “How do I make up to Joe after my unpleasantness to him,” to, “How do I solve this professional problem that I’m dealing with?” Most of that goes on-first off, there’s no access to process at all.
  • Huge amounts we don’t know what’s in our head. The procedures that we use to solve problems are often completely opaque to us.
  • A psychologist whose name was N. R. F. Maier had people do a problem, solve a problem.
  • He said, “I want you to bring these cords together.” There were lots of things lying all around the room, and somebody would see something that they could use, an extension cord, so they’d tie the extension cord on one and pulled it over to the other-easy solution.
  • Maier says, “That’s great. That’s the solution. How did you come up with that?” No one ever gave him the answer-the correct answer.
  • There’s a writer for “The New Yorker” who has a wonderful account of how you write, how to do it.
  • The next time you sit down, there’s nothing, but if you actually do that, spend a few minutes, think about what the problem is, how you’re going to get this thing across, it’s been handed over to the unconscious and the unconscious is working on it 24 hours a day, no matter what you’re doing.
  • If three or four days in advance, I sit and wonder, “What are the best things that I want to make sure come out of the discussion here,” and just spend five or ten minutes on it, three days later when I start to do it, it’s like I’m taking it by dictation and they’re much better than I would otherwise have come up with.
  • I don’t know that I’ve ever convinced any students.
  • I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten it across.
  • I have a lot of examples now of this kind of thing that I think if you spend 20 or 30 minutes with people, they might really come to believe you and might be able to make much more use of their brain than they are.

Episode 3 – Know Thyself? > Predicting badly > Predicting badly

  • There’s one really good demonstration that we’re all guilty of, I think, and that’s something called the planning fallacy.
  • It’s an old idea actually developed Daniel Kahneman back in the ’70s, but it’s as you would expect: when there’s any sort of complex thing that we have to do in the future, we’re really bad at planning for it.
  • I think the mother of all planning disasters was right here in Australia at the Sydney Opera House.
  • I mean, that’s the large scale, but despite our best intentions to do something, to plan for this thing, an assignment, whether it be anything, we’re just horrible.
  • It’s like we only see the best situation that’s going to get us from point A to point B. I’m totally guilty of the planning fallacy.
  • I’m like, “Yes, I’m going to read on the plane, and I’m going to read on the beach. It’s going to be awesome,” and of course by the time the end of the holiday rolls by, I’ve read maybe a couple of chapters.
  • David Dunning, not just the planning fallacy, he provides a bunch of different examples.
  • Another one that’s kind of on that line of seeing yourself in the best frame, “I’m going to be this diligent scholar,” and so on, is something called the above average effect.
  • I’d like to think that we’re a little better than Geoff Norman lets on in terms of predicting how good of a driver we are or something.
  • Now, obviously, we’re teaching this stuff, so you’d like to think that we’re immune to this planning fallacy and above average effects and so on, but that’s not actually the case.
  • I’d like to think that we’re kind of immune to these sorts of effects and biases, but maybe I’m just being a little bit too idealistic.

Episode 3 – Know Thyself? > Pursuit of happiness > Pursuit of happiness

  • In fact we asked people at the beginning of this course some questions about happiness.
  • We told people at the start of this episode some things about some fictitious people, so for example, Jones, who earns 20,000 dollars a year, and Smith, who earns 100,000 dollars year; a couple of other people who had really close supervision at work, versus another person who sort of had free reign; a person who is married and someone else who is unmarried; someone who had really good health benefits and somebody else who didn’t.
  • We asked people to predict how happy these two people were, and what people did predict was that the people in the unfortunate situation would be completely miserable most of the time.
  • The people in the fortunate situation who had excellent benefits and who were earning far more money than they knew what to do with every year would be really, really happy.
  • The people in the seemingly unfortunate situations are just as happy as the people in the seemingly fortunate situations.
  • Happiness is exactly one example of that, so people in those two situations-I mean, we’re talking about fictitious people in this case, but people don’t really seem to take into account when something is going to make them happy or unhappy.
  • Now commuting longer is horrible for one’s happiness, right? Spending time in traffic is probably the worst thing that people can rate on a scale of happiness.

Episode 3 – Know Thyself? > Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 2) > Conversation with Richard Nisbett (Part 2)

  • They’d say, “I enjoyed brushing my teeth today.” Wilson and Dan Gilbert, his colleague, have a notion that we don’t understand how good our psychological immune system is, that is, ways we have of lifting ourselves up.
  • If somebody moves from the Midwest to California, but it’s a different job and he has to go to a small house and so on, “How do I…” He’s going to lose something, but he reduces dissonance by saying, “Who wants to take care of a big house like I had in the Midwest,” and, “The weather here just covers a multitude of sins,” and so on.
  • We’re very good at rationalizing, explaining away and making things better than we think we could.
  • It’s amazing how ignorant we are of things that are really important to us and how much we insist that we know why these things happened or would happen.
  • They were asked for a period of a month, maybe more, at the end of each day, “How good was your day? How happy were you? How satisfied with it were you?” Then they answered a number of other questions to evaluate what went on during the day, or just report what day of the week was it, how was their sex life that day, how did the work go, how much sleep did you get, et cetera.
  • Now at the end of all of this, you can see how much these things actually affected their mood, and you ask people, “By the way, we’d just be interested in knowing how much you think each of these things influenced your mood in general?” There was no correlation whatsoever between the actual impact of these things on people’s mood and people’s reports about the mood.
  • If instead of saying, “How much of these things affect you,” you would say, “Let’s take a hypothetical person-Jane. Tell me how you think each of these things would affect her?” Well, she gives the same answer that she would have given for herself.

Episode 3 – Know Thyself? > The interview illusion > The interview illusion

  • We think if we can spend ten minutes with a person, we would be able to predict exactly what kind of employee they will be “Yes, she was very confident. I think she will be able to lead a team very well,” or, “I’m not so sure about her. She was unsure of herself, and I don’t think she’s the best fit for this organization,” but the data say that interviews are entirely non-predictive of the performance, of job performance.
  • The thing you ask them is going to be consistent with what your expectations are.
  • “Are you a strong leader,” or you only ask them about the things that will confirm your beliefs.
  • If you asked every single applicant that comes in the door exactly the same things, then it gets a little better in terms of predicting their behavior and in terms of future performance.
  • Better would be to have-this is work by a colleague of mine, Kevin Eva, and what he’s doing is interviewing medical school applicants, who are already exceptionally good because by virtue of applying for medical school, but what they found is that if they asked people in different rooms and different scenarios-you have different people that are asking these same people different things completely independent of one another- then that is even better than a structured interview.
  • I think it’s also true that the best predictor of future behavior could be the past behavior yes, you could do a structured interview, but even better might be to get a sort of standard measures of people’s performance in the past.
  • Whether you’re trying to select a job applicant or even a roommate, how-in the past, have they paid their rent on time? In the past, have they had good performance evaluations and good outcomes?-things that it’s difficult to fake or control-it seems that those things, that those standard measures over a long period of time, are much better at predicting job performance or behaviour in the future.
  • So these grades that you’ve accumulated over a period of four years, it’s hard to fake that, right? On the other hand, if you have, say, a final exam-one high-stakes testing is what they call it-so if you have one exam, one critical exam, like the Graduate Record Examination or your LSATs or MCATs or, you know, all of these different sort of standardized exams, those really aren’t good predictors because you could be sick that day; you didn’t have much sleep; you had a bunch of things working against you.
  • At any given moment you have things working for you and things working against you yes, “I missed my alarm,” “I missed the bus,” “I didn’t eat breakfast,” all of these kind of things that just happen randomly work against you, and it produces the worst test-taking.
  • Your neighbors were up the night before, and they kept you up, and you just studied all the wrong things, it seems like.
  • Again, in every circumstance, when you take long-term behavior, then it’s very unlikely that everything is going to work for you or work against you all at once because there are many times for these things to rear their heads, but on a one-trial task like a single test yes, you’re at the whim of all sorts of things, which is why it’s not a very good predictor of future performance.
  • If we can’t, if we have no insight into our own behavior, into why we do the things that we do-and we saw in the last episode that the way that the world works may not be exactly as it seems, so seeing, hearing, remembering all involve considerable knowledge and so on and we’re being swayed by any sort of factors whatsoever, whether media reports and everything else-that’s a problem.
  • What are we going to do about that? I mean, if we don’t even know when it’s happening, and these things are actually operating, then what? I think we can get there, but it’s going to take a little bit of work.

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