Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Braindead Decisions

In most parts of the world, even in Canada, the day has only 24 hours. And there is so much to do in this world, so many books to read, so many stories to tell, so many photos to take, so many papers to write. And so little time in this one life. Every day, we have to set priorities, and make decisions.

My friends know me as a very impatient person. Basically, I don't like to waste time. Especially if the outside temperature is minus twenty-something. If someone can't make up their mind, I'm usually the one who points into one direction, thinking, any decision is better than no decision.

Last weekend, I was pretty braindead. I was so braindead I looked up the smiley for 'braindead'. Here it is:

%-6 (braindead)

Then I made the Jung Typology test, recalling that a seat neighbor on a long distance flight urged me to, after he realized I wouldn't entertain him. I shouldn't have taken the test. The outcome was:

    Your Type is INTJ
    Strength of the preferences in %:
    Introverted 100, Intuitive 75, Thinking 12, Judging 44.

The only reason why I'm writing this in my stupid BLOG is to show that I'm working on the 'Introverted' score *gnurg*.

Here is the INTJ profile. In case you belong to my ex-boyfriends you'll find yourself nodding and grinning. 'INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don't know.' A-ha. So-so. Well, currently I don't know what I meant to say. Oh yes, I meant to write something about decision making.

Today, I read at the SciAm blog Big Decision: Head or Gut? Hmm ... by Alex Haslam about the Science article

On Making the Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect
Ap Dijksterhuis, Maarten W. Bos, Loran F. Nordgren, Rick B. van Baaren
Science 17 February 2006, Vol. 311. no. 5763, pp. 1005 - 1007

In this article, the researchers examined the decisions of participants to pick purchasable items (cars, furniture) after being confronted with information of varying complexity. They made a distinction between conscious and unconscious thinkers, the latter simulated by distracting the participants and then asking them to make up their mind. They found (guess what) that more complex information makes decisions more complicated.

But more importantly, they also found that when the situation got more complex, the unconscious thinkers did better in choosing the best car. Reading the paper, it remains unclear to me in how far it was common sensus what they actually meant with 'best car'.

In further studies they rated the choice by 'postchoice satisfaction' with unspecified 'products'. What they found was that in not very complex situations, conscious thought works best, but 'the more people thought consciously about complex products, the less satisfied they were with their purchase'. Folks, I wonder if they asked the people again after their Walmart shelf fell apart. If you ask me, the only thing their research shows it that longer thinking raises your expectations, and you are more likely to be critical about your own choice, which in turn lowers 'postchoice satisfaction'.

Already the abstract of the Science article says, maybe deliberately provocative: 'choices in complex matters [...] should be left to unconscious thought', and they end with stating

    'There is no reason to assume that the deliberation-without-attention effect does not generalize to other types of choices -- political, managerial, or otherwise. In such cases, it should benefit the individual to think consciously about simple matters and to delegate thinking about more complex matters to the unconscious.'

I totally agree with Alex Haslam that contrary to what the researchers write, this conclusion can not be applied to situations where the notion of a 'satisfactory outcome' or 'best choice' is not as immediately apparent as in choosing a color for your car. As the worst of all possible consequences, he has this scary quotation by a well known world leader, from June 1, 2003, after having invaded Iraq:

    G.W.Bush: "I'm not very analytical. You know, I don't think a lot about why I do things."

Well. He definitely didn't think about whether this was a smart thing to say. Here's politics for beginners: The whole idea of representative democracy is the election of politicians that make the complex decisions based on their expertise. In a time where matters are as involved as today, we citizens just can't take care of every political decisions on our own, but we rely on those who we elect to do their best. That's what politicians get paid for. If I want 'to delegate thinking about more complex matters' - say, like social security, research funding, or invading foreign countries - 'to the unconscious' I can do that myself. Trust me, I'm INTJ, I possess the unusual trait combination of imagination and reliability, and I can reliably imagine things getting even worse if Science articles encourage stupidity.

It seems to me though in their final statement the researches might not have referred to the politicians themselves, but to those who make their X on election day. I seriously hope for the future of your country - whichever it is - that you don't leave your precious civil right to your easy to manipulate unconsciousness. What if the candidate's photo reminds you of your 8th grade teacher who once sneezed a giant booger on your notebook?

In this regard, it is especially interesting that it has been shown (see e.g. Fatal Attraction. The Effects of Mortality Salience on Evaluations of Charismatic, Task-Oriented, and Relationship-Oriented Leaders, Cohen et al, Psychological Science, Vol. 15 Issue 12 Page p. 846–851, 2004) that 'psychological terror', that is, thoughts about death and our own mortality, strongly influence our political opinions. Overall, thoughts of death let us tend to the politically conservative side.

The recent issue of Psychology Today has an article on that matter (The Ideological Animal, by Jay Dixit) which features one of the authors of the above findings, Sheldon Salomon. In this article they don't explicitly talk about conscious and unconscious decisions, but I guess you can easily see the connections:

    [...] is there any way we can overcome our easily manipulated fears and become the informed and rational thinkers democracy demands?

    To test this, Solomon and his colleagues prompted two groups to think about death and then give opinions about a pro-American author and an anti-American one. As expected, the group that thought about death was more pro-American than the other. But the second time, one group was asked to make gut-level decisions about the two authors, while the other group was asked to consider carefully and be as rational as possible. The results were astonishing. In the rational group, the effects of mortality salience were entirely eliminated. Asking people to be rational was enough to neutralize the effects of reminders of death [...].

    "People have two modes of thought," concludes Solomon. "There's the intuitive gut-level mode, which is what most of us are in most of the time. And then there's a rational analytic mode, which takes effort and attention."

    The solution, then, is remarkably simple. The effects of psychological terror on political decision making can be eliminated just by asking people to think rationally. Simply reminding us to use our heads, it turns out, can be enough to make us do it.

So, I ask you kindly, if it comes to politics, think rationally.

To summarize: unconscious politics is just plain Bu**sh**.

Now I'm going to work on the 'Thinking' score.


  1. Ah...the Myers-Briggs: I am also INTJ.
    We are presumably the Mastermind types:
    This means, of course, that I can't relate to making decisions on 'gut feeling' at all. I'm not sure I ascribe much more significance to this stuff than horoscopes, though.

  2. INTP here.


    "If Thinking can desist, the INTP is free to brainstorm, calling up the perceptions of the unconscious (i.e., intuition) which are mirrored in patterns in the realm of matter, time and space."

    Ignoring the second half of the statement which manifestly does not make sense, it is actually true that I consider intuition crucial and rely on it often. However my intuition runs on the facts and constructs fed to it by rational thought and it's results need to be checked at the end.

    This study seems like a more scientific version of Malcom Gladwell's Blink which made the rounds in the Blogosphere a year ago. A neat idea without any substance that is intuitively at first plausible being celebrated as the next disruptive insight into how we all are going to be happy until, half a year later, it is forgotten and the next neat idea comes along.

  3. Hi Candance,

    Mastermind, eh? *lol* I find this test mostly amusing, how well can one describe a person with four letters? But from the psychology stuff that I know it is one of the models that is (for my eye) one of the more useful and scientific ones. Despite all the vague statements that could be made about everybody (INTJs can rise to management positions when they are willing to invest time in marketing their abilities as well as enhancing them) part of the summary I found fits surprisingly well. E.g. both profiles mention lawyers - now, I never even remotely considered becoming a lawyer, but it's been repeatedly suggested to me during college. I am reasonably sure I would be a terrible lawyer, but I'd really like to know why people think otherwise (e.g. how well does being a lawyer go with my alleged disregard for authority )?

    Hi fh,

    perceptions of the unconscious (i.e., intuition) which are mirrored in patterns in the realm of matter, time and space.

    *lol* this sentence is really completely nonsensical ;-) Reading your profile I think, I'd hire you :-)



  4. I took that one a few years ago and I'm INFJ.


    This type has strong intuition/gut feelings, and I tend to think that "gut intelligence" is variable just like "intellectual intelligence." Sometimes the gut intelligence tells someone the same thing that analytical, intellectual intelligence.

    From the link above:

    "Introverted intuitives, INFJs enjoy a greater clarity of perception of inner, unconscious processes than all but their INTJ cousins."

    Could be part of our affinity? :-)

    Bee, you seem to have an interest in psychology, and I wonder if you could somehow apply your physics to it?

    Very interesting post!

  5. Hi Rae Ann,

    INFJs are champions of the oppressed and downtrodden. They often are found in the wake of an emergency, rescuing those who are in acute distress.

    Ah, INFJ :-) The world needs more of your kind.

    you seem to have an interest in psychology, and I wonder if you could somehow apply your physics to it?

    The problem is I have an interest in almost everything - with possible exception of the Superbowl. I do it the other way round, I don't apply physics to it, but apply it to physics. You wouldn't believe how helpful psychology is when you have to reply to a nasty referee report ;-)



  6. "if it comes to politics, think rationally"

    From my humble point view, rather than being rational when it comes to politics, being realistic and practical is more important. According to my experience, many physicists, in particular theoreticians appear to be so rational when they are talking about politics that they treat politics as something like theoretical physics, on which they can draw conclusions simply by daydreaming in their offices, taking hype seriously but disregarding historical and social facts. As a consequence, their words turn out to be b.s.

  7. From my humble point view, rather than being rational when it comes to politics, being realistic and practical is more important.

    From my humble point of view, being rational about future perspectives includes taking into account reality. I agree with you that some theoretical physicists don't pay enough attention to 'the real world out there' but my notion of being rational was not meant to be daydreaming.

    Besides this, I don't mind daydreaming in my office though, realistic or not ;-)


  8. Right! Then no problem at all.

  9. I take these tests anymore and almost always come out 50/50 on everything.

    I think I'm beyond typing myself. I act introverted most of the time, simply because it's my preference. But I can be extroverted when I need to be. I guess that's the only thing in the test that even makes sense to me. Otherwise, I go between the choices very evenly.

  10. Identify the problem. Ignore extraneous inputs. Solve. People problems start with seduction and do not exclude homicide.

    Good research is ill-defined, often requiring leaps of faith to get airborn. Jumping off a cliff is better than into a brick wall. Don't fear the waste crock either way.

    Uncle Al has volunteered his delicate mind for "evaluation." Almost made it into a psychology PhD thesis!
    1) 50 (+/-)3% on all MMPI scales and dreadfully similar on everything else.
    2) Chapel Hill had its scoring boxes serviced.
    3) The PhD candidate did a project involving rats.

    Add two ejections from EEG experiments... Psycholgists - what do they usefully know about anything interesting?

  11. hi bee...
    your blog is not stupid. it's almost cool ;)

    and Bush also is not as dumb as he appears to be. That's just his 'people's man' image. actually he's quite smart (for a politician)



  12. 'dumb' is as ambiguous a word as 'smart'. I like to say he can't be so dumb if he made it president of the United States, but that doesn't mean this kind of 'smartness' qualifies him to unconsciously make wise decisions for the future of the whole globe.

    where is Plato? Didn't Plato write something about the best leaders being those who don't want to lead?

    besides this: thanks for the nice words about the-stupid-blog ;-) I've never been anywhere remotely near by cool, so this is definitely a compliment, and a smart one in addition



  13. you're welcome:)

    I agree that he may not be the best choice for a leader , that he's unscroupolous, without conscience itd, but all of his clownish demeanor is just a facade. he's really smart, and I don't mean just "nobody who made it to be a president is not stupid". no, I mean smart, shrewd, clever and cunning, in fact downright brilliant. but that's just my opinion, and who am I?
    best :)


  14. and who am I?

    you're the first commenter on my blog who has ever called Bush 'brilliant'

    I'd call him 'dangerous'

  15. yes, well nobody said that the 'best among us' actually rule. They should , as Plato suggested, but reality these days is a bit different, unfortunatelly

  16. It's more comforting to think that Bush is brilliant and using his dumb image to manipulate rather than that the social and political processes are broken to such a degree that they allow the utterly incompetent to come to power.

    It also absolves us from the difficult task to scrutinize said processes, and therefore is lazy and dangerous IMO.

    "Reading your profile I think, I'd hire you :-)"

    Can I get back to you on that once I finish my PhD? ;)

  17. B:where is Plato? Didn't Plato write something about the best leaders being those who don't want to lead?

    You called, I answered:)

    There are always better way to lead, that are in the back ground. Who is to "contrive anything" for the future rulers?

    The Republic: "You must contrive for your future rulers another and a better life than that of a ruler and then you may have a well-ordered State; for only in the State which offers this will they rule who are truly rich not in silver and gold but in virtue and wisdom which are the true blessings of life."

    Well B what are we do with the "IQ"(Intellgence Quotion) and "EQ" (Emotive Quotion)?

    Maybe these are just as dumb to categorize each person to a label?

    Do they too rest on a "synoptic idea" about how people are to be measured, and we might just say, they are "broken pots" or not? :)

  18. Hey Bee, great post! I enjoyed a lot reading it. You made me laugh twice, with the braindead smiley and with
    "The only reason why I'm writing this in my stupid BLOG is to show that I'm working on the 'Introverted' score *gnurg*.", LOL #2!

    And you also made me sick with the quote from Bu**sh**. LOL #3 btw.

    I object that blogging may be a way to cure introversion, though. Actually it aggravates it :)

    Don't worry about it, you're doing great!

    PS about being braindead: your word verification below this window always terrifies me - I am constantly on the lookout for losing my comment due to some mistake in spelling out the green letters! Can't you really deal with a little bit of spam ? :)


    PS: there. I failed it, now I am being asked to type in more random letter. Aargh.


  19. Hi T,

    nice to see you around :-)

    your word verification below this window always terrifies me - I am constantly on the lookout for losing my comment due to some mistake in spelling out the green letters! Can't you really deal with a little bit of spam ? :)

    I too just hate the word verification. I turned it on like 6 months ago when the number of spam comments reached 20 per day. I haven't tried recently to turn it off, but the problem is that once you slip deleting spam the problem multiplies because all the crap shows up in the full text search. So, I apologize, but I'll leave it on. Btw, the comment doesn't get lost when you mistype. Best,


  20. Great blog. Visit my science related blogs some time if you want!

    Micro Images

  21. Myers-Briggs descriptions aren't much better than astrology. Descriptions are too vague to be of any validity.


  22. Myers-Briggs descriptions aren't much better than astrology. Descriptions are too vague to be of any validity.

    Sure. As I said above, how well can you describe a person by four letters? It's probably tempting (who wouldn't want to understand the world) but totally stupid to think one can accurately judge people after taking the test. But I'd think it does make a useful classification scheme in a general sense just to give names to common personality features. Think the psychoanalyst talking to a colleague about one of his cases doesn't constantly have to refer to the-guy-who-does-so-and-so. That's not to mean its a static classification, neither is the 'profile' you can read online remotely complete.

    I am always stunned how it happens that people take a grain of truth and usefulness, extrapolate it 19 orders of magnitude, and still expect it to apply.



  23. Hi all,

    The war in Irak was W-R-O-N-G!
    Bush's policy is W-R-O-N-G!

    However my feelings towards all this mess is still ambiguous...

    In this case a small lump of doubt is nagging inside me...

    Would the world be better of doing nothing about the islamist, jihad issue.

    Europes' only answer would only be talk,talk,talk until everything is too late.

    Lets not forget, that the WAST majority of killings in Irak today is Irakies killing Irakies, Muslims butchering Muslims.

    Evil was eminent!just below the surface, and the Americans cracked it all vide open.

    This clip tells about the real danger:

    what happens is wrong, many things could have been done better...or shouldn't have happened in the first place, BUT!:
    are we better of doing nothing (i mean ineficiently) as europeans?




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