An excellent book by Daniel Kahnemann, Thinking, Fast And Slow has brought into mainstream discussion the insights that psychological researchers have developed about the automated subconscious mind (called system 1 in Kahnemann's book) versus the rational conscious mind (system 2). We make a lot of mistakes by relying on the (rather flawed) heuristics that system 1 uses to very rapidly reach conclusions about problems the mind tries to solve. We could perform more effectively if we could better identify when we should put system 2 to work and if we could become more aware of when system 1 is basically planting ideas that system 2 incorrectly decides to accept.
But we do not have the mental capacity to solve all problems using system 2. We train our minds to apply techniques automatically (e.g. you don't pay that much attention to tying your shoe laces). We basically drill in skills to allow us to do things below the level of the conscious mind and use habits (and that link refers to Charles Duhigg's new book The Power Of Habit which is also on my Kindle waiting to be read). Our many habits help us to lighten our cognitive load so the conscious mind can (hopefully) focus mainly on what it is most needed for.
Turns out, there's some evidence that for some types of guess work system 1 actually does a better job than system 2 in trying to predict what will happen.
The latest demonstration of this effect comes from the lab of Michael Pham at Columbia Business School. The study involved asking undergraduates to make predictions about eight different outcomes, from the Democratic presidential primary of 2008 to the finalists of American Idol. They forecast the Dow Jones and picked the winner of the BCS championship game. They even made predictions about the weather.
Here’s the strange part: although these predictions concerned a vast range of events, the results were consistent across every trial: people who were more likely to trust their feelings were also more likely to accurately predict the outcome.
When to trust your intuition? Click thru and read the details on that. It is a very important question. A related question: How to train yourself so your emotions provide better quality signals on what to do?
Habits seem pretty similar to system 1 but maybe not always the same thing. Or, rather, system 1 might be many subsystems. Some of them might implement habits. When to use habits? What habits to develop? Which techniques to learn to enable system 2 to catch and correct system 1's bigger mistakes? These are the topics of cognitive research that I've become interested in. Given that our minds are flawed and yet also that they have limited capacity how to develop our minds to compensate for our flaws and at the same time make more effective use of the faster system 1 cognitive machinery?
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2012 March 04 03:36 PM Brain Cognitive Flaws|