Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kahneman and thinking

We went to an event last night featuring Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman talking to David Brooks of the New York Times. It was entertaining. Kahneman, of course, is a psychologist, who won a Nobel in Economics for experimenting with the ways in which people do not match the homo economicus model of mainstream economics. He was wry, ironic and funny.

One of the main things that struck me was a discussion of how his original paper with his co-author, Amos Tversky, attracted morre attention when it was published in Science in 1974. 

We included examples as inserts, he says, and people could recognize themselves in those in a way they would not in statistical tests. The mind finds it very easy to go from the particular to the general. You can tell a story and people will immediately jump to the generalized points that a story makes, the lessons for other areas. 

But when it comes to applying generals to particulars, people are much more reluctant. They don't think psychological findings apply to them, for instance. Or they forget generalized facts they know. Or they are overconfident. 

So going from generalized statistical findings to actually applying it in real life, or abstraction to particulars, is very hard.

That is a fascinating little insight into communication. People respond to stories more than theories. 

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