Cognitive Shortcuts

I’m beginning to have the same reaction to studies involving brain scans as I do to those damn evolutionary just so stories.  That is not entirely fair.  The former at least have some data.  The later don’t.  What pulls my cord about the brain scan stories is how often the researchers appear unaware of the existing work on what ever effect they are measuring.

Here’s a fun example.  The summary “Experts make us dumb.”  These guys stuck subject noodles in the scanner and had them make financial decisions.  The scanner let them see how hot the decision making bits got.  Sometimes they gave them expert advise, sometimes not. Unsurprisingly given advice the analytical bits took a breather.

The wonderful book Influence covers this result, and quite a few others.  People have a lot of cognitive shortcuts.  It’s  practically  a  tautology  that shortcuts often output the wrong answer.  But then that was my primary critique of that fun book.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest.  It does seem worth recognizing that in sentences like the following (via)

John Haywood, a prominent restaurant concept designer, agrees.  Processing, he says, creates a sort of “adult baby food.”  By  processing, he means removing the elements in whole food – like fiber and gristle – that are harder to chew and swallow.

The first sentence is serving two functions toward winning the  argument.  The paragraph is adding evidence to the  argument.  Labeling that evidence with it source and tagging it so we can decide if the source is credible is all well and good.  The more  wily  purpose of that lead in sentence is to trigger our decision making  apparatus  into shutting down.  Skimming that the brain is likely to note only the word prominent.  Aggressive  debaters will want to take note how you can apply a marginally credible expert like this.  Restaurant  concept designer?  The Wired article plays a variation on this game by dressing up their article with a picture of a brain scan.

I should have a category for rants.

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