Monday, October 22, 2012

Bias Toward Liking Things

Here's a word problem: Some of Kate's classmates are going on a hike, and Kate is deciding whether or not she should go with them.  Assume these facts are true:

1. Kate only wants to go on the hike if it will be fun.  She does not have any ulterior motives, such as making new friends.
2. Kate went on a similar hike last week and hated it.
Should Kate go on this hike or not?

Now, my first question would be, why did Kate hate the hike last week? Was it raining?  Did she forget bug repellent? Did she fall and get hurt? Was she not feeling well?  What we all want to know is, did something bad happen last week that wouldn't necessarily happen again? 

Now, what would happen if we change the scenario so that Kate went on a similar hike last week and loved it? Chances are, we would all tell her that she should go on the one this week, without questioning any further.  But why aren't we questioning further? If there were so many non-recurring events that could have happened in the first scenario, why wouldn't the same be true now?  What if Kate only had fun on the first hike because of the perfect weather?  Because her best friend was there?  Because she was in a good mood that day?  

When Kate hated the previous hike, we're quick to search for other explanations that don't involve Kate hating hiking, but when Kate loved the previous hike we accept it and don't consider that her enjoyment could have been contingent on factors that won't exist on every hike.  We have a natural bias for pushing people to do things that we perceive as positive than to really consider what the person will or won't like.

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