Cars burn at this spot

April 25, 2009 in General

The research of Nobel prize winning professors Kahneman and Tversky is among my favorites, and Haaretz has published an article littered with excellent anecdotes tying their findings back to familiar situations. I particularly enjoyed this one, regarding the security we find in perceived aid, even if the aid itself is worthless:

It concerns a group of Swiss soldiers who set out on a long navigation exercise in the Alps. The weather was severe and they got lost. After several days, with their desperation mounting, one of the men suddenly realized he had a map of the region. They followed the map and managed to reach a town. When they returned to base and their commanding officer asked how they had made their way back, they replied, "We suddenly found a map." The officer looked at the map and said, "You found a map, all right, but it's not of the Alps, it's of the Pyrenees."

And this, regarding our propensity to invent knowledge based on indirect suggestion:

For example, let's take two groups of people and ask the first if the tallest tree in the world is taller than 300 meters. Then let's ask them how tall the tallest tree in the world is. Then we repeat the exercise with the second group, asking them whether the tallest tree in the world is taller than 200 meters, and then how tall it is. At the end of the experiment, we find that the first group's average answer to the second question is, around 300 meters, and the second's is around 200 meters.

And especially:

We once traveled from New York to Boston on a Sunday night, and we saw a car on fire on the side of the road. A week later, again on a Sunday night, we were traveling and again saw a car on fire in the same place. The fact is, we were less surprised the second time than the first because we had learned a rule: Cars burn at this spot.

(I found this article via PK's Infectious Greed)

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