Autodidact: self-taught



by V. L. Craven

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour by Ori Brafman & Rom Brafman
-001- p7: …the moment we label a person or a situation, we put on blinders to all evidence that contradicts our diagnosis.
-002- p17: …loss aversion (our tendency to go to great lengths to avoid possible losses), value attribution (our inclination to imbue a person or thing with certain qualities based on initial perceived value), and the diagnosis bias (our blindness to all evidence that contradicts our initial assessment of a person or situation).
-003- p18: This feeling of dread over a price increase is disproportionate—or asymmetric—to the satisfaction we feel when we get a good deal.
-004- p19: For no apparent logical reason, we overreact to perceived losses. … our aversion to loss plays out in our own decision making.
-005- p22: In other words, the more there is on the line, the easier it is to get swept into an irrational decision.
-006- p28: The idea wasn’t necessarily to score a lot of points. It was to wear down the opponent and eat up time.… the coaches were playing not to lose.
-007- p28: Spurrier came to dominate the conference by playing to win, by introducing what he called the ‘Fun-n-Gun’ approach.
-008- pp29-30: The coaches fell victim not only to loss aversion, but also to another closely linked sway called commitment. In other words, they had used the grind-it-out-and-hold-on-to-the-ball strategy for so long that it was simply hard for them to let go. They were committed to continuing down the road they had always walked.
-009- p38: Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman, who, together with Amos Tversky, first discovered and chronicled the phenomenon of loss aversion, offers a telling reflection of our psychology during such situations. ‘To withdraw now is to accept a sure loss,’ he writes about digging oneself deeper into a political hole, ‘and that option is deeply unattractive.’ When you combine this with the force of commitment, ‘the option of hanging on will therefore be relatively attractive, even if the chances of success are small and the cost of delaying failure is high.’
Aversion to loss, on its own, is strong. But when it converges with commitment, the force becomes an even more powerful influence in shaping our thinking and decision making.
-010- pp48-9: But the fossil of what we know today as Homo erectus—one of the most momentous discoveries in anthropological history—remained stashed in Dubois’ house for decades.
The way in which the scientists responded to Dubois in the nineteenth century is critical for us to understand, because it sheds light on the next force we’ll encounter. While a part of their dismissive reaction can be explained by their commitment to a previously held belief, there was also another force at play. Here’s where commitment merges with the sway of ‘value attribution’: our tendency to imbue someone or something with certain qualities based on perceived value, rather than on objective data.
-011- p50: Even though he didn’t sound like a mediocre violinist, he looked the part. Without realizing it, the commuters attributed the value they perceived—the baseball cap, the jeans, the subway venue—to the quality of the performance. As they passed by Bell, most subways riders didn’t even glance in his direction. Instead of hearing an outstanding concert, they heard street music.
-012- pp50-1: It’s easy to understand, though, why the scientists and subway riders reacted the way they did. Value attribution, after all, acts as a quick mental shortcut to determine what’s worthy of our attention.
-013- p51: In the same way, value attribution affects our perceptions of people. We may turn down a pitch or idea that is presented by the ‘wrong’ person or blindly follow the advice of someone who is highly regarded.
-014- p55: Once we attribute a certain value to a person or thing, it dramatically alters our perceptions of subsequent information. This power of value attribution is so potent that it affects us even when the value is assigned completely arbitrarily.
-015- p56: ‘The intriguing idea,’ Dan Ariely, one of the study’s authors, told us, ‘is that expectations change the reality we live in.’ The value that we attribute to something fundamentally changes how we perceive it.
-016- p57: Who hasn’t had their views about a movie shaped, even before they watched it, because they heard or read the opinions of critics? Even when it comes to our own enjoyment or entertainment, we’re not immune to the powerful influence of value attribution.
-017- p60: …if you have two players with the exact same toughness, scoring, and quickness record, the one picked earlier in the draft would get more playing time, be much less likely to be traded, and have a long career than his counterpart…
-018- p60: Here’s where value attribution meets up with a sway called the diagnosis bias—our propensity to label people, ideas, or things based on our initial opinions of them—and our inability to reconsider those judgements once we’ve made them.
-019- p73: At the end of the period, each student received an identical questionnaire about the sub. Upon seeing the results, you’d think the students were responding to two completely different instructors. Most students in the group that had received the bio describing the substitute as ‘warm’ loved him. They described the instructor as ‘good-natured, considerate of others, informal, sociable, popular, humorous, and humane.’ Although the second group sat in the exact same class and participated in the exact same discussion, a majority of them didn’t really take to the instructor. They saw him as ‘self-centred, formal, unsociable, unpopular, irritable, humourless and ruthless.’
This one word, ‘warm’ or ‘cold’–albeit irrelevant in the larger scheme of things—made students assign a high or low value to the professor. Like the NBA teams with the draft order, once the students read the substitutes bio, their opinions of him were set.
In other words, a single word has the power to alter our whole perception of another person—and pissibly sour the relationship before it even begins.
-020- pp76-7: ‘If you look across all industries,’ Huffcutt told us, ‘ this unstructured interview format is by far the most dominant form of applicant selection.’ …
‘Your typical unstructured interviewed’–the common ‘first-dat’ method–‘just doesn’t do well. We have a long history of research confirming that.’
…there’s only a small correlation between first-date (unstructured) job interviewed and job performance.
…Well, the same thing happens in the interview. You’ve got a very limited time exposure, applicants put on their best show, managers put on their best show, and—not surprisingly—you just don’t see the realities of the person in twenty minutes.’
-021- p79: When they analyzed the results, MacDonald and Ross found that judgmental roommates and nosy parents really do know best—well, sort of. Roommates and parents were far better then students at predicting a relationship’s longevity. But, surprisingly…even when the students predicted their relationships would be long-lived, their assessments of the problems in their relationships were right on the money. The students weren’t blind to the issues that were already putting strains on the relationships; they simply ignored them…
-022- p79: This dismissal of the facts is the first of three types of mistakes, or traps, we all fall into when we diagnose.
-023- pp80-3: You’d expect professional managers selecting new employees to be more level-headed. As it turns out, however, Huffcutt explained, managers are especially prone to ignoring highly relevant information when it comes to hiring. While the infatuated students are blinded by optimism, hiring managers, according to Huffcutt, ‘just ask poor questions.’
The standard job interview questions are familiar to all of us. But they make Huffcutt cringe. …he shared a list of the top ten most commonly asked questions during an interview. … But of the whole list, Huffcutt gave a passing mark to only one question.
1. Why should I hire you?
2. What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
3. What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
4. How would you describe yourself?
5. What collage subject did you like the best and the least?
6. What do you know about our company?
7. Why did you decide to seek a job with our company?
8. Why did you leave your last job?
9. What do you want to earn five years from now?
10. What do you really want to do in life?
Questions 1,3 and 4 doesn’t glean useful information about what the candidate would really be like on the job.
Question 3, about the candidate’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. ‘What do you really gain by asking that?’ Huffcutt pointed out, ‘Who’s going to tell you their true weaknesses?…’ Applicants developed a standard, pat answer. They’re going to say something that sounds good but doesn’t really portray a weakness: ‘Sometimes I take my work too seriously.’
Questions 2,9 and 10 requires candidates to gaze into the future. … applicants can be—shall we say—less than forthcoming about their true plans.
Questons 5, 7 and 8 … turns the interviewer into a historian.
And the winner is unassuming question 6. That can actually be a decent question that gets into whether they took the time to research your company, which can be a good sign—at least better than the previous questions.’
All the other top ten questions invite a performance by the candidate.
Although everyone…knows that these performance charades are going on, hiring manager are attracted to the first-date format, thinking that a good conversation will allow their instincts to guide them to the right candidate.
The reason managers can err so easily is that, in addition to ignoring objective data, they focus on and give too much credence to irrelevant factors, which is the second trap we all fall into when making a judgment.
-024- p86: When we conduct job interviews, said Huffcutt, ‘we often base the image of the ideal candidate on ourselves. Somebody comes in who’s similar to us, and we’re going to click; we’re probably going to want to hire them.’ But there’s no proof that just because potential employees are similar to their manager, they’ll be a better fit for the company. In fact, there’s a compelling case to be made that managers would be better off hiring someone unlike them—so that where the manager falls short, the new hire can pick up the slack.
-025- p86: …time and again we overestimate our ability to form an objective opinion.
-026- p87: When it comes to interviews, managers need to restrain themselves from delving into first-date questions and focus instead on specific past experience and ‘job-related hypothetical scenarios’. It’s the Joe Friday, just-the-facts-ma’am approach. The idea is to focus on relevant data and squelch any questions that invite the candidate to predict the future, reconstruct the past, or ponder life’s big questions. … What kind of accounting software are you familiar with? What experience do you have running PR campaigns? How would you reduce inefficiencies on the assembly line?
…structured interviews fare much better than their unstructured counterparts. ‘Joe Friday’ interviews are six times more effective than first-date interviews at predicting a candidate’s job performance.
…even then interviews aren’t that great because some people simply know how to sell themselves better than others. As counterintuitive as it sounds you don’t need interviews at all. Research shows that an aptitude test predicts performance just as well as a structured interview.
-027- p88: The point is, when we’re in the position to make a diagnosis, we all become overly confident in our predictive abilities and overly optimistic about the future. Like the students in rocky relationships who believed love would prevail, we often ignore all all evidence that contradicts what we want to believe.
…When we asked him whether his own department had made any changes in its hiring procedures based on his research, Huffcutt smiled. ‘That’s a great question,’ he said, ‘and the answers is no. I’ve made some suggestions on how we can do better on interviews, but so far they haven’t been taken.’
-028- p92: [In pre-World War II Germany] There a psychiatrist named Emil Kraepelin was developing the first categorization scheme for mental disorders. Instead of relying on objective, scientific data, Kraepelin used his own intuitive judgment to arrive at the diagnostic scheme. Some of the labels he developed are still used today, including manic-depressive disorder, also known as bipolar disorder. Some of his other diagnoses, however, are more obscure and, frankly, unnerving—such as his category of ‘individuals with distinctly hysterical traits,’ which included ‘dreamers and poets, swindlers and Jews.’
-029- pp93-4: Now, the bipolar designation was arbitrary for a few reasons: Kraepelin had relied on his own perceptions, rather than on hard science, when categorising the mental disorders; the DSM-III broadened his original definition in 1980; and pharmaceutical marketing campaigns since then had attempted to bring more people into the fold. Primed to be on the lookout for bipolar disorder, psychiatrists started seeing it everywhere they looked. What many of them failed to recognise was that they had fallen into one of the traps of the diagnosis bias—arbitrarily assigning labels.
…this inclination is further complicated by the other trap of diagnosis: our tendency to ignore objective data that contradicts our initial diagnosis. … Dr Wampold is the kind of man who believes in empirical, quantitative evidence and objective data.
-030- pp95-7: Wampold’s findings showed that there were three distinct elements that made a psychotherapist successful. The first was talent. Some therapists are more skilled than others. The second element Wampold identified is what’s called ‘therapeutic alliance’–the quality of the relationship the practitioner formed with the client. Therapists who had good relationships with their clients tended to have more positive results than those who didn’t. The third factor was whether the studies allowed the therapists to use the method of therapy with which they felt most comfortable.
Surprisingly, diagnosis didn’t figure into the equation one way or the other. [Wampold] : ‘diagnosis is irrelevant; it doesn’t matter what the diagnosis is… The whole notion of certain treatments for specific disorders falls apart.’ This is, ‘it’s not the particular treatment that’s making the difference; it’s the ability of the therapist to work with the patient, creating a collaborative bond.’
Wampold is not claiming that psychotherapy isn’t effective. His meta-analysis actually found that it had very positive mental health effects… the diagnostic model doesn’t have any therapeutic advantage in and of itself.
-031- pp96-100: In 2002 47 randomized placebo controlled short-term efficacy trials…all the data meticulously analyzed, SSRIs were no more clinically effective than placebos in making patients feel better. Sugar pills and Prozac had about the same therapeutic effect.
…When it comes to SSRIs and Children, only three out of the sixteen randomized control trials they had for kids showed a positive result. And of course there is also the risk of serious side effects.
…Wampold’s study was published in 1997, psychiatrists nevertheless kept diagnosing and prescribing.
But there’s another aspect to diagnosis we have yet to explore—its effects on the person being diagnosed.
…the third and most surprising trap of diagnosis, let’s head to Israel, where 105 soldiers were about to participate in a grueling fifteen-week commander training program. It was a rigorous and intense process, requiring harsh physical training, mental concentration, and sixteen-hour workdays.
The would-be commanders didn’t know it, but this particular course was going to be different from any to date. Before this session’s classes started, psychologist Dov Eden informed the training officers leading the programme that the army had accumulated comprehensive data on each of the trainees, including, Eden explained, ‘psychological test scores, sociometric data from the previous course, and ratings by previous commanders.’
Based on this comprehensive information, Eden told the officers, each soldier had been classified into one of three ‘command potential’ (CP) categories: ‘high’, ‘regular,’ and ‘unknown’ (due to insufficient information). Trainees from each classification were divided equally into the four trainee classes. [They were told to memorize each person’s predicted CP by the beginning of the course.’
The trainees had no idea that any of this was going on. And the officers didn’t know that the so-called command potential, along with all the supporting data, was completely bogus. Scores were randomly assigned to the trainees and had nothing to do with their intelligence, past performance, or ability.
When Eden returned fifteen weeks later, he discovered something remarkable. At the end of the course, the soldiers took a paper-and-pencil test that measured their new knowledge of ‘combat tactics, topography, standard operating procedures, and such practical skills as navigation and accuracy of weapon firing.’ This test wasn’t rigged; it was part of normal procedure, a standardized assessment all soldiers took at the end of their training. But this is where the effects of assigning soldiers to the different command potential categories became apparent. The soldiers whom the training officers thought had a high CP score performed much better on the test than their “unknown” and “regular” counterparts. Simply being labelled, however arbitrarily, as having high leadership potential translated directly into actual improved ability… Remember, neither the trainers nor the trainees had any idea what was going on. Without realizing it, the trainees had taken on the characteristics of the diagnoses ascribed to them.
A meta-analysis conducted by psychologists at SUNY Albany suggested that these same diagnostic effects operate in the workplace. If you’ve even been fortunate enough to work for a boss who values and believes in you, you’ll know that you tend to rise to meet the high expectations set for you. On the other hand, there’s nothing that will make you feel more incompetent and demoralized than a supervisor who is convinced you don’t have what it takes.
The same phenomenon can occur when a psychologist or psychiatrist assigns a label to a client, be it bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression. As Wampold explained, one of the problems ingerent in diagnoses is that ‘there’s pressure to make everything fit with that diagnosis, so once that diagnosis has been made, all the behaviours and decisions become confirmatory.’ When a child who has been branded as bipolar appears ‘tearful’ or feels ‘sad and empty,’ these emotions get interpreted as part of the condition. When we are labelled, explained psychologist Franz Epting, ‘it’s easy to start acting it out as a way of being in the world.’ We fit into the mold created by the diagnosis. ‘And then it becomes quite a tangle between what’s really going on with us versus what we have been labelled with.’
…this molding process becomes self-perpetuating.
And this is the third trap of diagnosis: when we brand or label people, they take on the characteristics of the diagnosis. In psychological circles, this mirroring of expectations is known as the Pygmalion effect (describing how we take on positive traits assigned to us by someone else) and the Golem effect (describing how we take on negative traits). But let’s used ‘chameleon effect’ as our catchall term.
-032- p103: [Men were told they were going to be speaking on the phone with certain women. They were shown photos of average and beautiful women. These photos were not of the actual women on the phone. The women were unaware of the photos.]
When the ‘beautiful’ women spoke with their mysterious strangers, they couldn’t help but react to the cues the men were sending. Without realizing it, they took on the characteristics that the men had expected them to have. … The women unconsciously picked up on the ‘beautiful’ opinion the men had of them and acted accordingly. In other words, being thought of as beautiful made the women actually think of themselves as beautiful and exhibit ‘beauty’ in their conversations.
-033- p104: But does the chameleon effect simply change our self-perception temporarily, or can it actually have long-term effects? New research from Yale indicates that diagnosis can indeed thave a lasting effect on our health.
-034- p105: Time had taken its toll, and, unsurprisingly, the average hearing score went down. But not all participants’ hearing had deteriorated equally. Far worse off were those individuals who three years earlier had relied mostly on negative and external descriptors to describe old age. Even after statistically isolating the other factors that would diminish hearing (age, medical condition, etc), the researchers found these external and negative perceptions of aging were responsible, on average, for a whopping 0.7 point drop in a person’s hearing test score—the equivalent of the effect of eight years of normal aging alone—in just three years. In order to make sure that the senior citizens’ self-diagnoses had affected hearing, and not the other way around, the researchers looked at those participants who had received a perfect score on the first hearing test. They found that among individuals who expressed negative and external stereotypes of old age, even those who had had perfect hearing scores the first time around were just as likely to experience diminished hearing at those who had started out with poor hearing.
Negative and external feelings about old age, in other words, can actually make people physically age faster. And the effect is not limited to hearing alone. Similar studies have found that negative stereotypes about aging contribute to memory loss and cardiovascular weakness, and even reduce overall life expectancy by an average of 7.5 years.
-035- p118: When it comes to fairness, it’s the process, not the outcome, that causes us to react irrationally. This is called procedural justice. We don’t expect a computer to be fair—but we do expect people to be.
-036- pp118: But even the most calculating professionals are swayed by fairness. When you think of car dealers, you certainly wouldn’t associate them with the notion of fairness. But despite their reputation for oily salesmanship and bilking consumers, in fact they’re often the ones being taken to the cleaners—by auto manufacturers. Most car dealerships are relatively small operations and have little pricing power compared to the auto manufacturers. If you’re a Ford dealer, for example, then Ford Motor Company is your only supplier; they control pricing and can dictate what your inventory will be. The dealers regularly pay high prices and get stuck with poor inventory—models that are difficult to sell but that the manufacturer needs to move.
-037- p119-20: …how we are treated—the fairness of the procedure—has as much to do with our satisfaction as the ultimate outcome.
What is especially interesting about the issue of fairness is how important it is for people to feel they have a voice.
-038- p122-4: While the sway of procedural justice and our desire to have our voices heard are important to us all—whether we’re car dealers, criminals, or venture capitalists—how we actually define fairness varies dramatically from culture to culture.
[About Who Wants to Be a Millionaire] American audiences are almost certain to help out a contestant, regardless of his apparent abilities. … Russian audiences didn’t discriminate. They deliberately misled both smart and less smart contestants alike.
… Hosking took us back in time to peasant villages in the Russian countryside. Before the 20th century peasant communities were governed

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