Thoughtful Thursday: Preconceptions
“You must challenge your preconceptions or they will challenge you” — Penny A.Proctor (You may hear this first quote in the upcoming new Star Trek series on CBS taken from a short story by Penny A. Proctor)
“Mistakenly thinking you know usually results in not knowing mistaken thinking later on.” — Zumwalt
IQ tests sometimes contain questions that, though not particularly hard, will not be answered correctly if one falls back on preconceptions rather than solving the problem on its own terms: doing the work rather than taking a short cut by falling back on what one accepts as given truths
A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
If one starts with preconceptions, one goes for the easy answer. If one just works through this without jumping at the misleading “short cut” then one gets the correct answer.
If one even checks their preconceived wrong answer, then they will soon have the right answer. The wrong answer of 10 cents for the ball doesn’t stand up as 10 cents for the ball, plus one dollar extra than the price of the ball for the bat at $1.10 sums up to $1.20.
One way to solve the problem is rely on simple algebra:
x (price of ball); y (price of bat)
x + 1.00 = y –> y-x = 1.00
x + y = 1.10 –> y+x = 1.10
Add these 2 equations up and we get 2y – 2.10 or y = 1.05 so the bat is $1.05 and the ball is .05.
Even if we don’t use algebra but try a few guesses, checking our guesses will eventually get us to the right number.
But the way that life works for most of us, most of the time, is that we make assumptions and never ever check them, making decisions on top of bad assumptions.
Bill is stalking Mary. Mary is stalking John. Bill is married, but John is not. Is a married person stalking an unmarried person?
- Cannot be determined from the given information
Once again, if we fall into the trap of lazy thinking, we may never work through this problem finding the right answer and end up agreeing with 80% of people that choose answer #3. It really doesn’t matter that we don’t know Mary’s marital status. If she is single, it is then Bill, the married person, that is looking at an unmarried person, and if she is married, then Mary is the married person looking at an unmarried person.
We rarely object to an instance of a person saying “that’s my spouse” (“that’s my wife”, “that’s my husband”) or “that’s my child.” And so, it’s no issue to say “that’s my dog” or “that’s my cat.” But we would object to saying “I am the owner of this husband” or “I am the owner of this child.” Should we also object to one saying “I am this dog’s owner.” Does one own the dog or is it a partnership? If the dog runs away, the “owner” can get the pet back. The “owner” can decide to trade the dog for money or put the dog to sleep. In ancient Greece and in 19th century America, people owned other people, and could trade them and even put them to death. The people in the past re-examined ownership of people and determined this was unacceptable in any way, shape or form. Should we examine our relationships with our pets, or just accept our preconceptions and continue on.
Anchoring is a sales and marketing ploy that takes advantage of our tendency to have preconceptions. This is very common in the cruise industry where cruise lines offer “limited” 2-for-1 permanent cruise sales or have a brochure starting price that’s double (or more) than the actually offered price:
Preconceptions are the most troublesome when we don’t know about them. In doing data analysis it’s the bad data that we don’t know about the messes up the results. Any belief that one doesn’t examine for its accuracy (maybe not examined as one isn’t aware of the belief or thinks it is correct) will influence one’s final decisions and analyses, often making actions based on such decisions and analysis worse than random actions. Anchor prices are used to take advantage of our tendency to lock on to the earliest data we have about something and to subconsciously put more weight or more credence in the earlier or earliest obtained data than later data, even though analytically we often chose to prefer more recent data over older data.
Take the time to examine what data is used to make an important decision and challenge the validity of that data. By identifying the bad data or erroneous preconceptions and not using them to base a decision on, one can significantly increase their likelihood of acting appropriately.