Current Update as of September 10, 2003
Inspired by The Edgar Cayce Institute for Intuitive Studies
Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.
Yale University press, 2002
Book Summary by Clayton Montez, Atlantic University
What you know, but don't know you know, affects you more than you know. That's the bottom line of hundreds of experiments on the powers of intuition according to Psychology Professor David Myers. Guided by this research, Myers shows that the proper use of intuition can help. On the other hand, unbridled gut feelings can get us into trouble.
Myers explains in his new book, INTUITION: ITS POWERS AND PERILS (Yale, 2002), that while intuition can provide us with useful-and often amazing insights-it can also dangerously mislead us. He shows through psychological experiments the powers and perils of intuition when: judges and jurors determine who is telling the truth; mental health workers predict whether someone is at risk for suicide or a crime; which baseball player has the hot hand or the hot bat; personnel directors hire new employees; and more.
Recent cognitive science reveals some astounding powers and notable unpredictability of unchecked intuition. It discovers that there is an unconscious mind where thinking, memory, and attitudes operate on two levels-conscious and deliberate, and unconscious and automatic. This dual processing capability leads researchers to conclude that we know more than we know we know. Modern studies of "automatic processing", "subliminal priming", implicit memory", "heuristics", "spontaneous trait inference", right-brain processing, instant emotions, non-verbal communication, and creativity unveil our intuitive capacities interfacing, but often conflicting, with objective reality.
Myers contends that experimental evidence has deflated people's intuitions that quartz crystals uplift spirits, that subliminal self-help tapes reprogram the subconscious mind, and that "therapeutic touch" has curative effects. Placebos demonstrate the same results. "Science", Myers remarks, "is a long history of learning how not to fool ourselves." We often place our fortunes, relationships and our very lives at the mercy of a hunch. Therefore, Myers believes that it is worth using the scientific method to explore the powers and perils of intuition and to sift fact from fancy for self-preservation.
Much like looking at the tip of an iceberg, we regard what we "see" as consciousness to rule our lives through intentions and deliberate choices. We often neglect to consider the larger invisible part of the iceberg-the number of things we have learned to do without thinking about them-such as coordinating muscles to catch a ball, tie shoelaces, or play a musical instrument and talk while doing so. We also know that our brain has two sides that serve two different functions: one that talks to us for direct observation of reasoning and the silent partner that excels at piecing together puzzles. One part seems to rationalize and brims with intelligence, whereas the other part engages life spontaneously without critical reflection. Each half of the brain seemingly has a mind of its own, yet the two work harmoniously to re-create a holistic vision. Somewhere within the collaboration of these parts lie the mental fabric of what is real and the departure to self-delusion.
Using cognitive science, Myers explores the workings of the unconscious with greater objectivity than through the older psychoanalytic methods. The differences between conscious and unconscious processes are readily demonstrated in a few simple experiments. For example, consciousness selectively focuses our attention in order to stop us from thinking everything at once. We can smoothly move one foot counterclockwise and write figures on paper but not usually at the same time. Attending to one task diminishes concentration on another.
Nevertheless, we can process and be influenced by unattended information. One experiment studying "deep cognitive activation" by Larry Jacoby piped unfamiliar names into the unattended ear while people monitored strings of numbers in the attended ear. Afterward, the participants could not pick these names from a lineup of unheard names. Yet, they often rated them as famous. By dividing attention and "making names famous without their being recognized," Jacoby successfully demonstrated unconscious memory.
Similarly, the unattended ear in "priming" experiments awaken associations of imperceptible words with elicited emotional interpretations of ambiguous statements. The words river or money, when paired with the statement "We stood by the bank", demonstrates that a thought, even outside of awareness, influences another thought or action. In a real life situation, watching a scary movie alone at home can prime our thinking, activating emotions that cause us to interpret furnace noises as those of an intruder.
Myers cautions us through the above subliminal influence experiments that we learn from more than just selective awareness. We often overlook our ability to learn through unattended stimuli that can subtly affect us. Ideas and images that we are not necessarily attuned to can automatically-unintentionally, effortlessly, and without awareness-prime how we interpret and recall events. These experiments do not validate claims of subliminal advertising and self-improvements tapes, but instead, reveal a subtle, fleeting effect on thinking and feeling.
Myers says that our two ways of knowing-automatic (unconscious) and controlled (conscious)-integrate seamlessly throughout all aspects of mental life. Citing researcher John Bargh, Myers writes, "The purpose of consciousness is to connect a parallel mind to a serial world…. And the unconscious, intuitive inclinations detect and reflect the regularities of our personal history." Our repository of experience allows us to strike a golf ball deliberately while at the same time we unconsciously coordinate our acquired muscular-skeletal patterns to guide our swing. Practical experience, in Bargh's mind, cultivates the kernel of intuition.
Logical thinking and trusting hunches are not always compatible. Sometimes they conflict, particularly in social situations where we know how we are supposed to feel about others. Social psychologist Timothy Wilson's findings below, for example, show that our social intuitions may lead us elsewhere.
Following the first tenet that we have two ways of knowing: the simple, reflexive, and emotional mind of the unconscious and the complex, reflective, and rational mind of consciousness; and the second tenet of a dual memory system where we implicitly know without explicitly remembering, Myers shows a third example of parallel information processing. It is a system that Wilson calls dual attitude. Wilson argues that the mental processes that control our social behavior differ from the mental processes that explain our behavior. Often, our gut-level attitudes guide our actions, and then our rational mind makes sense of them.
Wilson found that expressed attitudes toward things or people usually predicted later behavior. Analyzing the reason for relationships between dating couples, however, was less effective for predicting the future of the relationship than gut-level feelings. Therefore, a dual attitude manifests when our automatic, implicit attitudes regarding someone or something often differ from our consciously controlled, explicit attitudes. Wilson notes. "Our likes and dislikes, our preferences and prejudices, are partly conscious, partly unconscious…. Implicit attitudes resist change more so than explicit attitudes." From childhood, for example, we may retain a habitual, automatic fear of people for whom we now verbalize respect and appreciation.
Recounting Myers, we discover that we have two minds-two ways of knowing, two kinds of memory, and two levels of attitudes. One mind is in our moment-to-moment awareness; the other is the silent autopilot that guides us through most of life. The latter slips into awareness through social interactions and creative inspirations. Through experience we gain practical intuition-subtle, complex, ineffable knowledge that aids our problem solving.
The nonconscious mind is more than just an autopilot tending to housekeeping details. Pawel Lewicki found in his experiments at the University of Tulsa's Nonconscious Information Processing Laboratory that the unconscious mind is quick, agile, perceptive, and is surprisingly capable of processing complex patterns of information.
In one study, the experimental group watched the numeral 6 randomly jump around a computer screen without any apparent logical ordering. Although no one consciously detected any rule for order, those who had seen the earlier presentations were quicker to find the next 6 when it was hidden among a screen full of numbers. Without knowing how it happened, they saw their ability to track the number improve. When the number's movement became truly random, performance declined.
Similarly, chess masters who have learned the patterns of thousands of chess moves can play intuitively in seconds without time for analysis of alternatives or decline in performance.
Myers contends that we can expect the unconscious mind to prove insightful if we let it. Poets, novelists, composers, and artists who readily recognize intuition's role in creativity admit in writer Anne Lamont's words: "Intuition comes when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind."
Although our intuitive processing powers are capable of evoking profound wisdom, they are also prone to predictable errors and misjudgments. We continually make mistakes because we think adaptively according to evolutionary psychologist Martie Haselton: "Cognitive errors… exist in the present because they led to survival and reproductive advantages for humans in the past". Accordingly, intuitions as by-products of our mind's efficient shortcuts can be illusory.
Myers explains that we consider memory to be like a storage chest in the brain into which we deposit material and from which we can withdraw it later if needed. According to a 1988 ad in Psychology Today, "Science has proven the accumulated experience of a lifetime is preserved perfectly in your mind." Yet, science has proven the opposite to be true. In fact, we tend to embellish the facts by revising our life histories. In one University of Michigan study for reconstructing memories cited by Myers, a national sample of high school seniors reported their attitudes toward minorities, the legalization of marijuana, and equality for women. Nearly a decade later their attitudes have changed, but they now recalled earlier attitudes akin to their current sentiments.
Of the many examples for fickle memory, the following are just a few from Myers' book. First, there are the recollections of pain by medical patients who preferred more net pain for a longer period of time, but with less pain at the end. They could recall pain's intensity at the peak and end moments, but overlooked its duration. Second, college student's reports about a positive event became more positive over time while the memories of the drab or unpleasant moments were forgotten. Third, patients who were eager to justify the value of therapy created memories to demonstrate that their past was more unlike the present in order to show improvement. Researcher Michael Ross explains why: "Having expended so much time, effort, and money on self-improvement, people may think, ‘I may not be perfect now, but I was worse before; this did me a lot of good'." Fourth, in a demonstration on how current moods affect past influences, people detected cruelty in an unsmiling face when told a pictured man was a Gestapo leader. When told he was an anti-Nazi hero, they saw kindness behind his caring eyes.
So powerful is the effect of misinformation and embellished memories that people often have difficulty discriminating between their memories of real and suggested events. Intuitively, false memories feel real, much as perceptual illusions feel real. To see how far our intuition will go in creating fiction, University of Hertfordshire researcher Richard Wiseman staged eight séances, each with twenty-five curious attendees. During the phony séances, the acting medium asked everyone to concentrate on the moving table while suggesting the following: "That's good. Lift the table up. That's good. Keep concentrating. Keep the table in the air." When questioned two weeks later, 34 percent of the participants recalled having actually seen the table levitate.
If memories are intuitions as Myers contends-direct, immediate apprehensions without rational analysis-then our intuitions are just as fallible as our failing memories. In fact, the following studies demonstrate that we intuitively dismiss important items while inflating trivia, misinterpret emotional attachments, or wrongly assess our future behavior. "The shocking lesson", Myers laments, "is that we don't often know why we do what we do."
Pointing to studies of television, videogames, and pornography that reveal the extent of the media's influence on our behaviors, Myers identifies the "third person effect". Those asked about how the media affects them respond with statements asserting that this media affects others more than themselves. We believe that we are not slaves to fad, fashions and opinions; we are true to ourselves. Yet, the research shows that we have met the "others", and they are us.
Sometimes our intuitions are on target, says Myers, when we anticipate situations that excite or disappoint us. But intuitions more often fail when predicting an emotion's intensity or duration. Obstetricians report, for example, that women in labor occasionally reverse their stated preference for anesthetic free delivery. In other studies, people would overestimate how much better off they would be in warmer winters, relocations, losing weight, more variety, and so on. Our intuitive theory suggests that when we get what we want we are happy. Myers disagrees: "When we focus on a particular event, we forget about everything else that matters and over predict our endearing pleasure or pain."
In the above social experimental circumstances, intuitions seem to mislead us at times as to what we have experienced, how we have changed, what has influenced us, and how we will respond. But by checking our own and other's intuition against reality, Myers assures us that we can tweak our illusions with understanding.
Intuition is also prone to err, according to Myers, when we evaluate our own knowledge and abilities. From our self-focused perspective, we tend to build our memories around ourselves. Thus, Myers examines three phenomena that demonstrate how we see the world through our unique perspective. He identifies these phenomena as: hindsight bias, self-serving bias, and overconfidence bias.
Kierkegaard once said, "Life is lived forwards, but understood backwards." The intuitive common sense of knowing something all along is commonly evoked after the facts are known. One method for exploring this idea is to examine the commonplace wisdom of proverbs and their opposites that help us to understand situational outcomes. For example, whether we choose friends or fall in love, we attract people whose traits are similar to our own. The old saying, "birds of a feather flock together" make sense to us once the results of the relationship are known. Yet, we give equal credence to "similarity breeds contempt" when the friendship becomes stale. In one other illustration, we've learned that separation intensifies romance and therefore, "absence makes the heart grow fonder". Should separation instead weaken attraction, our hindsight bias toward a predictable outcome justifies the proverb, "Out of sight is out of mind."
The hindsight bias experiments, Myers writes, show us that once we know an outcome, it is impossible to revert to our former state of mind. "We acquire the ‘curse of knowledge' where the clarity of hindsight strips our ability to re-evaluate the potential outcome of pre-episodic ignorance."
Intuitive common sense told us incorrectly at one time that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around us. Other times, it correctly tells us that love breeds happiness. Myers concludes that commonsense intuitions are not accurate forecasts. Rather, they are right after the fact. We deceive ourselves into thinking that we know and knew more than we do or did. Therefore, Myers reaffirms that we must sift reality from illusion, sensible predictions from easy hindsight, and true insights from false intuitions with the help of psychological science to test our hunches.
Through self-serving bias, the second phenomenon for self-centered intuition, Myers contends that we parlay responsibility for achievements through personal effort while condemning outside influences for failures. One teacher comments, for example, "With my help, Gillian graduated with honors. Despite my help, George flunked out."
Self-serving bias makes us believe that we outperform others. We are better drivers, better housekeepers, more intelligent, better looking, healthier, more ethical, etc. We also behave as if others think as we do. These self-deceptions may bolster self-esteem, but they also exaggerate our intuitive understanding of our place in the world.
The third phenomenon under self-centered intuition is overconfidence. It is said that people who err on the side of overconfidence live more happily and make tough decisions more easily. Yet, Japan lost the war to the United States believing that mystic will would conquer scientific weapons. Planners routinely overestimate project time and expense. People who assert to apply themselves to lose weight, study harder, or exercise regularly and fail are victims of inflated promises and unrealistic expectations bred by overconfidence. Myers brings to mind the words of Confucius from 2,500 years to summarize how we may surmount overconfidence: " When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it; this is knowledge."
Myers shows above that our memories are fallible and that even intuition, when informed by experience and observation, is frequently inaccurate. He quips that, "science shows that the truth can be highly counterintuitive and that sense is hardly common." Nevertheless, when it comes to navigating through life with intuitive efficiency and accuracy, we seem to do well without having to reason through all the tedium of the day. Just how well we do, Myers contends, depends upon a critical analysis of the shortcomings of intuitions when they are only shadows of reality: "When forming judgments and making decisions-in business, politics, sports, religion, and other everyday affairs-discerning people will welcome the powers of their gut wisdom yet know when to restrain it with rational, reality-based, critical thinking.
Failing Myers' warning, our judgment falls prey to yet another set of negative factors that mislead our hunches. These factors include the following: 1) the fundamental attribution error; 2) the illusory correlation; 3) belief perseverance; and, 4) heuristics.
Everyday examples of attribution error abound. A college professor may think only introverts take his 8:30 morning class when confronted with their glassy stares, while the bubbly extraverts seem to party at the 7:30 evening class. An actor may appear typecast in a role that has no semblance to the actor's persona. Correspondingly, Leonard Nimoy entitled one of his books in this regard, "I am not Spock".
Under the power of the fundamental attribution error, we tend to observe ourselves as being under the influence of the situation that engulfs us. However, when we look at others, we focus on them and blame the cause of their actions on who or what they are. Said in another way, we fail to consider the power of the situation when judging the behavior of others. We make the opposite error in explaining our own behavior: "If I'm crabby it's because I've had a rotten day; if you're crabby, it's because of your rotten disposition."
Researchers David Napolitan and George Gothels illustrate a classical example of the attribution error. They instructed college students to talk individually with a woman who, in accordance with the researcher's instructions, acted either aloof and critical or warm and friendly. Beforehand, they informed half of the students that the woman had been instructed to act in a given way (either friendly or aloof). They told the other half that she was acting spontaneously. Informing the students that the woman was just playing a role had no effect on their final decision. If she acted friendly, they inferred that she really was a warm person. If she acted unfriendly, they inferred that she really was a cold person. They discounted the situation that mandated her behavior and instead attributed her warmth or coldness to her inner disposition.
A Chinese proverb postulates, "Two-thirds of what we see is behind our eyes". This saying points to our habit of seeing relationships where none exist. To illustrate, Psychologists William Ward and Herbert Jenkins created a hypothetical fifty-day cloud experiment. When told that clouds were seeded randomly preceding the chance of rainfall, people who believed that cloud seeding works were most likely to recall the days with both seeding and rain. Myers tells us that we regularly engage in similar illusory intuitions such as in perpetuating the myth that sugar makes children hyperactive, that cell phones cause brain cancer, and that weather changes trigger arthritis pain.
These deceptive correlations exist because we tend to associate distinctive events when there are no other reasonable explanations for comprehending the apparent cause. It fuels stereotypes that lead us to believe that all Italians are emotional or that a combination of an assassin and mental illness, albeit infrequent, exaggerates the relationship between violence and mental hospitalization.
Belief Perseverance is another way that we use intuition to interpret information in order to support an established way of life. In a now-classic study of "behavioral confirmation," social psychologists Mark Snyder, Elizabeth Tanke, and Ellen Bersheid asked University of Minnesota male students to talk with women over the telephone that they thought, having been shown their picture, were either attractive or unattractive. When asked about the way that the women responded, the students deduced that the supposedly attractive women spoke more warmly than the supposedly unattractive women. The men's erroneous beliefs had become a self-fulfilling prophecy by leading them to act in a way that influenced the women to fulfill their expectation that beautiful women are desirable.
"All too often," concludes social psychologist Irving Janis, "our leadership in business, education, and government do not use reflective problem-solving to make decisions. Rather, they do it by the seat of their pants." Everyday we seem to make instant decisions on the fly in order to avoid spending time analyzing every situation in our lives. Such questions such as, "Am I safer driving or flying to Chicago", are often left to intuition for resolution.
Myers adds that our tendency for jumping to conclusions is rooted in the early evolutionary mindset for survival, "to do or die, not to reason or know why." However, this intuitive response is misapplied in our modern technological society. We employ fight or flight gut reactions according to baser animal instincts and expect this imprinted conditioning to provide "quick and dirty" mental shortcuts to resolve more complex problems. Our mental maps for the way we read and respond to a particular situation, called heuristics in this context, can be misleading when we expand typical concepts to fit other circumstances. For example, one study of heuristics tells us that we will choose an Ivy League classics professor over a truck driver when asked to guess which one is likely to be short, slim and likes to read poetry. Our tendency to judge something in terms of how well it fits our preconceived notions of how it should look oftentimes pre-empts our reasoning ability to arrive at a completely different outlook. Using reason instead of intuition, Myers claims that we would likely determine within the framework of this example that there is an 8 to 1 probability that a truck driver will fit the above profile.
"Intuitive responses are fast and frugal, but irrational," writes Myers. This is clearly illustrated in the way that information is framed. Consumer behaviors are driven by marketing ploys where huge markups on regular prices make sale prices seem like huge savings. Or, in another example, we would rather buy meat that is 75% lean than that with 25% fat. This plying of the framing effect upon our fickle judgment exemplifies the limits of our intuition.
Based upon the empirical observations above, Myers concludes that, "more than we realize, our lives are guided by subterranean intuitive thinking and that our intuitions, though speedily efficient, often err in ways we need to understand." When accuracy matters, we should welcome the powers of gut wisdom, but know when to check it against available evidence in order to think and act smarter.
In order to demonstrate how we can sift reality from illusion, Myers tests the ideas and findings above in the following real life scenarios: superstitious predictions at sports events, the tendency to seek explanations and find patterns throughout investment strategies, how we pit experienced-based hunches against empirical data in health related issues, how we weigh risks, whether gambling savvy pays off, and whether gullibility feeds spiritualism.
"Unpredictability", says Myers, "is a soil in which illusory intuitions readily grow." And there is plenty fertile ground in the field of sports. When a baseball batter enjoys a good hitting streak, a hoopster averages higher scores per game than normal, or a golfer aces more holes than usual, we're inclined to think that these players are "in the zone". However, in reality, their successes are statistically random events that seemingly run in streaks. Myers says that we attribute winning to a player's due; whereas, a player experiences a slump when under par. Not so surprisingly, the peaks and valleys of performance ability over the seasonal or perhaps lifetime average show no better than a 50-50 probability of success or failure for any particular pending event.
Accordingly, the outcome of the previous shot, swing or throw is not a predictor of the outcome following the next attempt to score. Although skill, preparation and competition matter, the famed and influential hothand is grossly exaggerated. In one example, Myers offers the conclusions of Michigan State University Psychologist Gordon Wood who studied the 1988 outcomes of all 160 or so games for each of the twenty-six major league baseball teams. He wondered whether teams were indeed at risk for another loss after a loss or maybe more victory prone when their confidence rose after a victory. The average across teams with data from more than 4,000 games sequences showed that the probability for a win after a loss was no greater or less than fifty percent.
Yet, many athletes advocate, "Go with the flow. Trust your instincts." They find that there is little time to calculate each move to seize the play. Consider for example batter Mark McGuire's computations as he faces a Randy Johnson fastball. As the ball leaves Johnson's hand, McGuire detects the ball's speed, spin, and direction, and, within 0.15 seconds he reckons its destination. He must direct his body to swing (or not), and where and when to rotate his shoulder, move his arms, swivel his hips, and shift his weight forward, all in synchrony and in hopes of intercepting the ball at precisely the right moment and with the right force-and all less than half a second after exiting the pitcher's hand.
What athletes can't articulate as knowing, Myers calls it "intricate, graceful, sophisticated intuition."
When investing hard earned cash we frequently make instinctive decisions quickly, often smartly, but sometimes stupidly, says Myers. Throughout examples of loss aversion, the endowment effect, the sunk cost effect, anchoring, and overconfidence, Myers shows us that, more often than not, we think more irrationally when we stand to lose rather than gain something. "We're therefore conservative when given a chance to lock in a win, but daring when given a chance to avoid a loss."
Our aversion to loss is readily apparent where gamblers bet on longer odds at the day's end, or when people buy service contracts that insure against appliance breakdowns, but for greater long-term costs.
The endowment effect is similar to loss aversion. We hate to lose what we have. In experiments, as in real life, people who have made considerable investment in a failing project continue to invest resources, even when they'd never invest if this were a new prospect on its own merits, or when abandoning the effort is economically rational.
Imagine that you have decided to see a play, under the Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky experiments, where admission is $20 per ticket and you discover that you just lost a $20 bill. Would you join the 88 percent of the participants who would still buy the ticket? However, if the ticket were lost instead of the cash, most of these same participants would not justify spending $20 for another ticket because they reasoned that the play was not worth $40. This example of sunk costs explains how we might view the significance of a future purchasing decision based upon the perception that a recent loss somehow changed the value of the intended purpose. Similarly, the concept of "too much invested to quit" spurs government spending on unworkable defense and public works projects because their termination would presumably waste monies already spent.
The moral: Don't let sunk costs affect future decisions. Base decisions on the present, with an eye to the future.
The anchoring phenomenon plays out in circumstances where people make decisions erroneously when basing it upon meaningless information. For example, when estimating the Mississippi River's length (which is 2,348 miles) most people reply to the question "is it more or less than 800 miles" with a nod toward a conservative increment. If originally asked whether the river was more or less 5,000 miles long, Myers claims that most surely would say "less" but with a likely higher estimate than previously given.
Overconfidence, the last item for Myer's list of investment intuition, routinely appears in our judgments of our past knowledge ("I knew it all along"), in our current knowledge (overestimating the accuracy of our factual judgments), and in predictions of our future behaviors, successes and completion times (illusory optimism). One need only look at the futile results of financial forecasting to recognize the role of overconfidence when fused with economic intuition. Each day about 2 billion shares exchange between buyers, who feel some confidence that a stock will rise, and sellers, who feel some confidence that it will not.
Myers warns that our financial intuition sometimes defies financial logic, and that awareness of certain anomalies in our financial intuition can help us make smarter decisions. Nevertheless, important "seat of the pants" decisions may at times elude explanations of learned rules and patterns, but for successful businessmen as for chess masters, "intuition sometimes compresses years of experience into instant insight."
Objective information cannot be ignored, says Myers, but when there are no decisive numbers upon which to draw upon for answers, "our judgment must be guided by seasoned experience, by informed intuition, and by the whispers of our accumulated, ineffable knowledge."
In the clinical setting, practitioners often rely upon their experience but prefer to follow their hearts when attending to the medical affairs of warm human beings. However, their professional intuition pales in comparison to statistical prediction. Often their intuition is vulnerable to illusory correlations (believing a cause and effect relationship where none exists), hindsight (probable prediction based upon later discovery), belief perseverance (explanations that assume a life of their own), and self-confirming diagnoses (a reaffirmation of insights through targeted analysis).
In order to avoid arriving at the wrong conclusions because our intuitions lead us to believe that suspicious people behave in certain ways or whether a patient's case history fits preconceived notions of a particular illness, Myers advocates that we test the predictive powers of our intuition. He warns, "Beware the tendency to see associations you expect to see. Recognize the seductiveness of hindsight that can lead to overconfidence. Recognize that theories, once formed tend to persevere even if groundless. And, guard against the tendency to ask questions that assume your ideas are correct; consider opposing ideas and test them, too."
Given their proficiency for instantly reading personality traits one might suspect that interviewers can predict long term job performance from an acquaintance interview. Myers confirms that these predictions based upon their gut feelings are quite poor-much weaker forecasts of job productivity or achievement than aptitude tests, work samples, job knowledge tests and peer ratings.
At times intuition excels for revealing personality traits when exposed to a mere slice of behavior. Researchers Maurice Levesque and David Kenney found that snap judgments over a few seconds of videotaped conversation proved reasonably accurate predictors of women's talkativeness. On the other hand, Myers contends that the interview is a fragile and imprecise investigative tool and we compound the errors of interview illusion when we think, "I have excellent interviewing skills, so I don't need reference checking."
The interview illusion is the gap between professional intuition and reality. The first fallacy occurs when interviewers read the interviewee's present intentions but overlook the more often than not concealed habitual behaviors. Secondly, interviewers tend to track the patterns of successful employees rather than the achievements of those they rejected. "Because most people succeed", says Myers, " this incomplete feedback enables them to confirm their self-perceived hiring ability." Thirdly, due to the strong influence of the fundamental attribution error, we assume that what we see is what we get. Yet, the interview situation oftentimes fails to mirror true-life behavior patterns for specific situations. Furthermore, the interview setting and the interviewer's behavior will influence the interviewee's performance. And finally, the interviewer's preconceptions and moods color their perceptions and interpretations of interviewee's responses. A classic experiment by Carl Word, Mark Zanna, and Joel Cooper showed that racial bias influenced the interview interaction through interviewer-applicant proximity, length of the interview, and quality of responses by the applicant. Where the interviewer showed prejudice the applicant faltered significantly more than those interviewed without bias.
We can combat interview illusion, says Myers, by avoiding subjective feelings gleaned from unstructured interviews. Rather, a structured interview that aims at global evaluation with a disciplined method of collecting focused information treats the interview situation more uniformly across applicants. In an unstructured interview someone might ask the applicant, "How do you get along with people?" A structured interview pinpoints attitudes, behaviors, knowledge, and skills that distinguish high performers in a particular job. An applicant may be asked a series of questions relevant to job behaviors such as, "Can you recall the last time a new idea of yours helped the organization?"
On risk intuition, Myers invites us to explore why we so often err. What influences our intuitions about risk? How might we think smarter about risk?
Four factors mislead our judgment when assessing risk: 1) biological predisposition; 2) the availability heuristic; 3) lack of control; and, 4) immediacy.
Myers says that we are biologically prepared to dread dangers faced by our ancestors, and therefore, concern ourselves with primal fears. Consequently, we tend to dread snakes, lizards, and spiders more than the more modern terrors of human evolution. We are thus better wired to avoid yesterday's risks than to anticipate today's technological maladies.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once quipped, "Most people reason dramatically, not quantitatively." He may have been alluding to the availability heuristic described by Myers where we may depend more upon memory as a rule of thumb guide for intuition than factual data. We think we know, for example, that chain-sawing is more representative of an injury prone activity than using a toilet. Yet, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Survey, toilet injuries outnumber chainsaw injuries by almost 2 to 1. Such a ratio is possible, says Myers, because we spend far more hours with toilets than with chain saws. However, the more dramatic and bizarre the event, such as the chain saw accident, the more we are inclined to dwell upon its importance and negate its insignificance to other more relevant information at a gut level.
Risks beyond our control, writes Myers, scare us more than those we put ourselves into. For example, we are more likely to hurt ourselves in a skiing accident than get injured from food preservatives. Yet, we are more likely to abstain from the consumption of the food having the preservatives than we are to avoid skiing. Using intuition without reason under these circumstances, Myers contends that we mislead ourselves into thinking that we are better off choosing our own perils than have someone else choose it for us.
The threat of immediacy, the fourth factor leading to errors in risk assessment, short-circuits any long-term concerns for a reasonable reaction to a present crisis. Caught up in the immediate circumstances that grab our attention, we overestimate its power over us while negating perhaps more important circumstances down the road. Under this notion, we seek to avoid a nuclear accident, but we'll allow that global warming is a problem for the next generation.
The four factors above demonstrate how risk dimensions that have little to do with possible outcomes and their probabilities influence our perceptions of the risks of hazardous technologies or activities. Myers suggests that before we throw good money after bad, we pause long enough to consider the risks and the costs to control misguided fears.
Flawed intuitions in gambling also introduce a need for more information and education on risk awareness. Gambling has replaced baseball as America's number one pastime. Forty-eight States legalize and woo both casinos and gamblers who bring in more than $500 billion and leave with some $450 billion. The millions of Americans who gamble each year follow along a continuum. At one end, the disciplined recreational gamblers will budget for exactly how much they will pay per day for the fun of playing. At the continuum's other end are those whose search for instant wealth is fueled by inexhaustible illusions.
The thrill of the play and greed are obvious motivators, but Myers uncovers deeper reasons for gambling addiction. To start with, we have a poor intuition for probabilities. As bettors, we are more likely to overestimate the chance of a big payoff having low probabilities of success. Mass participation in lotto tickets, horseracing and Publisher's Clearing House, show that the odds of winning, say 1 in a hundred million, don't deter those who believe that they could be the next one to win unfathomable riches in return for a token investment.
Flawed misperceptions of probability are not the only damper to gambler's intuitions. Gamblers like to attribute their wins to skill and foresight, while losses are due to "near misses" or "flukes". The gambling industry thrives on gambler's illusions of control while they practice their rituals in the attempt to improve their odds for winning.
In all areas of gambling, winners are remembered and losers are forgotten. Casinos reinforce this pattern with bells and whistles and change clanging into buckets. Gamblers look to be remembered and risk losing everything for a glimmer of fame. The big winners become front-page news. For the losers, well, they almost made it.
Myers concludes that the illusory intuitions affecting gambling lead to more losses than wins. "Given such powerfully flawed intuitions about gambling, there surely is a need for new forms of risk awareness information and education."
No idea about intuition seems to evoke more fascination in Myers mind than that of the presumed sixth sense-the alleged ability to read minds, forecast future events, intuit distant occurrences, and speak with the dead.
Contemporary psychological science asserted earlier that we know more than we know. We have a rational conscious mind, and we have a backstage mind. Thinking, memory and attitudes all engage duel processing-deliberate, controlled aware processing, but also automatic, uncontrolled, out-of-sight processing. Myers cautiously wonders whether some people have harnessed these unseen intuitive powers to read minds, see through walls or foresee the future.
Applying a "scientific attitude of open-minded skepticism", Myers compares the alleged powers of contemporary charismatic psychics with attempts at reproducible laboratory experiments, only to conclude, "no reproducible ESP phenomenon has ever been discovered, nor has any researcher produced any individual who can convincingly demonstrate psychic ability." Myers remarks further, "Time after time, so-called psychics have exploited unquestioning audiences with amazing performances in which they appeared to communicate with the spirits of the dead, read minds, or levitate objects-only to have it revealed that their acts were nothing more than the illusions of stage magicians." [Reviewer's note: George Hansen argues in his book, "The Trickster and the Paranormal", that scientific research does an excellent job in proving facts in the modality of the rational world, but it lacks the capacity to explain the irrational world of psi phenomenon.]
Given the dubious outcome projected by Myers, why do people believe in psi phenomena?
One reason we believe in psi phenomena, according to Myers, is that we tend to look for connections and seek explanations for unlikely events. The perils of intuition discussed above make psychic intuition believable whether it is genuine or not. To reiterate these perils: we invent false explanations to justify our actions; we incorrectly judge our reasoning powers; we take intuition for granted as being accurate; we dwell on events that meet our expectations; unrelated and often miniscule events seem to grab our attention away from the more important issues; and we overestimate the probabilities of chance.
Claiming that we have an itch to experience the magical, Myers says we indulge in cult-like behaviors to compensate for the void that science can't explain. "Many people believe in clairvoyance, astrology, and other superstitions to compensate for the psychological discomforts of our time." However, as Myer concedes, "the growing scientific appreciation of non-rational, intuitive forms of knowing lends credence to spirituality…. Our rational understanding of the world leaves us to wonder whether there is untapped wisdom beneath the conscious mind."
Reduced to a sentence, Myers' book tells us that psychological science reveals some astounding powers and notable perils of unchecked intuition, and that creative yet critical thinkers will appreciate both. Believers and skeptics can test spiritual issues-of reincarnation, of near-death experiences, of the powers of prayer-in order to winnow genuine from pseudo spirituality. Conceding that there is no perfect vision for ultimate reality, Myers advocates that we anchor our lives "in a rationality and humility that restrains spiritual intuition with critical analysis, and in a spirituality that nurtures purpose, love and joy."
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