Friday, July 22, 2011

Decision making: Choosing the information that fits

We tend to select information that fits our preconceived ideas or the context the information is received with. In an economic recession news that ‘inflation rises’ or ‘major company goes bust’ appears in context and so we tend not to examine it carefully whereas in a period of economic boom the exact same headlines might lead to further examination.

This human trait is a useful shorthand for our cognitive processes. It would be highly onerous to examine at the same level all the data we are presented with on a daily basis. On the other hand this tendency will increase our likelihood of making decisions based only on what has worked in the past (and may not work this time around).

‘Fruit flies like a banana’ can be interpreted in two ways. That a certain type of fly likes to eat bananas or that all types of other fruit tend to fly through the air in the same way that a banana does. Because of the context (the things that seem to make sense to us) we usually would go for the first interpretation.

This is not so clearly defined when we look at the following object:


In the context of:


we normally would interpret this as the letter B.

Whereas in the following context:


we would normally interpret this as the number 13.

This is a simple example of how the same data can be interpreted differently simply because of its context. It could fit equally well in either situation.

In decision making tasks we need to make sure that the relevant data is actually what it seems to be and does not just appear to fit because of the apparent context or even just because we want it to.

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