Ignoring Experts, Revisiting Willpower, and Diving Head-first into Corruption

The bad news first: Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow yesterday, leaving us with six more weeks of winter. The good news? You have six more weeks of winter to get cozy and read some articles.

Here are a few recent pieces that we found interesting:

1. Public more likely to ignore experts if science is too easy: study

A little knowledge is apparently a dangerous thing. This piece gives an overview of the false confidence that having a basic understanding of an issue can give. It highlights that while popular science can be a great tool, ultimately experts in a field are considered experts for a reason. As a user from the “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” Facebook group pointed out, the solution that Dan employs to counter this effect is to ask his students to predict the outcome of an experiment before he reveals the result. This allows them to see that perhaps they wouldn’t have guessed the outcome correctly and that experimentation is often a difficult and intensive process.

“Reading simplified depictions may induce the impression of having already obtained a fairly complete picture of the issue at hand.” 

A graphical representation of the relationship between confidence and experience:

screenshot_799Credit: (http://www.artandtechnology.com.au/)

You can read the paper the article references here.

2. Against Willpower

This article questions the prevailing narrative surrounding the importance and definition of willpower. The writer suggests that reframing a problem in order to overcome it is more effective than pitting your willpower against it in a head-on battle. For example, if all day you make a deliberate effort to remind yourself not to engage in chosen vice, whether coffee, cigarettes, junk food, etc.., by the end of the day you will likely be mentally exhausted. Alternatively, through reframing your goal, your willpower can be taxed to a lesser degree.


“A paradigmatic example of reframing is the phenomenon of “temporal discounting,” in which people tend to discount future rewards in favor of smaller immediate payoffs. When offered $5 today versus $10 in a month, many people illogically choose immediate gratification. However, when the question is reframed to make the tradeoffs explicit—“Would you prefer $5 today and $0 in a month or $0 today and $10 in a month?”—more people choose the larger, delayed reward.”


3. Does Corruption Happen Slowly, or All at Once?

When removing a band-aid, are you someone who would rather pull it away slowly, or yank it off all at once? If you are in the latter camp, you may be able to relate to the process by which this article theorizes that individuals engage in unethical behavior such as bribery. It is thought that small unethical acts allow individuals to adapt to the increasing cognitive dissonance between committing unethical acts and viewing yourself as a moral individual, however, this piece suggests that in some cases the transition can be much swifter.


“(…) It’s also possible that a one-time transgression might be easier to justify, psychologically, than repeated corrupt acts, “and thus could cause less tension between being a moral person, on the one hand, and enjoying the benefits of dishonesty, on the other hand,”