Innate Gullibility highlights the Value of Predictability

A letter to the editor I wrote about critical thinking, for my local newspaper, summarizes this post at letter to the editor.

Politico has also shared how our gullibility is impacted by what is said and how it relates to our beliefs in this linked article: Trump’s Lies vs. Your Brain: Unfortunately, it’s no contest. Here’s what psychology tells us about life under a leader totally indifferent to the truth. 

Original Post:

Annie Duke’s excellent 2018 book, “Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have all the Facts” and Daniel Gilbert’s 1991 research, “How Mental Systems Believe” clearly suggests more Undoing is necessary from what we traditional believe.  This work helped me understand more about beliefs and how they relate to daily actions and how they can impact the future.  Learning about work done in this area has greatly enlightened and clarified the process of beliefs.

As Dan Gilbert explains, logically we must first comprehend before we can accept or believe anything.  This stands in contrast to just hearing and believing.   Assessing and then believing is also what René Descartes proposed and has been traditionally  accepted. It is generally accepted that we first comprehend, then believe. Logically, it makes sense, we must first be exposed to something and understand it before we believe it to be true. Or does it?

Dan Gilbert suggests, and most of us know, people are credulous or generally gullible and often too trusting.  This means that it is easy for people  to believe what they hear.  It also is true we generally find it hard to completely doubt. It is harder to doubt because it takes effort to know why something may be wrong.  Remember even to consider something means we must first accept that it could be true.

The idea that it is easy to believe and hard to doubt is supported by Doug Lisle’s work related to what he calls the  Pleasure Trap.  He suggests all humans get caught in the pleasure trap of seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, and energy efficiency.  He explains this in his “Pleasure Trap” TED presentation below.  Dr. Lisle explains that this trap encourages and leads us to take the easiest option.  In his presentation he focuses on how the pleasure trap results in unhealthy food choices.


With regard to believing, the pleasure trap encourages us to take the easiest option. The easiest option is to believe because to doubt takes efforts.  Doubt requires people to use effort to first understand what was mentioned and then to use energy to find reasons why what we were told was wrong.  Instead, as Gilbert’s research suggests, we automatically believe what we are told and tell ourselves we will analyze and decide if it is true later.  By doing things this way we are more energy efficient.  When I read this I realized, WOW, that is what I do.

The evolutionary reason for why we first believe before we analyze also makes sense.  Before we invented language to communicate, we had sight.  Over time we learned to automatically trust what we saw to be true. If we doubted what we saw until it was investigated, problems would have resulted.  Our species survival also required us to believe our intuitive thoughts.  If we heard a rustling the woods, we had to believe it was a dangerous predatory animal and act accordingly.  Failing to do so could have yielded dire consequences.

We therefore trusted, or automatically believed what we saw. Only later would we call into question what we saw if we became aware of some contradictory information.  This was our evolutionary process and is likely the same process we use for things we hear.  We saw and believed, now we hear and believe.  In both instances we automatically believed and then later we may test that belief if contradictory information is encountered.

Spinoza vs. DesCartes

The idea of hearing something, comprehending it, and believing it to be true before we assess it was, according to Dan Gilbert’s work, proposed by Baruch Spinoza.  Spinoza is reported to have offered a different perspective than DeCartes.  Rene DesCartes suggested before we accept and believe, we assess.

As we all are experiencing, we live in an increasingly chaotic world and we have evolved to make sense out of chaos.  Making sense out of chaos means we must find ways to make accurate predictions.  We do this because we want to know what to expect. For instance we predict if we drop something, it falls.  We also would predict we need to use more force to move heavier items, and we predict we will become rested if we sleep.  Being able to make accurate predictions impacts the quality of our life.

In more complicated matters, such as human behavior, we can expect and therefore predict people will behave or react in a certain way based on multiple behavioral and environmental criteria.  Many theories have evolved to help us make those predictions. Because of this we act certain ways and design environments to make it more likely people will engage in predicted actions, or to engage in the actions we desire.  In essence this is all stimulus response theory.  That is specific stimuli, things or events, are used to evoke functional reactions. This means things are done or put in places with the belief it will cause a predicted response. The accuracy of these predictions varies.

In other words, much of what we do is based on predicted consequences, or what I refer to as perceived consequences.  That is we do what we do in the belief it will lead to desirable outcomes.  These ideas about beliefs impact the accuracy of our predictions.  If we take actions based on untrue beliefs, because we believed something we heard before it was assessed, it is unlikely those actions will create a desired response.

The value of accurate predictions of the future have importance in life and business. The better we can predict, the more likely we are to create the life and or outcomes we want in this chaotic and random world.

How does this relate?

This relates to overcoming our innate gullibility to believe.  For us to overcome our instantaneous beliefs, we need something to cause us to stop and check. Annie Duke in “Thinking in Bets” suggests making pre-commitments such as stop points. For example she hasp recommitted that losing $600 in poker is her stopping point, despite her desire to win that money back.  Therefore if she loses $600 she commits to stop.

To encourage us to be more accurate, Annie Duke also suggests we review our beliefs by thinking of them as if we would bet on our beliefs.  To encourage us to review she suggests we say or think, “Wanna bet?” about something we believe.  Doing this, because it is now associated with a consequence or check, she suggests this will help people to re-evaluate their beliefs and consider, why do I believe this to be true?

This therefore brings us back to the groundbreaking work of Dr. Walter Shewhart and people who built on his work.  Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Dr. Wheeler built on Shewhart work and clarified the value and multiple uses of Process Behavior Charts (formerly referred to as Control Charts – see To Improve: “Undoing” Needed to Create Better!).  These charts are used to help us make better predictions about the future.

Though more general, these charts are able to work like a soothsayer’s crystal ball by giving us information about what can be expected in the future.  These charts, unlike crystal balls, are based on science and supportive results from over 70 years of demonstrated value.

Example of Process Behavior Chart (includes U/LCL – Upper & Lower Limits)

The value of these charts is that they can tell us what should be done to improve future outcomes.  If results fall within the upper and lower limits (see To Improve: “Undoing” Needed to Create Better!) that means future results will be predictable and be about the same. If results are outside the upper or lower limits, this means something is causing the results to be unpredictable and we should find and correct that cause.

These charts also guide improvement efforts.  They guide improvement efforts by helping people know if results are predictable, that is within the upper and lower limits, and they want them to be better, the process must be improved.  If the process is not changed, attempting to tamper with or force better results by asking people to try harder or setting quotas, goals or specifications will only result in worse results that are unpredictable.  For business, this also means higher costs and lower quality.

This suggests a connection between predictability and our innate gullibility.  For me this information helped me understand why we should be using techniques such as process behavior charts as described by Deming, Shewhart, and Wheeler to overcome our innate gullibility.  Using such methods will help enable me to generate comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits – that is to  Practice Paneuegenesis.   I encourage you to review Annie Duke’s book and Dan Gilbert’s work because it can help “Make it a Great Week!”

Please share your thoughts so we can all get better together!

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

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