Tuesday, January 09, 2007

I Have a Hunch I’m Right

Have you ever met somebody to whom you took an immediate dislike, but you couldn’t quite put your finger on why? I’ve had this happen more than once, and in every case, as I got to know the person better, my initial impression proved right — the guy turned out to be some flavor of scumbag. Trusting my hunches was a valuable skill back in my college days, when I supported myself by working in bars in the less-savory parts of town.

I’ve read that hunches often pan out because they amount to your subconscious mind making connections of which your conscious brain is not aware. And today, the BBC reports on a new study that seems to confirm this: snap decisions are sometimes better than decisions you take time to think about.

University College London found making subconscious snap decisions is more reliable in certain situations than using rational thought processes. Participants in the study were given a computer-based task and performed better when they were given less time to make their decisions. . . . Ten volunteers were shown a computer screen covered in over 650 identical symbols, including one rotated version of the symbol. They were asked to decide which side of the screen the rotated image was on. Given a fraction of a second to look at the screen, the subjects were 95% accurate. But when they were allowed to scrutinize the image for over a second, they were only 70% accurate. . . .people and animals were designed subconsciously to recognise and fixate on anything out of the ordinary as it could help to identify and escape from predators quickly, and so has an evolutionary advantage.

If I’d written this story, I would have said we “evolved” to notice things out of the ordinary, rather than that we were “designed” to do so, but I have a hunch I’m being too nitpicky.

21 Comments:

Anonymous smartass sob said...

" the guy turned out to be some flavor of scumbag."

Interesting that males would come to your mind first in this context. Aren't woman ever scumbags? Or are they just plain bag bags?

;-)

11:32 PM  
Anonymous smartass sob said...

I DO know that the plural of "woman" is spelled "women". (Sigh)

But to actually comment on the topic at hand: I would submit that those "snap decisions" are more likely to be right, if the person making them already has a bunch of relevant knowledge or experience.

12:10 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

@smartass sob: I would submit that those "snap decisions" are more likely to be right, if the person making them already has a bunch of relevant knowledge or experience.

Which explains why so many of us do poorly at "gut feelings" about probability - especially the probability of extremes (like the chances of winning the lottery). We just don't generate much actual/useful experience in this field.

6:14 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6:24 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

Totally off-topic, but of interest to those who post URLs in BLOGs:

http://tinyurl.com/

Just encountered it on another BLOG. Very cool idea.

6:26 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Women are often scumbags, Smartass, but not the type who hung out in the bars where I worked in college.

6:39 AM  
Anonymous NoStar said...

Jennifer,
Evolving is too slow a process. The need was immediate so the skill was designed in.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

anne,

Start playing poker. You'll get used to the world of probabilities...

6:13 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Women are often scumbags, Smartass, but not the type who hung out in the bars where I worked in college.

I won't ask.

There is a guy who wrote a book about paying attention to your internal radar, which escapes me at the moment. His point was that we all pick up on signals from others. Wait a minute..."The Gift of Fear" is the name, guess there's still some processing capacity in my balding head. Good book.

Totally off-topic, but of interest to those who post URLs in BLOGs:

http://tinyurl.com/


Yep, very good thing. Also works for newsgroups, and general emails. I've used it for a couple years.

4:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you treat people you perceive as "scumbags" anything like you treated Horace recently, then you are merely turning your hunches into self fulfilling prophecies. That is not intuition. that is merely the pot calling the kettle black.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Dave or Gary, whichever you are, grow a backbone and post your whining under your real name, rather than hiding behind anonymity.

11:57 AM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Who the fuck is a Horace? What the hell is a Gary or Dave? Nobody tells me anything around here!

(personally identifiable whining)

1:27 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Horace is the current nom de troll of Gary, a guy who developed an unhealthy obsession with me and basically cyberstalked me for over a year: visiting every website where I ever posted and posting multiple insults at me. Dave is an emotionally unstable guy who has an unhealthy obsession with Alex, a poster at Inactivist (which is supposed to be back up and running eventually). Dave was ordered to stop his Alex-centric trolling at Inactivist, lest he be banned. Thus, when I told Horace to knock off his trolling on one of my own threads there, Dave found a new windmill at which to tilt, and keeps making whiny anonymous posts bitching about power-hungry bloggers who disrupt freedom of speech on their blogs. Or something.

Sigh. If I tried selling a bullshit story like this to a soap-opera company, they'd reject it on the grounds that it's too complicated, too unrealistic, and too stupid.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait a minute..."The Gift of Fear" is the name, guess there's still some processing capacity in my balding head. Good book.

Gavin deBecker, I believe. He's Oprahs bodyguard.

Oh, [TINGLE]

8:22 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

Welcome, Tingling Baron!

8:38 PM  
Anonymous A Moose said...

Sigh. If I tried selling a bullshit story like this to a soap-opera company, they'd reject it on the grounds that it's too complicated, too unrealistic, and too stupid.

From the "You can't make this shit up" department?

Darn, now I can't claim that nobody tells me anything 'round here. So I would assume that Whorace is one of Gary's multiple personalities? Or, just an acquaintance?

Gavin deBecker, I believe. He's Oprahs bodyguard.

That's him. I do have a problem with some of his views, but I understand that they come from his job. He's extremely averse to self protection if you read between the lines of his stuff, but that would make sense as you don't have to pay HIM to do it.

I ran into his stuff when I started studying at ESI Lifeforce Acad, a very good place to learn such things.

Anyway, it's not completely off topic. His premise is that we all have a built in self protection mechanism, it's just that we learn to override it, which is bad. Therefore, your "hunch" may just be your protection system telling you something is wrong. The hunch being right, in fairness to one of the anon posters, Whorace or not, could be a reflection of how you act on the hunch. However, there is a difference between someone being rude, aka KKKramer, vs someone being a true threat, like BTK Killer type.

4:41 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I agree with the idea that people, especially women, are trained to override the self-protection mechanism. I remember Florence King writing about some serial killer (possibly the Boston Strangler): women are so afraid of being rude that they'd open their door to a stranger rather than rudely talk to him through the door.

If I'm walking on a street alone and get a bad feeling about a guy I see walking toward me I'll be rude enough to cross the street away from him, rather than politely allow myself within grabbing range of him.

This hunch mechanism only works in real life, not the Internet, though; something about body language, the look in a person's eye, and so forth. On the Internet you can only go by what a person types, so it can take much, much longer for a sick person's sickness to become noticeable.

7:55 AM  
Blogger Anne O'Neimaus said...

I guess if you run your own server, you can track IP addresses, which will give you some sense of identity on the posters.

Won't work against someone using Tor (or other Anonomizing services) - but then, that's probably enough information to start forming intuitive impressions, by itself... Imperfect against users of CyberCafes - although you can look for velocity patterns in the first three octets to screen for those, too.

P.S.
I don't know if Blogger.com offers any such features/service, but I doubt it. It looks too much like "tracking" for your average web-hosting service (because it is).

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Karen said...

I've read somewhere, I can't find it now, that this system works with large purchases, too. In my own life, I've been much happier with the two cars I bought completely without any preparation -- using exactly the same methods I use to buy, oh, shoes -- than I was with the two cars I carefully researched and cross-checked. My husband and I bought both our houses after one day of looking. It wasn't exactly spur of the moment, but damn close. I agree that physical presence is essential to this, I think it has something to do with subconcious information processing, that is, I was actually considering information without concious awareness.

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fairly convincing book called "Blink" about this subject that was pretty interesting. He argued that all things being equal, hunches and snap decisions are often a much better way of making decisions than carefully considering all the tangentially-related information before acting. Of course, things like prejudice and a lack of relevant background knowledge often make things less than equal, and he dedicates the second half of the book to when hunches go awry.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Shem said...

That was me. I guess I hit "Anonymous"...

4:27 PM  

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