TABLE OF CONTENTS
Over the course of evolution, our brain has developed countless adaptations to successfully adapt to changing environments, navigate uncertainty, and make decisions with minimal information. Most of these adaptations center around how our brain uses energy and processes information.
Thanks to 5 billion years of evolution, your brain is king of one thing: achieving its goals while using as little energy as possible. As Nobel Prize-winning Daniel Kahneman says, “Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
“The brain has no gimmick, just five billion years of research and development.”ross ashby, cybernetics pioneer
Neurons that fire together wire together, so seeing a pattern for the umpteenth time—information that our brain knows precisely what to do with—means less processing volatility for our neurons, allowing for more energy efficient categorization of a new piece of information. When we say “laziness is built deep into our brains,” we’re talking about milliseconds. Milliseconds.
Easy = Good
The idea that “easy = good” comes up in many theories and frameworks in psychology:
- The mere exposure effect: Merely being exposed to something tends to make us like it more. (It’s why companies pay more money to have their products placed eye-level in grocery stores.) There’s no magic here, just learning; in this case, it’s the process of repeatedly learning to pair “something” with “nothing bad happening.” When we learn that something is safe, and familiar, it often becomes likeable in its own way.
- Status quo bias: If it exists, it must be good. We’re notoriously averse to risk and loss. Even if the alternatives might end up being vastly superior, it’s often easier to justify what we have. Yes, runaway capitalism is destroying the planet, but what are the alternatives? —and what if they’re worse?!? What if people end up mooching?
- Perceptual readiness/accessibility theory: the more quickly information comes to mind, the more likely we are to assume that it’s true.
- Fluency: the ease of a thought or idea. Just think of being fluent in a language: the more fluent you are, the less effort it takes to decipher messages. Fluency can also refer to the ease of handling information; just as our eyes enjoy someone whose face is “easy on the eyes,” our minds like information that is “easy on the brain.” Fluency is like love or porn—we get it, even if we can’t always describe it. It’s the “warm glow” of what’s familiar or easy to understand.
Information that is easy to process also gets interpreted as being It
Our brains are lazy. We don’t, for example, come equipped with an automatic fact-checker; we tend to use our environment to see if something is true. The more we’re exposed to information, the more likely we are to believe that it’s true and normal—even if it’s not.
Seeing something often makes it feel familiar and less risky. In fact, when faced with a choice between two things, familiarity can trump the actually odds of something winning (to a point). Any piece of information is initially odd and unknown, but we can get used to anything; eventually, we know how to process it. But at no point does this have anything to do with how true the information actually is.
Fluent: reading something in your native language; a name like “John,” smooth shapes. For visual images, characteristics such as symmetry, repetition, image clarity, and high contrast (identifying dark items on a white background) all promote fluency; verbally, we like company names that are easier to read.
Disfluent: reading a book in your third language, a name like “Craaüµqqq,” text that’s printed in a weird font, music in a genre you’ve never even heard of. These things just feel off.
In a nutshell: the faster we can process or understand something, the more fluent or familiar it is—and this is what can trigger a positive emotional response. Our brain doesn’t have totally separate areas for thinking and feeling—thinking and feeling influence each other. It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario in the brain: it’s easy to process! It must be true! The more we’re exposed to something, the easier it becomes to process.
As long as we can survive with whatever information we have, there’s no reason to doubt it or look for evidence suggesting otherwise. Over time, this influences our attention, and we drift towards information that confirms our hunches—regardless of fact. (What news sources do you listen to?) It’s easier to pay attention to information that confirms our beliefs—and ignore whatever doesn’t seem true—than it is to upend our view of the world.
It’s so easy for us to repeat incorrect information: we tend to assume that agreement or repetition equals truth. And what about if we hear something from people whose opinions matter to us? If celebrities, experts, influential cousins, or industry titans agree with us, who are we to argue? Surprise! We’re not. It’s easy to find any podcast, online community, or book that backs you up, even though social information isn’t the same as objective feedback. But from our brain’s point of view, it’s the same thing.
Economists Ruined Everything
And yet, because the cognitive revolution in science coincided with the computer revolution, those two things are intertwined, forever. Economists and behaviorists love relishing in the idea that people are irrational because they don’t act like computers. But, because thinking is metabolically costly, we don’t.
Our brains are lazy. We don’t, for example, come equipped with an automatic fact-checker; we tend to use our environment to see if something is true. The more we’re exposed to information, the more likely we are to believe that it’s true and normal—even if it’s not. Why else would other people quote it if it weren’t true—especially people we know and admire?
Neurons that fire together wire together, so seeing a pattern for the umpteenth time—information that our brain knows precisely what to do with—means less processing volatility for our neurons, allowing for more energy efficient categorization of a new piece of information. When we say “laziness is built deep into our brains,” we’re talking about milliseconds.
Thanks to billions of years of evolution, the brain is king of one thing: achieving its goals while using as little energy as possible. As long as we can survive with whatever information we have, there’s no reason to doubt it or look for evidence suggesting otherwise. Over time, this influences our attention, and we drift towards information that confirms our hunches—regardless of fact. (What news sources do you listen to?) It’s easier to pay attention to information that confirms our beliefs—and ignore whatever doesn’t seem true—than it is to upend our view of the world.
Fluency in the Real World
Something seems off, in other words, when it doesn’t match up to our expectations because it takes longer to process. The Implicit Association Test is a well-known real world example that was covered extensively in Blink.
- When you see “math,” do you respond “man” or “woman”?
- Think of a criminal: what does that person look like?
- If you see a group of diverse candidates, why might some of them look more presidential than others?
- What do superheroes look like?
AI is full of these biases. Algorithms are full of these biases because data isn’t objective—it’s every bit as biased at its input.
Humans have complex cultures—Netflix and NASA—because of our freakishly speedy ability to learn from each other and pass along knowledge, enabling the coordination of social behavior. The double-edged sword of this ability is the fact that humans copy the behavior of others even when it’s not useful to do so. Kids will tap on boxes because they saw another kid do that, even when it doesn’t open the box. Even when markets and methods of person selection develop under the auspices of forming a pure, intellectual meritocracy, they are themselves prone to founder effects. Scientists are people, too, and science itself is not immune to the legacies of their founders. To look at racism and instances of equating non-white skin with inferiority, really, all you have to do is turn on Netflix.
A study in Science examining the body language of characters on TV found that on average, the nonverbal behavior expressed on television was profoundly more negative against characters of color. We pick up on those cues so well that in the total absence of overtly racist people, we can still develop feelings about ourselves and others by watching reruns of Law and Order.1Max Weisbuch, Kristin Pauker, and Nalini Ambady. “The Subtle Transmission of Race Bias Via Televised Nonverbal Behavior.” Science 326, no. 5960 (2009): 1711-1714.
We might get a bad “As we saw a few chapters ago, we can “just have a “feeling about that guy” without ever realizing that we picked up on those clues from a mean woman on an elevator or a racist character on TV. These all measure the speed of our associations, many of which are based in the principles of the founders, capable of outliving their usefulness.
Other human beings turn the subjective into objective fact; things become more rewarding, funnier, and more meaningful with others.
House husband – https://www.reddit.com/r/AmItheAsshole/comments/15mnupx/aita_for_refusing_to_keep_doing_chores_for_my_wife/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=ios_app&utm_name=ioscss&utm_content=2&utm_term=1
What does this mean for you?
The status quo is sneaky.
Challenge new perspectives.