After the three years that I have pushed out other people’s ideas on judgement and decision making, at this moment, I can recall three huge ideas.
I continually look for commment on and expansion of these ideas, and I often do this in the most lazy of ways, I google them. Recently I seemed to find the last two mentioned on the same page of a philosophy book. That was not actually true, but it did remind me of similarities that I could point out. The idea of a compensatory process where one changes his belief a little to match the current set of “facts” tracks well with the idea that we can get predictions correct by moving our hand to catch the ball so that it does not have to be thrown perfectly. Both clearly try to match up the environment and ourselves. The Parallel Constraint Satisfaction model minimizes dissonance while the Free Energy model minimizes surprise. Both dissonance and surprise can create instability. The Free Energy model is more universal than the Parallel Constraint Satisfaction model, while for decision making PCS is more precise. The Free Energy model also gives us the idea that heuristic models could fit within process models. All this points out what is obvious to us all. We need the right model for the right job.
This post is based on the paper: “The discovery and comparison of symbolic magnitudes,” written by Cognitive Psychology 71 (2014) 27–54 This is a little different from one of Brunswik’s ideas –how good we are at determining sizes in the environment. Those might be called perceptual magnitudes. Symbolic magnitudes seem to be ones taken from memory and the immediate context.
We have sophisticated abilities to learn and make judgments based on relative magnitude. Magnitude comparisons are critical in making choices (e.g., which of two products is more desirable?), making social evaluations (e.g., which person is friendlier?), and in many other forms of appraisal (e.g., who can run faster, this bear or me?). In the paper, the authors seek to explain where subjective magnitudes come from?
For a few types of symbolic comparisons, such as numerical magnitudes of digits, it may indeed be the case that each object has a pre-stored magnitude in long-term memory. The notion that magnitudes are pre-stored is implausible for the wide range of dimensions on which people can make symbolic comparisons, especially in the interpersonal and social realm (e.g., intelligence, friendliness, religiosity, conservatism). Magnitudes are more likely derived, context-dependent features that are computed as needed in response to a query.
Ken Hammond wrote a book, Judgments Under Stress, published in 2000. He was clearly frustrated with how the field of psychology dealt with stress and used his book as a vehicle to change the discussion. Hammond really wants to talk about constancy while stress is a constancy disruptor. Hammond’s mentor, Egon Brunswik, saw constancy as the essence of life. Hammond asserts that the orientation of the organism is directed toward maintaining stable relations with the environment, and that disruption of those stable relations is the definition of stress.
Kenneth R Hammond’s book Beyond Rationality-the Search for Wisdom in a Troubled Time was published in 2007. Ken Hammond is a man in his 90s and this book and really all his writings have a frankness that is easy to like. He is quite willing to look at the people and themes in the world of judgment and decision making and tell you what he thinks. He is clearly a learned man, and I enjoy his discussions about Oliver Wendell Holmes, Abraham Lincoln, and recent politicians. Hammond says a lot in this book, but I am going to try to limit my discussion of it to three posts.
The above image is Egon Brunswik, who was Ken Hammond’s mentor. The picture is at the beginning of Beyond Rationality.