Category Archives: Enhancements/Improvements

Gigerenzer — Risk Saavy

risksaavyindexGerd Gigerenzer has a 2014 book out entitled:  Risk Saavy, How to Make Good Decisions, that is a refinement of his past books for the popular press.  It is a little too facile, but it is worthwhile. Gigerenzer has taught me much, and he will likely continue. He is included in too many posts to provide the links here (you can search for them). My discussion of the book will be divided into two posts. This one will be a general look, while the next post will concentrate on Gigerenzer’s take on medical decision making.

As in many books like this, the notes provide insight. Gigerenzer points out his disagreements with Kahneman with respect to heuristics all being part of the unconscious system. As he notes heuristics, for instance the gaze heuristic, can be used consciously or unconsciously. This has been a major issue in my mind with Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2. Kahneman throws heuristics exclusively into the unconscious system. I also side with Gigerenzer over Kahneman, Ariely, and Thaler that the unconscious system is associated with bias. As Gigerenzer states: “A system that makes no errors is not intelligent.” He interestingly points out the use of the gaze heuristic by Sully Sullenberger to decide to not return to LaGuardia, but instead to land in the Hudson River.

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Mass Hysteria to the Rescue

ebolaThis post is a reaction to the column by Bret Stephens that appeared in the October 21, 2014, Wall Street Journal, entitled: “What the Ebola Experts Miss.” The column starts out:

Of course we should ban all nonessential travel from Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and any other country badly hit by the Ebola virus.


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Affect Gap

affect-space-webThis post is based on the paper: “The Affect Gap in Risky Choice: Affect-Rich Outcomes Attenuate Attention to Probability Information,” authored by Thorsten Pachur,  Ralph Hertwig, and Roland Wolkewitz that appeared in Decision, 2013, Volume 1, No. 1, p 64-78.  This is a continuation of the affect/ emotion theme. It is more of a valence based idea than Lerner’s Appraisal Tendency Framework.  This is more thinking about emotion than actually experiencing it although the two can come together.

Often risky decisions involve outcomes that can create considerable emotional reactions. Should we travel by plane and tolerate a minimal risk of a fatal terrorist attack or take the car and run the risk of traffic jams and car accidents? How do people make such decisions?  Decisions under risk typically obey the principle of the maximization of expectation.
The expectation expresses the average of an option’s outcomes, each weighted by its
probability. This, of course, underlies expected utility theory and cumulative prospect theory and these models do a good job in accounting for choices among relatively affect-poor

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Emotions and Health Decision Making

shared_decision_making_smallThis post is based on a paper by Rebecca Ferrer, William Klein, Jennifer Lerner, Valerie Reyna, and Dacher Keltner: “Emotions and Health Decison-Making, Extending the Appraisal Tendency Framework to Improve Health and Healthcare,” in Behavioral Economics and Public Health, 2014. I note that Valerie Reyna is one of the authors of fuzzy trace theory (see post Fuzzy Trace Theory-Meaning, Memory, Development and subsequent posts.) which I find interesting.

The authors use the appraisal tendency framework (ATF) to predict how emotions may interact with situational factors to improve or degrade health-related decisions. The paper examines four categories of judgments and thought processes as related to health decisions: risk perception, valuation and reward-seeking, interpersonal attribution, and depth of information processing. They illustrate ways in which a better understanding of emotion can improve judgments and choices regarding health.

The ATF assumes that specific emotions give rise to corresponding cognitive and motivational processes that are related to the target of the emotion (i.e., the situation, person, or other stimulus that elicited the emotion). In contrast to theories that predict how broad mood states (positive or negative) may influence judgment and decision making, the ATF offers specific predictions for how discrete emotions will influence judgment and decision making (See Tables 1 and 2).

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David Brooks on Expertise

logindexDavid Brooks has a way of irritating me. For some reason, he seems like a very serious person so I cannot dismiss him out of hand. But, on June 16, 2014, he wrote “The Structures of Growth—Learning is no Easy Task,”  in the New York Times, about certain human activities having logarithmic learning functions and others as having exponential functions. I realize that I am envious of his being able to push such sloppy work out the door to millions of readers. It is just a column, but read it for yourself.

His basis was a blog by Scott  H. Young in early 2013, who as far as I can tell made much less outlandish representations about learning or domains of growth. Young explains that anything that you try to improve will have a growth curve, and that it is a mistake to assume that it will be linear. Young says that athletic performance, productivity, and mastery of a complex skill tend to be logarithmic. Early progress on logarithmic growth activities can make you overconfident if you do not realize that the curve will soon flatten. He notes that exponential functions tend to be limited to ranges and apply to technological improvement, business growth, wealth, and rewards to talent.

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The Art of Delay

benimagesAs you get older even those of us not labeled as procrastinators realize that some decisions never have to be made. You can wait a little bit and it becomes irrelevant or the decision becomes obvious.  Using my adaptation of the parallel constraint satisfaction model, your intuitive processing often does not come up with a clear cut answer and sends the analytic system out for more information. This is a common point for us to insert delay if we can.  Other times we make a decision and then get an opportunity to change it without any real penalty.  Frank Partnoy’s book Wait- The Art and Science of Delay examines the overall issue mostly with a series of anecdotes. The book provides some insights.

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Political Decision Making: Diversity or Systematic Error?


sysquality_sys_randomI have ignored group decision making to a large extent, but bootstrapping has somehow brought me back to it–especially dialectical bootstrapping which seems to be one person group decision making. Obviously, group decision making is important.  This post will focus on political decision making. Two books from 2007, Scott Page’s: The Difference — How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies and Bryan Caplan’s: The Myth of the Rational Voter–Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies look at it from far apart.

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IMGThis is a mild revolution for me.  I was always irritated when someone suggested that someone should pull himself up by his bootstraps. This seemed quite impossible to me. But apparently even my computer is bootstrapping when it is booting. According to Wikipedia, bootstrapping usually refers to the starting of a self-sustaining process that is supposed to proceed without external input. In computer technology the term (usually shortened to booting) usually refers to the process of loading the basic software into the memory of a computer after power-on or general reset, especially the operating system which will then take care of loading other software as needed. ‘‘Bootstrapping’’ alludes to Baron Munchhausen, who claimed to have escaped from a swamp by pulling himself up by, depending on who tells the story, his own hair or bootstraps.

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Checklists/Fast and Frugal Trees

figure.73The checklist is a heuristic. Gigerenzer explains that there needs to be something between mere intuition and complex calculations, and those might often be called rules of thumb.  Although a checklist can be many things, it also fits between mere intuition and a bunch of analytic reasoning. The best checklists are like Gigerenzer’s fast and frugal tree where you take the best of a yes or no question starting with the most important question and work your way down the tree to the decision.  Gigerenzer talks about “ecological rationality”–the match between the structure of a heuristic and the structure of an environment.

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Signal Detection Theory Applied

treedownloadThis post examines a couple of applications of Signal Detection Theory.  Both are technically beyond me, but the similarities in the applications seem instructive.  In both articles, SDT is used to evaluate questionnaire type screening tools.  This is not a big surprise since it is where most of us first saw applications of statistical hypothesis testing and those false positives and false negatives.  One paper looks at BRCA genetic risk screening and the other depression screening.  In both cases, the screening instruments do not propose to be gold standards, but only introductory screening.  It might be the type of screening that internal medicine doctors might do.  In both cases, there is the idea that pure probability based instruments are ineffective, due to the biases that most people carry with them. One paper utilizes a fast and frugal decision tree(FFT) and the other three risk categories to provide the gist as in fuzzy trace theory(FTT). This gives us promotion of two similar acronyms: FFT and FTT.

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