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July 27, 2010 3:22 PM   Subscribe

You think people know what you are thinking. You think that you are rational. You even think that life is fair. Actually, you are not that smart.
posted by ejoey (66 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
My fault, I'm human.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:26 PM on July 27, 2010


This basically explains my whole day at work.
posted by selfmedicating at 3:37 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have to say, a lot of the articles on that website are interesting and informative, but the one on placebo buttons seems to be a giant load of bullshit.
posted by hippybear at 3:37 PM on July 27, 2010


You know who else pointed out the logical fallacies of others?
posted by swift at 3:40 PM on July 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ok. I’m going to assume you’ve been tapping. How did you do? Did they figure out what you were trying to play?

Probably not.


She was singing along two bars in. Does the author owe me $1 or something?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:43 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have to say, a lot of the articles on that website are interesting and informative, but the one on placebo buttons seems to be a giant load of bullshit.

I don't know about how prevalent the examples given are or how accurate their stats are, but I've definitely seen fake office thermostats, non-responsive elevator close buttons, and fake pedestrian crossing buttons. The latter though is probably the one that's most often not actually fake. Lots of streets around here won't give a walk signal at all unless you press the walk button.
posted by kmz at 3:44 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


This site is terrible. It's like the Parade magazine version of Overcoming Bias.
posted by grobstein at 3:49 PM on July 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


The wording really sums up my day.
posted by boo_radley at 3:50 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


People who are losing at the game of life must have done something to deserve it.

Who thinks that? I think most of us realize that the rats in this world are never going to pay for the misery they have caused, that at the end of a long life screwing other people over and sowing misery where ever they go, they are going to die in their own bed with the silk sheets and the mahogany headboard and the eiderdown pillows while their nineteen year old mistress sucks them off.

Meanwhile most of the hardest working, kindest, self-effacing people that we know are going to die in a god-awful, urine-reeking, scruffy, gray nursing home while sharing a room with 7 other stinky, crabby, old folks.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:52 PM on July 27, 2010 [21 favorites]


The just-world fallacy takes so many different forms and it is so harmful. It's the worship of the free market and the belief that whatever the market decides is just. It's Ben Stein saying everyone who is laid off must have been a bad employee or they wouldn't have been laid off, because of course what the market does is just. It's the facile notion of "karma". I'm not talking about the actual religious belief of which I am mainly ignorant, but the idea of karma that Westerners frequently toss around, that everybody gets what's coming to them in this world. No they don't. It's The Secret that whatever you put out into the universe is what you get back. So the starving children of the world must be thinking too much about having no food, thus they have no food. It's the idea that the way it is and the way it's supposed to be are the same. It's Prosperity Theology and the American Dream and victim-blaming and destiny. It's everywhere and it's the bane of my existence.
posted by Danila at 3:54 PM on July 27, 2010 [121 favorites]


Yeah... most of the walk buttons in Seattle are in fact functional. Though I wish they weren't — if you see the light on the street you want to cross turn yellow while you're walking to the corner, you have to run to hit the button before it turns red or you don't get a walk signal that cycle.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:57 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have to say, a lot of the articles on that website are interesting and informative, but the one on placebo buttons seems to be a giant load of bullshit.

Having worked in both the WTC and the Empire State Building I can say that the elevator and thermostat things are both true. The elevator mechanics and especially the HVAC guys think it's hilarious.
posted by Splunge at 3:59 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have to say, a lot of the articles on that website are interesting and informative, but the one on placebo buttons seems to be a giant load of bullshit.

My grandmother owned a large New York newspaper and here is (more or less) what she said about newspapers: "Whenever you read an article in the newspaper about someone you know or an event you witnessed, you are amazed by how much of it misreported or just plain wrong; and yet when you read the rest of the newspaper you assume it's somehow better. Why is that?"

Something to think about as you read a site like this.
posted by The Bellman at 4:04 PM on July 27, 2010 [56 favorites]


but the one on placebo buttons seems to be a giant load of bullshit.

That's a stinker of a comment with no explanation. Come on! What's bullshit about it?
posted by ericost at 4:05 PM on July 27, 2010


Having worked in both the WTC and the Empire State Building I can say that the elevator and thermostat things are both true.

Probably, in buildings that size, yes. But I've worked as a document courier and office supply delivery man in a couple of cities now, and I know that it's not true the close door buttons don't work in most elevators. In some they do, in some they don't, but there's no rhyme or reason for which ones do or don't (construction before or after the ADA doesn't matter).

I do know that some walk signal buttons don't work, but I have yet to see anything showing that this is because they've been deliberately disabled. And many of them DO work, because you don't get a walk signal without them.

And his nonsense about how soda machines might be someone hiding in a room watching a camera and dispensing the soda... WTF? Surely most people alive have seen a soda machine open and being refilled and tested...

Thermostats I don't know much about. Unless conditions are truly insufferably hot or cold, I just deal with the existing conditions.

I just wonder exactly how broad the experience is of the author of that piece, how much research he did, and what his basis is for stating his conclusions so unequivocally. Oh, right. Confirmation Bias.
posted by hippybear at 4:07 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are we not so smart because we aren't supposed to notice that the first and fourth links go to the same article?

Also, this author's page's illustration has a pipe why? Because he's so smart he can escape mouth cancer?
posted by bearwife at 4:09 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Perhaps ironically, I seek out articles on confirmation bias because they confirm what I believe.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:12 PM on July 27, 2010 [15 favorites]


There's an opposite to the just-world fallacy that I think is even more effective in sustaining the system - the belief that the people at the top of the pile got that way through lying, cheating, etc., and they don't really deserve it. This lets you believe that the system itself is fine, we just need to throw out the greedy CEOs and corrupt politicians and replace them with the Good Guys, and once that happens, it will be your turn to be on top. Even though this attitude creates a desire for change, it only generates ineffective forms of activism which create the appearance of activity while nothing really changes. Paradoxically, conceding that the system is just (assuming you accept its internal parameters of justice) is what really generates the desire for radical change.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:18 PM on July 27, 2010 [23 favorites]


Thermostats I don't know much about. Unless conditions are truly insufferably hot or cold, I just deal with the existing conditions.

My understanding is that in larger offices if the thermostat has a locked cover, it works. If it's just there, it doesn't. I certainly can see your points about the size of the office. As well smaller buildings with less elevator traffic.
posted by Splunge at 4:19 PM on July 27, 2010


The sources for the Placebo Button article are listed at the end of it.
posted by BeerFilter at 4:20 PM on July 27, 2010


Also, this author's page's illustration has a pipe why? Because he's so smart he can escape mouth cancer?

Sometimes a pipe is just a -- ah, nevermind.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:23 PM on July 27, 2010


Many of those supposedly non-functional "close" buttons in elevators are there for when the elevator is on independent service mode. Since this mode is usually used when you have lots of big stuff to move, and you don't really want the doors to keep trying to close when you've got a desk halfway in, you have to press and hold the close button for the doors to ever shut.
posted by FishBike at 4:23 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


On the one hand, he rubbishes behaviourism, on the other, he goes on about how we're all basically identical - dna etc. I think of us like zebras, identical to an outsider, magnifying tiny differences in our stripes. And they should teach the conditioning at school, it explains so much of our behaviour, it would make us more free to know it.
posted by maiamaia at 4:23 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I could, I would favorite Danila's comment a couple thousand times.
posted by belvidere at 4:25 PM on July 27, 2010


She was singing along two bars in. Does the author owe me $1 or something?

You have bronze fists. That gives you an unfair tapping advantage. No one owes you nothing for your tapping feats. Geeze!
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:26 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thermostats

Personally, when my work neighbor started complaining that her thermostat didn't work, I brought my infrared thermometer to work and found that the thermostat worked fine, it was the air conditioner that was not working. She put in a work order and it was fixed.

Thermometers are cheap...
posted by Huck500 at 4:28 PM on July 27, 2010


Also, this author's page's illustration has a pipe why? Because he's so smart he can escape mouth cancer?

Notice that the pipe is only near his mouth. He is smart enough to use the "smart guy with a pipe image" but also smart enough not to smoke it. Besides, it is only a picture. He probably looks different in real life. For one thing, he is probably in color.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:34 PM on July 27, 2010 [10 favorites]


The Bellman: "Whenever you read an article in the newspaper about someone you know or an event you witnessed, you are amazed by how much of it misreported or just plain wrong; and yet when you read the rest of the newspaper you assume it's somehow better. Why is that?"

Something to think about as you read a site like this.


Or like this. [NOT METAFILTERIST]
posted by tzikeh at 4:42 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


The article about placebo buttons makes me feel a squidge of embarrassment.

When I was a kid I had no idea which button to push for which crosswalk, so I would end up pushing neither, and would wait for another pedestrian or just wait for a break in traffic. (Being white, I didn't worry about getting a ticket.)

I'm pretty sure that those buttons weren't all placebos. I knew that at some intersections I would get a signal regardless, but at some I just wouldn't. Then my town added signs helpfully explaining which button to push, so my crosswalk anxiety went away.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:45 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


People who are losing at the game of life must have done something to deserve it.

Who thinks that?

posted by drjimmy11 at 4:48 PM on July 27, 2010


Tip your waitresses, folks!
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:49 PM on July 27, 2010


"In social psychology, the fundamental attribution error (also known as correspondence bias or attribution effect) describes the tendency to over-value dispositional or personality-based explanations for the observed behaviors of others while under-valuing situational explanations for those behaviors. The fundamental attribution error is most visible when people explain the behavior of others. It does not explain interpretations of one's own behavior—where situational factors are often taken into consideration. This discrepancy is called the actor-observer bias."
posted by weston at 4:54 PM on July 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


[this is good]
posted by killdevil at 4:59 PM on July 27, 2010


Oops, I messed the links!
posted by ejoey at 5:10 PM on July 27, 2010


There's an opposite to the just-world fallacy that I think is even more effective in sustaining the system - the belief that the people at the top of the pile got that way through lying, cheating, etc., and they don't really deserve it.

Yes. Two sides of the same coin. It's a sort of weak theism. Either the universe is out to punish you or it's out to reward you. People seem way more comfortable with these beliefs than (what I think is the truth) the belief that the universe doesn't care about you one way or another (because it doesn't have a mind TO care). So it's basically a crap shoot. Some good people will get what they deserve; some won't.

I always think about "Amadeus." When Salieri's career started tanking, instead of thinking, "It's random bad luck," decided that God hated him. If God has such strong feelings about you -- even if they're negative, you must be pretty important to Him.

People make the same sort of assumptions about government. Most people are much more comfortable thinking about it as either good or evil. Most people don't want to think of it as a bumbling mess that doesn't have any clear agenda -- or that has one but carries it out in a haphazard way that is just as likely to hinder its agenda as to further it. People give lip service to this, but they very quickly fall into "it's good" or "it's evil" when emotions run high.

People think strangers on the street hate them before they think strangers are indifferent to them. We tend to personify everything AND think everything is interested in us.

This is even a partial cause of racial prejudice, homophobia and sexism. I've heard many dateless men talk about how women "hate me." I guess that's better then "they don't think about me at all."
posted by grumblebee at 5:14 PM on July 27, 2010 [12 favorites]


If you reverse engineer this website it gives you a full-text .pdf of The Secret.
posted by codacorolla at 5:23 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do "push to walk" buttons at intersections ever actually work?
posted by DU at 5:24 PM on July 27, 2010


One of my college lecturers designed and built digital effects units. He told me that he would put analogue dials and meters on the units because customers claimed they 'sounded better' than the exact same unit with digital controls and meters.
posted by TwoWordReview at 5:31 PM on July 27, 2010


I've been interviewing this week, and I think the transparency thing rings true. Occasionally I'll spot an answer that I think the candidate won't be happy with, but I'm sure they go home cursing a great many more flubbed lines that are unnoticed by me. I also am surprised if i catch sight of shaking hands; the nervousness they are doubtless sure is obvious to me is actually all-but-invisible.
posted by bonaldi at 5:37 PM on July 27, 2010


Meanwhile, my restless leg syndrome makes people think I'm constantly freaking out when I'm actually lost in introspective thought.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:48 PM on July 27, 2010


This website has inspired me...to run to the liquor store.
posted by hellojed at 6:01 PM on July 27, 2010


MEtaFilter: you are not so smrt
posted by bwg at 6:26 PM on July 27, 2010


amusing... but these are really old psychology textbook concepts....
posted by delilablu at 6:47 PM on July 27, 2010


Dancing to bring the rain, sacrificing a goat to get the sun to rise – it turns out these are a lot like pressing the button at the crosswalk over and over again.

So, wait. If I sacrifice a goat at the crosswalk... will my elevator door close?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:48 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I know the walk button works, because this is the best of all possible worlds.
posted by miyabo at 7:00 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Who thinks that?

Virtually everyone who comments on the news stories in my local rag.
posted by dhartung at 7:09 PM on July 27, 2010


So, wait. If I sacrifice a goat at the crosswalk... will my elevator door close?

ProTip: Only if you can bilocate.
posted by Splunge at 8:00 PM on July 27, 2010


Another study at Ohio State in 2009 showed subjects clips of the parody show “The Colbert Report,” and people who considered themselves politically conservative consistently reported “Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said.”

Whaaaaaaaat?
posted by Put the kettle on at 8:36 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you go far enough back in the archives, you learn how Not So Smart it is to enjoy Cheese. Go farther and he debunks Women's Rights, the Free Market and Democracy. We are all so screwed.

But if Mr. YANSS is following this MetaFilter thread (and it's only natural to assume he is, uh, right?), I hope he can tell me why I feel stupider and less able to process information in my head than I used to. Do we really 'slow down' as we get older, is it the ever-increasing speed and quantity of information, or do I have a brain tumor?
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:36 PM on July 27, 2010


All three
posted by grobstein at 9:12 PM on July 27, 2010


Yeah... most of the walk buttons in Seattle are in fact functional. Though I wish they weren't — if you see the light on the street you want to cross turn yellow while you're walking to the corner, you have to run to hit the button before it turns red or you don't get a walk signal that cycle.

Worse than that, the walk buttons along Elliott Ave. work too well on intersections which change colors only once every ten minutes. If you miss hitting the walk button, you'll be waiting at the intersection a very, very long time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:17 PM on July 27, 2010


What about those of us who don't think any of those things?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:45 PM on July 27, 2010


But if Mr. YANSS is following this MetaFilter thread (and it's only natural to assume he is, uh, right?)

He might be; the "Women's Rights" link leads to a 404.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:11 AM on July 28, 2010


You think people know what you are thinking. You think that you are rational. You even think that life is fair.
Bleh, just because other people can't overcome, or aren't aware of their biases doesn't mean I can't or aren't. Which, ironically, makes me rational.
posted by delmoi at 2:40 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Google cache of the page on women's happiness is here.
posted by Catseye at 4:32 AM on July 28, 2010


Women used to have a narrow selection of choices in life. They may have sucked, but they were predictable and well-understood. All of the sudden, there was an expectation to pick from a myriad of new possibilities, many of which women had no part in creating.

When life sucks because the world you live in is oppressive, you blame others. When life sucks because you can’t make the right decisions, you blame yourself.

This is still just speculation, but the fact we can’t figure out why this paradox exists makes one thing is clear. You are not so smart when it comes to women’s happiness.


You could say the same thing about slavery when it was first abolished: hey you slaves are no longer oppressed so why are you so unhappy? You must be blaming yourself because you aren't making the right decisions.

First, who says women are no longer oppressed? There's going to be a few generations where women and men figure out together how to best equalize work/pay/home. A lot of what makes women unhappy today is the unrealistic expectations placed on them to have a career, keep the home, make babies and look like a super model while doing it.

Second, the measurement of happiness when you have no choices vs. the measurement of happiness when your choices expand is a non-starter for me. One tiny example: when I was in elementary school girls had to wear skirts and dresses. Does that mean I was unhappier than girls today who can wear pants and shorts? Of course not. It never occurred to me there was another possibility, however being unable to wear pants and shorts was a handicap in some ways that I just accepted. That doesn't mean that limiting choices in order to preserve happiness is a good thing, in fact limiting choices is usually a negative thing.

Third, who says women are blaming themselves?

Fourth, who thinks women are happier now than in 1975? Again, the blogger builds his strawman in order to knock it down. Maybe his blog needs to be called, "When I Assume Things, I'm an Ass."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:07 AM on July 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


Do "push to walk" buttons at intersections ever actually work?
posted by DU at 8:24 PM on July 27 [+] [!]


I was just coming to post that; so I will post this instead:
Do "close door" buttons on elevators ever actually work?


Fucking buttons, how do they work?
posted by TedW at 6:17 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did not take psych at university, and I don't have a subscription to Mind, so I found most of the YAMSS stories to be interesting. Wish I had known some of that shit 25 years ago...

So, onto the derail:

Yeah... most of the walk buttons in Seattle are in fact functional. Though I wish they weren't — if you see the light on the street you want to cross turn yellow while you're walking to the corner, you have to run to hit the button before it turns red or you don't get a walk signal that cycle.

There's alot of these 'walk' buttons in Toronto, (apparently functional), including the above-described type that won't give a walk signal on a green without being pushed... but for most of these intersections the green cycle happens with the same frequency, and with the same duration of green... so what is the point of NOT showing the walk for every green? Makes no sense to me.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:29 AM on July 28, 2010


My explanation for the push-to-walk and close-elevator buttons working or not working is this:

It's a machine. Built by humans. Sometimes it doesn't work. Sometimes it doesn't work the way we think it's supposed to work.

I'll keep pushing 'em, just in case they do work.
posted by grubi at 6:37 AM on July 28, 2010


I already knew I wasn't that smart.
posted by anniecat at 7:07 AM on July 28, 2010


The elevator repair man or serviceman or whatever can go into the panel and disable the open/close button. On some of lifts the switch is on the panel and you just have to turn a key. So it's not really a placebo, or fake button.
posted by L'OM at 9:27 AM on July 28, 2010


delmoi
Bleh, just because other people can't overcome, or aren't aware of their biases doesn't mean I can't or aren't. Which, ironically, makes me rational.

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not. Do you really think you're some kind of super-rational being who has overcome all biases, even unconscious ones you have no control over? It seems like the belief that you are entirely rational is a bias in itself, a sort of confirmation bias ("I am rational therefore whatever I do or think is rational").
posted by Sangermaine at 9:30 AM on July 28, 2010


Re: Placebo Buttons, I can say that the crosswalk buttons near my office here in Ann Arbor, MI, the definitely do have an effect. If you press the button, when the traffic light turns green in the direction you want to cross the pedestrian "WALK" sign will also light up. If you do not press the button, it will continue to say "DON'T WALK" in all 4 directions at all times.

That appears to be the only effect, however. The buttons do not change the timing of the traffic light in any way that I can see. Cars flow exactly the same way. And, as long as you ignore the WALK/DON'T WALK sign, they don't increase your opportunities to safely cross the street. The buttons do have the one simple effect of making the sign say "WALK" during a period of time in which it would have been safe to cross the street anyway.

As for elevator buttons, I've read in a number of places that the close door buttons often don't do anything. However, on the limited number of elevators I've tested (mostly in roughly 4 hotels), the button actually did function as advertised. In fact in one hotel the door would remain open for several minutes unless you pressed "close door".
posted by Vorteks at 10:54 AM on July 28, 2010


I appreciate how he attempts to rationalize why we have biases, and also how he attempts to make them relatable. I think that the site is wrought with generalizations that are clearly contradictory to some of the topics he asserts, and the provocative "you're not so smart" sets an ultimately ineffective tone to the blog. Otherwise, grains of salt included, I like the blog.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:32 AM on July 28, 2010


The sources for the Placebo Button article are listed at the end of it.

The sources you speak of are anecdotal 'testimonies' and slow-news day articles. Not much there that stands up to scientific rigor.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:45 PM on July 28, 2010


There are a few intersections in my town where the light will not cycle at all unless a) the magnetic trigger in the cross-street is triggered, b) someone presses the walk button.

What I don't understand is why they put such a damned long delay on the trigger. Why should I have to wait a full minute for the light to change? It doesn't take that long for the intersection to clear, it just makes me sit and twiddle my thumbs. If I'm walking, I can jaywalk, but if I'm driving, I have to sit there and burn gas at idle, for nothing. It's not like there's going to be less cross-traffic in a minute than there is now.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:06 PM on July 28, 2010


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