Avoiding Negative Results of Personal Behavior?

I always enjoy things that examine how people think about things, especially when it’s accompanied by a bit of modern brain science. I grabbed this article on optimisim bias off Kris Rusch’s Twitter stream. In particular, I wonder how far this goes toward covering why people do things that are so obviously bad for them. Smoking, for example. Or betting money they can’t afford. Or, whatever.

It describes in terms of brain chemistry, things that happen as people absorb information about the possibilities of bad and good outcomes (the chance you might get cancer, for example). This study suggests that the magnitude of the average person’s adjustments to their behavior based on being exposed to scientific information depend on where they started from–if the data is better for you than you first thought, you’ll adjust to it quickly, but to adjust to a worst case situation requires many more applications of the message. So if you think you have a 70% chance of a bad event occurring, hearing that the real chances are, say, 30% will make you change your framework. But if you thought there was only a 5% chance of that negative outcome to begin with, you won’t change much at all.

Or, in other words, everyone else is hosed, but I’m gonna be just fine.


As we move back into the day-job, I wonder about how this applies to people in corporate leadership roles. All my anecdotal evidence says that it applies in buckets.

I also thought the last third of the story–about optimism and happiness–was fascinating, if not a bit bothersome, as it includes conclusions from Andrew Oswald, a behavioral economist, that suggests (since I’m a male) I’m due to get less happy for another year or two before bottoming out and then getting happy again. Lisa, assuming she’s average per this article, bottomed out some time ago, and is growing happier every danged second.

It’s just no fair.

I wanna be happy now, damnit!

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Posted in Science, The World.

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