One Simple Question

Example of how the psychology of problem solving works and doesn't work. Understanding how our inability to assess risk properly plays a part in anxiety.

Your good at simple maths right, OK what's the answer to the question below?

  Did you get it right?

Did you get it right?

Come on quickly it's 10p right? Well it isn't but don't feel too bad almost everyone gets it wrong. Do the sums and clearly 10p gives a total of £1.20.

Even when people know they have got it wrong they can't help feeling 10p is the right answer. The correct answer for those of you still struggling is 5p!

Whats going on here, well broadly speaking we have two systems that help us work things out. A quick system that uses previous experience and generalises it to give rapid automatic responses ie 'gut feelings' and a much slower high level conscious process that 'works it out' but takes time and energy. 

Tversky and Kahneman first studied this phenomenon back in 1973, and found that when an answer seems right our automatic processes seem to go for it without us using the higher level processes to think it through. They termed this the 'availability heuristic'.

Dan Gardner in his book Risk describes the quick processes as the 'gut' and the slow one the 'head'. The head he says is like a 'lazy but bright teenager: capable of great things if it only it could be bothered to get out of bed.'

There are numerous ways in which our automatic or heuristic ways of thinking can catch us out and assessing risk in the modern world is probably one of the commonest. 

The over estimation of risk is often seen in anxiety conditions and part of challenging this is to try to use the 'head' to reeducate the 'gut' to prevent the automatic perception of risk where there is none.

I'm going to do a series of blogs on these processes inspired by Dan Gardner's book which I definitely recommend. Feel free to use the above example to bamboozle friends and family, I've got more to come!