Tuesday, October 07, 2008

See a Pattern on Wall Street?

John Tierney:
Take a look at the two blurry images below. Can you see an object hidden in each one?

Before I give the answers, here’s another question: Do you feel a certain lack of control over events right now?

These questions are not unrelated, according to a report in the new issue of Science by Jennifer Whitson and Adam Galinsky. The researchers found that when people were primed to feel out of control, they were more likely to see patterns where none exist. They would spot an object in each of the images above, even though only the image on the right contains one (the outline of Saturn and its rings). If you thought you saw something in the image on the left, don’t be too hard on yourself — your feeling may be perfectly understandable given the chaos on Wall Street.

The researchers say that their experiments, which also tested people’s tendency to detect conspiracies and see superstitious lessons in stories, help explain why conspiracy theories and superstitions flourish when people are feeling out of control. Previous researchers have reported, for instance, that first-year business-school students are more prone to imagine conspiracies than are second-year students, and that deep-sea fishermen have more elaborate rituals and superstitions than ones who fish in more predictable conditions near shore.
Read the whole thing.

One of the things that most concerns me about the current financial mess is that you have a lot of politicians sitting in DC voting on bills that address problematic patterns that don't really exist. There's no telling how many negative unintended consequences this might create.

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