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How Rational Are You? Try This Quiz
The questions in this quiz are adaptations of items from research studies from the 1960s to the 1980s, initiated by Daniel Kahneman and his late research partner, Amos Tversky.
Irony lurks in the surge of interest in cognitive psychologists’ research on human reasoning: we seem to be desperately interested in reading about how poorly we think. If Descartes could behold the popularity of books by Daniel Kahneman and Leonard Mlodinow and the hundreds of articles and blog posts they and similar books have spawned, he might alter his pronouncement: I think about thinking, therefore I am. Metacognition rules.
I have a meta-meta-cognitive question or two about all this cerebrum gazing. But before I get to those, here’s a little quiz to get you thinking. The questions are my adaptations of items from research studies from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, two of them initiated by Kahneman and his late research partner, Amos Tversky. See how well you do:
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1. At a dinner party this weekend, a friend introduces you to a woman named Genevieve. He tells you that Genevieve recently graduated from Bryn Mawr College with a B.A. in Philosophy, where she was active in the Occupy movement and edited a literary magazine. You’re interested in talking to Genevieve about Hegel, the subject of her senior thesis, but your friend jumps in and asks you to rank the following statements about Genevieve in order of their probability:
(1) Genevieve is a feminist.
(2) Genevieve is looking for a job as a sanitation worker.
(3) Genevieve is a feminist who is looking for a job as a sanitation worker.
Given what you know about Genevieve, rank the statements from most likely to least likely.
2. Later that evening, your friend presents you with a deck of cards with a number on one side and a letter on the other. He deals you four cards from the deck. Here is what you see laid out before you on the four cards:
9 J U 2
Your friend then asks you which cards you will need to turn over in order to determine whether the following rule holds for the deck (assuming these four cards represent the rest of the deck):
If a vowel is printed on one side of the card, then an even number is printed on the other side
Which cards do you turn over in order to test this rule?
3. Genevieve offers you a bet. “Flip this quarter,” she says. “If it’s heads, I’ll give you $200. If it’s tails, you pay me $100.”
Should you take the bet?
1. This is known in the literature as the “Linda” problem, or the “conjunction fallacy.” It tests how well individuals reason using probability theory. In Kahneman and Tversky’s 1983 study, 85 percent of subjects got it wrong. Your answer was incorrect, too, if you ranked statement (3) in the first or second position. Logic dictates that (3) is the least likely scenario: two conditions being true (Genevieve is an ardent feminist + Genevieve is looking for a job as a sanitation worker) is always less probable than only one of these being true. If you got this one right — it doesn’t matter whether you put (1) or (2) first, just that you ranked (3) last — congratulations. If not, you’re in good company: only 15 percent of Stanford business school students who had received training in probability theory got it right.
(For more on Linda/Genevieve, including an examination of criticism of the question, see chapter 15 of Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow.)
2. The card question, first asked by Peter Wason in 1966, challenges your deductive reasoning skills. In his 1977 book, Wason (with co-author Philip Johnson-Laird) reports that only 5 percent of subjects answered questions like this correctly. The most common mistake is to turn over the U and 2 cards — an error that flows from the rule’s specification of a relationship between vowels and even numbers. You do need to flip over the U card to check if an even number is on the other side (as the rule specifies). But you do not need to see what’s on the other side of the 2 card: the rule does not specify that even numbers are always paired with vowels, just that there must be an even number opposite a vowel. You do need to flip over the 9 card, however: if there is a vowel on the other side, you can disprove the rule. So the answer is: you must turn over exactly two cards: the U and the 9.
(To try your hand at more examples of this selection task, with some interesting variations, try this link.)
3. The bet question does not have a right or wrong answer, per se, but it highlights what Kahneman calls an irrational “loss aversion” everyone seems to suffer from, at least to some extent. Technically speaking, any bet where the payoff is greater than the loss, given an equal chance at either outcome, is a good one. And the prospect of earning $200 is a much better payoff that easily outweighs the $100 you’d have to pay Genevieve if you lose. Assuming the loss of $100 is tolerable — you know where your next meal is coming from, and you don’t need the money to pay the rent — you should, as a rational agent, accept the bet. The real-world problem with loss aversion isn’t that you’ll pass up great bets like these — Genevieve would have to be crazy to offer it, after all. The loss aversion ends up costing you dearly if you spend too much time protecting your precious assets when you should be just as assiduous about prospecting for new ones. I once spent about 3 hours, over several weeks, making calls to a merchant who had charged me shipping for an item I purchased online with a free shipping coupon. I finally got my $8 back. But if someone would have offered me a job calling up multiple customer service agents, waiting on hold, getting the runaround, etc., for a promise of $8 in compensation, there’s no way I’d accept it.
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So, how did you do? If you avoided the common errors of reasoning that led large majorities of subjects to do the irrational thing on repeated experiments, you may justly gloat a little. (But only a little: as Jonah Lehrer and Big Thinker Tauriq Moosa report, smarter people may have a particularly hard time talking themselves out of other biases.)
If you answered one or more of these questions incorrectly — and chances are very high that you did — the question is what this says about you individually and about humanity writ large. Do experiments like these belie the faith of philosophers and social scientists in baseline human rationality? Do these results show that only a select slice of humanity (somewhere between 5 and 15 percent, depending on the study) qualifies for the title “rational”? One way out of this mess is to deny that any of these experiments are really measuring rationality. But if we seek to disentangle rationality from deductive logic and probability theory, our account of reason gets messy. Rationality may be about more than logic alone, but without logic at its base, isn’t it one confused puppy?
In his 1993 book, The Nature of Rationality, Robert Nozick sketched a concept of “symbolic utility” in which rational irrationality becomes a potential reality rather than an oxymoron:
Producing evident bad consequences, these apparently irrational actions and symptoms have a symbolic significance that is not obvious; they symbolize something else [which] has some utility or value..for the person. (p. 26)
So refusing Genevieve’s bet may symbolize your lack of greed, your conservative nature or your pride in protecting assets you have worked hard to earn. And you may benefit in various ways from having one or more of these self-conceptions. Nozick’s idea raises a host of questions and intellectual tangles, but at least it points a path around the faddish denial that human beings can think straight. As delicious as that idea seems to be.
Follow Steven Mazie on Twitter: @stevenmazie
For a more sustained critique of the experiments that inspired this quiz, and words of solace for those of you who didn't ace it, have a look at my follow-up post.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Russian astrophysicists propose the Casimir Effect causes the universe's expansion to accelerate.
- Astrophysicists from Russia propose a theory that says dark energy doesn't exist.
- Instead, the scientists think the Casimir Effect creates repulsion.
- This effect causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate.
Gravity Should Slow the Expanding Universe, but Dark Energy Is Speeding It ...<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="TXFqpm0M" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="e242a06f4b4464e0cffae45d5142d2ea"> <div id="botr_TXFqpm0M_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/TXFqpm0M-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/TXFqpm0M-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/TXFqpm0M-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.
Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.