NEUROECONOMICS AND SUR­PRISE

New Straits Times - - Living -

PLEASE join me in a sim­ple ex­per­i­ment. Read these three state­ments:

1. One, two, three... four. 2. North, south, east and... west.

3. Win­ter, spring, sum­mer... and the An­dromeda galaxy.

If that last bit trig­gered within you a stir of sur­prise, you’re nor­mal.

We hu­man be­ings, far more than any other life­form on Earth, are pat­tern­recog­nis­ing ex­perts.

That’s good be­cause it has helped us sur­vive and be­come the dom­i­nant species on our beau­ti­ful planet.

How­ever, we are also a pat­tern-seek­ing species. This means we try to find pre­dictable oc­cur­rences even when there is no true un­der­ly­ing pat­tern, which can be dan­ger­ous.

Imag­ine a pre­his­toric hunter notic­ing for per­haps six days in a row that when­ever the sun is high in the sky, no car­niv­o­rous preda­tors are to be seen.

Then, as a re­sult of faulty rea­son­ing built on his in­nate need to seek out pat­terns to make sense of his world, our hunter be­lieves no vi­cious an­i­mals at all roam the sa­van­nah at noon.

There­fore, he may un­con­sciously dis­re­gard nor­mal cues like musky scents, low growls and the dis­tant rustling of grass, which raises his like­li­hood of en­coun­ter­ing a prowl­ing, peck­ish sabre­tooth tiger want­ing a snack.

We grow sur­prised when the un­ex­pected oc­curs. And of­ten the un­ex­pected hits us so hard be­cause of our ten­dency to seek out pat­terns even when there is no gen­uine pat­tern-gen­er­at­ing prin­ci­ple at play.

Right now, I would like you to fo­cus on our well-de­vel­oped pat­tern seek­ing pre­dis­po­si­tion as we fast for­ward to our 21st cen­tury.

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