NEUROECONOMICS AND SURPRISE
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.