Oct 30 2009

Knowing the Knower’s Natural Ignorance

Published by at 8:15 am under psychology,skepticism

To a significant degree, scientific methodology developed as a consequence of the aspiring knower becoming better known. More specifically, as it became clear how imperfect the human mind is at apprehending the universe in an unassisted mode, ways to make human knowledge more accurate and dependable were devised.

Hmm. It seems prophecy is not better than chance at determining what will happen. Better to make predictions, test and measure.

Hmm. It seems that overt and covert expectations influence perception and even measurement. Better single blind that test. Better yet, double blind. And add a control group.

That people still maintain faith in unassisted cognition — “I just know it” — baffles me. Have they no knowledge of human psychology. Those who believe in the paranormal and the supernatural have not learned the just because intuitions and the whisperings of gods seem to be true and feel true — that doesn’t mean they are true.

If only our minds were infallible at apprehending truth. But that is not the case. In the following psychological studies we catch get a glimpse at three of the ways the human mind can be pushed of course without the knower knowing it.

1) Words influencing self-control

In Candy bar or healthy snack? Free choice not as free as we think, Juliano Laran from the University of Miami conducted a couple experiments, one on snack choice. He -

tested subjects to determine how certain words and concepts affected consumers’ decisions for self-control or indulgence. He found that consumer choices were affected by the actions most recently suggested to them by certain key words.

Two groups of subjects played a word game. For one group, the word-scramble game generated results suggesting indulgence or self-control. The results of the blinded study show:

Participants who unscrambled sentences associated with indulgence were more likely to choose an indulgent snack to be consumed right now but a healthy snack to be consumed in the future.”

2) Transient sensation influencing judgment

In an ingenious study, as told by the article, The Link Between Weight And Importance, Nils Jostmann and his colleagues at the University of Amsterdam tested whether the mere holding of an item, heavier or lighter, could influencing the cognition of subjects. The answer: yes.

In a series of experiments, volunteers held clipboards, some heavy and some light. While doing so, they were asked to fill out a number of questionnaires. In one study, they were asked to estimate the value of various foreign currencies and indeed, the researchers found that those with the heavy clipboard saw the money as more valuable and important.

The researchers also tested the effects of weight on the more abstract idea of justice. Volunteers (still holding their clipboards) were presented with a fictional scenario in which students were deliberately excluded from an important university decision, and were asked how important it was for them to have a voice at the table. Those with the heavier clipboards saw the exclusion of the students as a more important justice issue than did those with a lighter load.

3) Success or failure influencing perception

Jessica Witt, in a study published by the online journal, Perception, shared the results of her study into how the results of a task can influence an individual’s perception of it. She had non-athletes attempt to kick a short field goal.

Study participants who missed because they kicked the ball too wide judged the goal to be narrower, and those who missed because they kicked the ball too short judged the goal to be taller.

Conclusion: Thinking can be readily influenced by all sorts of things, many beyond conscious awareness. Left to his/her “natural,” unassisted thinking, the knower is imperfect. Science can help us move in the direction of perfection. Thanks to it, we can know the world with greater accuracy and reliability.


3 Comments to “Knowing the Knower’s Natural Ignorance”

  1. [...] recent studies have supported the argument I made in my post last Friday: Knowing the Knower’s Natural Ignorance. In it I [...]

  2. [...] Well you may need to consult The Evolving Mind again, as Andrew describes three fascinating experiments where the silliest of things affect the [...]

  3. Skeptics’ Circle #123on 11 Nov 2009 at 12:25 pm

    [...] at Blue Genes. Posts to check out: The SkepVet Blog on CAM and religiosity; The Evolving Mind on cognitive biases; and Skeptic North on the lack of evidence for the healing power of [...]

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