I have often blogged about the phenomenon of motivated reasoning. This afternoon, I had a stark, in my face experience with it myself. I spilled some coffee on the carpet in my rental apartment this morning. It would definitely leave a stain if I didn’t clean it up right away. But I plan to live here at least another year or two. There will definitely be some more stains by the time I leave that I don’t notice in time to clean. So when I get my move out inspection, will this one extra stain really make a difference? It would be really easy just to ignore it. It is pretty small.
I can remember the motivated reasoning occurring in my head as I type. I imagined the day of the check out inspection, the person looking at the entire carpet and deciding whether it needs either cleaning (normal wear) or replacing (deduct from my security deposit). I imagined him looking at all the stains and deciding. The small coffee stain has little to do with his final decision.
If this sounds reasonable, I make the classic fundamental attribution error and ignore the stain today. We value things (in this case the time to clean) today more than we value things (in this case the security deposit refund) in the future. This is the classic overdiscounting error and is the basis for our overly strong desire for instant gratification.
Only if this best case scenario (because it allows me to skip the cleaning) seems clearly unreasonable would I be motivated to clean the stain at that moment. Nope.