Saturday, October 22, 2011

Why we buy into simplistic plans

Bloomberg had an excellent, scathing editorial about Herman Cain this week.  I blogged about the politics of it on my political blog.   But there is a major human factors implication too.

Why do people buy into crap like this?  It is because it seems so simple. Our brains are wired to prefer simple to complicated.  Through 200,000 years of evolution, simple plans usually worked out better.  So we evolved to prefer them.  Unfortunately, our world is much more complicated than it used to be.  We need people willing to put together 100 page plans.  I agree that much of our tax code and other regs are too complicated and need simplification.  But tax reform is one thing, 9-9-9 is something completely different.

How is Cain going to solve the conflict in Afghanistan?  He will consult with the generals and "wish" a victory.  That enough will take care of everything.  When people hear this, are they justifiably skeptical?  Nope.  We have become so despondent and unconfident about our ability to solve any of the world's problems, we just want them to go away in some simple plan.  9-9-9.  Drill drill drill will solve the energy problems.  Global warming?  It must be some kind of conspiracy theory. 

Humans are very good at motivated reasoning.  Instead of looking at facts and coming to a logical conclusion based on them, we pick the answer we want and then focus only on the facts (or rumors) that support it.  It is a combination of emotion, anchoring, and confirmation bias. It explains many things, from battered spouse syndrome to Chicago Cubs fans.  Unfortunately, it also helps us decide who to vote for President.