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Rabu, 25 Februari 2009

Bias Judgement

Adapted from Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational
Chapter 9: The Effect of Expectations: Why the Mind Gets What It Expects

Have you ever had an argument with your friends lasting for days? Or even months or years? Or you may be involved in a serious debate with your spouse. You see there's no way out and it seems that progress is nearly possible to achieve. Don't worry. You are not alone. We human are created that way, irrationally defensive to our belief. Only angels (malaikat) do judge merely using facts. Only facts. We are too sophisticated to behave like angels.

I had an uncle, my late uncle, who taught me to eat tempoyak, a traditional seasoning made from fermented durians. It is usually used to season fish (pepes ikan). It also can be used to make merely sambal, called sambal tempoyak. One day in a reception, we were about to self-serve our lunch. Looking at an unusual dish, I asked him whether the fish was served with tempoyak. Calmly he said it's not. So I took the fish and then enjoyed my lunch. Only after I finished my dish, I was told that the fish was served with tempoyak, a kind of food I never tried before. You can guess then. Right? If my uncle told me that it was tempoyak, probably I would never taste tempoyak at all in my life.

Dan Ariely tried to figure out what really happened to me. In fact he did not write about me and tempoyak, but he experimented with his students to taste MIT brewed beer (I apologize to my fellow Moslems that I cite his experiment with alcoholic beverage to explain the point of argument - Y Pan). He provided two types of beer. The MIT brewed beer and standard commercial beer. The MIT brewed beer was actually the standard beer added with two drops of balsamic vinegar per ounce of beer.

In one experiment, he told his students that the MIT brewed beer was adulterated with the balsamic vinegar before they tasted it. The result? After tasting the MIT brewed and the standard beer, typically they disliked the MIT brewed and chose the standard beer as the champion. In another experiment the students were not informed about the balsamic vinegar. The result? OK, you are just right. Many students really liked the MIT brewed. Hey, what happened here? Like me, the students loved the unusual MIT brewed beverage only because they were not told about the balsamic vinegar. In my case it was the tempoyak.

To make sure that information given before judgement really made a difference, Dan conducted a third experiment. Now, the students were not informed about the vinegar before tasting the beer. However, after they made up their mind, choosing the MIT brewed or the standard beer, the students then were told about the vinegar. The information given after judgement did not affect their judgement as in the first case, i.e. when they were told about balsamic vinegar before tasting the beer. They still liked the MIT brewed. They even were willing to add the balsamic vinegar themselves to additional glasses of beer to enjoy.

So prior information or knowledge before a judgement really influences the judgement. The events can be exactly the same. So are the facts. Given the very same facts and events, two friends could have two very rigid, opposing arguments. Prior information sets up their expectations and beliefs. Furthermore, their judgements are effectively biased to those beliefs. To loosen this kind of irrational yet 'effective' judgement, we could dismantle our expectations for a moment and just focus on the facts. It is hard though. We also could try inviting a neutral third-party to facilitate the resolution. Well, it is still not easy.

Finally, although our irrationality could thrive conflicts, whether they are domestic, regional, national, or international, there is no reason for us to give up. We should continue to try to resolve them. Here are some examples of those conflicts to resolve.

Ralph Kimball versus Bill Inmon
Israel versus Palestine
America versus Iraq
America versus Venezuela
America versus Bolivia
Pakistan versus India
SBY versus Megawati
Islamic Parties versus Secular Parties
Partai Demokrat versus Partai Golkar
Labors versus Capitalists
Friends versus Friends
Colleagues versus Colleagues
Husbands versus Wives
Parents versus Children

Next: Expensive yet Effective Placebo
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