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Sunday, December 20, 2020

Choice blindness: Do you know yourself as well as you think?

David Edmonds
Originally published 3 Oct 20

Here is an excerpt:

Clearly we lack self-knowledge about our motives and choices. But so what? What are the implications of this research?

Well, perhaps one general point is that we should learn to be more tolerant of people who change their minds. We tend to have very sensitive antennae for inconsistency - be this inconsistency in a partner, who's changed their mind on whether they fancy an Italian or an Indian meal, or a politician who's backed one policy in the past and now supports an opposing position. But as we often don't have a clear insight into why we choose what we choose, we should surely be given some latitude to switch our choices.

There may also be more specific implications for how we navigate through our current era - a period in which there is growing cultural and political polarisation. It would be natural to believe that those who support a left-wing or right-wing party do so because they're committed to that party's ideology: they believe in free markets or, the opposite, in a larger role for the state. But Petter Johansson's work suggests that our deeper commitment is not to particular policies, since, using his switching technique, we can be persuaded to endorse all sorts of policies. Rather, "we support a label or a team".

That is to say, we're liable to overestimate the extent to which a Trump supporter - or a Biden supporter - backs his or her candidate because of the policies the politician promotes. Instead, someone will be Team Trump, or Team Biden. A striking example of this was in the last US election. Republicans have traditionally been pro-free trade - but when Trump began to advocate protectionist policies, most Republicans carried on backing him, without even seeming to notice the shift.