Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Before You Answer, Consider the Opposite Possibility—How Productive Disagreements Lead to Better Outcomes

Ian Leslie
The Atlantic
Originally published 25 Apr 21

Here is an excerpt:

This raises the question of how a wise inner crowd can be cultivated. Psychologists have investigated various methods. One, following Stroop, is to harness the power of forgetting. Reassuringly for those of us who are prone to forgetting, people with poor working memories have been shown to have a wiser inner crowd; their guesses are more independent of one another, so they end up with a more diverse set of estimates and a more accurate average. The same effect has been achieved by spacing the guesses out in time.

More sophisticated methods harness the mind’s ability to inhabit different perspectives and look at a problem from more than one angle. People generate more diverse estimates when prompted to base their second or third guess on alternative assumptions; one effective technique is simply asking people to “consider the opposite” before giving a new answer. A fascinating recent study in this vein harnesses the power of disagreement itself. A pair of Dutch psychologists, Philippe Van de Calseyde and Emir Efendić, asked people a series of questions with numerical answers, such as the percentage of the world’s airports located in the U.S.. Then they asked participants to think of someone in their life with whom they often disagreed—that uncle with whom they always argue about politics—and to imagine what that person would guess.

The respondents came up with second estimates that were strikingly different from their first estimate, producing a much more accurate inner crowd. The same didn’t apply when they were asked to imagine how someone they usually agree with would answer the question, which suggests that the secret is to incorporate the perspectives of people who think differently from us. That the respondents hadn’t discussed that particular question with their disagreeable uncle did not matter. Just the act of thinking about someone with whom they argued a lot was enough to jog them out of habitual assumptions.