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Can Social Dynamics Explain Conjunction Fallacy Experimental Results?

I posted this on Less Wrong too.


Is there any conjunction fallacy research which addresses the alternative hypothesis that the observed results are mainly due to social dynamics?

Most people spend most of their time thinking in terms of gaining or losing social status, not in terms of reason. They care more about their place in social status hierarchies than about logic. They have strategies for dealing with communication that have more to do with getting along with people than with getting questions technically right. They look for the social meaning in communications. E.g. people normally try to give – and expect to receive – useful, relevant, reasonable info that is safe to make socially normal assumptions about.

Suppose you knew Linda in college. A decade later, you run into another college friend, John, who still knows Linda. You ask what she’s up to. John says Linda is a bank teller, doesn’t give additional info, and changes the subject. You take this to mean that there isn’t more positive info. You and John both see activism positively and know that activism was one of the main ways Linda stood out. This conversation suggests to you that she stopped doing activism. Omitting info isn’t neutral in real world conversations. People mentally model the people they speak with and consider why the person said and omitted things.

In Bayesian terms, you got two pieces of info from John’s statement. Roughly: 1) Linda is a bank teller. 2) John thinks that Linda being a bank teller is key info to provide and chose not to provide other info. That second piece of info can affect people’s answers in psychology research.

So, is there any research which rules out social dynamics explanations for conjunction fallacy experimental results?


Elliot Temple on August 5, 2020

Messages (6)

>Most people spend most of their time thinking in terms of gaining or losing social status, not in terms of reason. They care more about their place in social status hierarchies than about logic.

I wonder if there really is a distinction here. Higher social status and hierarchies would mean more access to wealth, security, influence, happiness, opportunities, and other resources such as luck. All these lead to being able to solve problems more easily. It seems to me quite *reasonable* to spend your time this way, as opposed to it being irrational.


Periergo at 12:02 PM on August 5, 2020 | #16979 | reply | quote

#16979 The largely social *only* approach (rather than a hybrid) results in e.g. them being unable to figure out which dieting advice is any good and which is superstitious fads. They similarly are bad at judging other types of ideas: science, economics, romance, parenting, etc. Most people can't turn off and on their focus on social dynamics and illogicalness.

Lots of rich people are unhappy. What good is influence if you don't know what ideas or policies are any good? What good are opportunities if you don't know how to judge them? What good is high social status if you're bad at problem solving? Problems are inevitable and you're going to suffer if you can't deal with your problems rationally.

I think people's socialness is more like a desperate attempt to cope with very difficult childhood social situations, rather than a wise or consciously chosen strategy. It's hard to change life strategies later even when in better situations, with more control over their life and independence, and much less downside to being less socially successful.

And people are joining a social competition that's very very competitive and has a limited number of winners. Most people don't climb very high in the social hierarchy *and* are awful at rational thinking (not a worthwhile price). Meanwhile rationality/logic/etc has a shortage of competitors and can pay very well (e.g. merely being a competent programmer can easily get you $300,000+/yr, whereas being socially competent won't get you much).


curi at 12:20 PM on August 5, 2020 | #16980 | reply | quote

> The largely social *only* approach (rather than a hybrid) results in e.g. them being unable to figure out which dieting advice is any good and which is superstitious fads. They similarly are bad at judging other types of ideas: science, economics, romance, parenting, etc. Most people can't turn off and on their focus on social dynamics and illogicalness.

Ok yes, this makes sense.

>Meanwhile rationality/logic/etc has a shortage of competitors and can pay very well (e.g. merely being a competent programmer can easily get you $300,000+/yr, whereas being socially competent won't get you much).

Couple of questions. 1) I thought logic had more to do with Math and Philosophy, what is its relevance to programming?

2) When you say "easily" get 300K/year, do you mean easily in comparison to social competition? I can't imagine it being easy to make that much just from programming.


Periergo at 12:37 PM on August 5, 2020 | #16981 | reply | quote

Programming is the same sort of activity as science and math. It uses a similar mindset which is literal, logical, precise, organized, rational, etc. Also, programmers commonly use logical operators like "AND" and "OR".

300k/yr is a fairly typical income for a programmer with 5 years of full time experience ("senior" programmer) who is paid market rate for contributing productively (nothing special, just actually competent) at a US company like Google.

There is a massive shortage of people able to do these jobs. Everyone is hiring and has been for a many years. And the programming work creates a ton of economic value to actually justify the demand for programmers (demand persists at high salaries because software is really, really useful).


curi at 12:48 PM on August 5, 2020 | #16982 | reply | quote

> Programming is the same sort of activity as science and math. It uses a similar mindset which is literal, logical, precise, organized, rational, etc. Also, programmers commonly use logical operators like "AND" and "OR".

> 300k/yr is a fairly typical income for a programmer with 5 years of full time experience ("senior" programmer) who is paid market rate for contributing productively (nothing special, just actually competent) at a US company like Google.

> There is a massive shortage of people able to do these jobs. Everyone is hiring and has been for a many years. And the programming work creates a ton of economic value to actually justify the demand for programmers (demand persists at high salaries because software is really, really useful).

This is very interesting. What is a realistic timeline? You mentioned 5 years of full time experience as a senior programmer. But I assume it takes many years to even get to that level of expertise. Let's say from 0 knowledge to that level, what is a realistic timeline do you think? What if we create a constraint such as currently working full time in an unrelated field?


Periergo at 12:57 PM on August 5, 2020 | #16983 | reply | quote

#16983 The standard timeline is roughly: You like programming and find it compatible with your way of thinking. You dabble in middle school. You take a few programming classes during high school and do a bit more hobby stuff too. (Being really into it and doing a lot of stuff yourself is fine and happens, but not required.) You then major in computer science in college and get a 4 year degree, then you get a job. Some places (like Google has this reputation) care more about advanced degrees (masters or phd) than others. Some are more picky about any college degree than others.

If you're an adult starting at 0, it's going to take a while. It's self-teachable and there are online courses and stuff. It's a particularly accessible field without needing a lab, needing hands on experience with teachers IRL, etc. You just need to be able to think the right way. If you go this route, then it's more likely you'll have to get a worse job at first. After 2-3 years of successful work experience, then maybe you could transition to e.g. Google and be 5 years away from "senior".

Hiring is massively fucked up (that's true in most industries), but if you handle job interviews well *or* you're actually good at programming then getting hired somewhere good right out of college is quite realistic. Companies are bad at figuring out who can program so they have a bunch of inaccurate proxies. But you can game the system by spending a month practicing the type of stuff they hire based on. There are practice/study books and other resources. A fair amount of hiring is oriented towards some of the sort of stuff taught in college programming classes, even though the majority of programmers don't use it much. So cramming for the test is more optional if you go the standard college route.

> What if we create a constraint such as currently working full time in an unrelated field?

Yeah then it'd generally take a long time. Career switching is hard. If you can do rational thinking, you can often find opportunities in your current field instead of field switching. That often works better. E.g. in many fields you can get way ahead by learning and applying TOC ideas. (But again most people are bad at rational type thinking, so are ineffective when they try to do this.)

The bigger constraint is most adults are unable to think like a programmer (or mathematian or scientist) even if they try a bunch. They fail to learn this stuff.

Even lots of people with jobs in the field are bad at programming (and most scientists are bad at science, and lots of mathematicians are bad at math). (the 300k was contingent on actually being an effective programmer, though some awful programmers do get it too. it's also contingent on making appropriate efforts to get paid US market rate, which a ton of people don't do for various reasons).


curi at 1:15 PM on August 5, 2020 | #16984 | reply | quote

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