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Thinking Fast and Slow Part V: Two Selves


Kahneman makes a distinction between the experiencing self and the remembering self, and shows how some intriguing experiments show that these two selves do not always have the same preferences. This makes it even more difficult to make decisions about what one (two?) ought to do, or what policy decisions make sense. What interests are we following? We’re also often very bad at judging our own states or evaluating our lives. Being primed with ideas about dating, for example, might lead one to judge his life as more or less good overall, depending on how successful his dating life is. If he is not primed with these ideas, he won’t even take into account his dating life when evaluating his life overall. This makes self-evaluation surveys a little sketchy.

Kindle Notes:

The statistical analysis revealed two findings, which illustrate a pattern we have observed in other experiments: Peak-end rule: The global retrospective rating was well predicted by the average of the level of pain reported at the worst moment of the experience and at its end. Duration neglect: The duration of the procedure had no effect whatsoever on the ratings of total pain.Read more at location (6419).

I find it helpful to think of this dilemma as a conflict of interests between two selves (which do not correspond to the two familiar systems). The experiencing self is the one that answers the question: “Does it hurt now?” The remembering self is the one that answers the question: “How was it, on the whole?”Read more at location (6437).

The preferences we observed in this experiment are another example of the less-is-more effect that we have encountered on previous occasions. One was Christopher Hsee’s study in which adding dishes to a set of 24 dishes lowered the total value because some of the added dishes were broken. Another was Linda, the activist woman who is judged more likely to be a feminist bank teller than a bank teller. The similarity is not accidental. The same operating feature of System 1 accounts for all three situations: System 1 represents sets by averages, norms, and prototypes, not by sums (6480).

The evidence presents a profound challenge to the idea that humans have consistent preferences and know how to maximize them, a cornerstone of the rational-agent model (6510).

doubling the duration of Jen’s life had no effect whatsoever on the desirability of her life, or on judgments of the total happiness that Jen experienced. Clearly, her life was represented by a prototypical slice of time, not as a sequence of time slices. As a consequence, her “total happiness” was the happiness of a typical period in her lifetime, not the sum (or integral) of happiness over the duration of her life (6552).

Frenchwomen, eating was twice as likely to be focal as it was for American women. The Americans were far more prone to combine eating with other activities, and their pleasure from eating was correspondingly diluted (6679).

More education is associated with higher evaluation of one’s life, but not with greater experienced well-being. Indeed, at least in the United States, the more educated tend to report higher stress. On the other hand, ill health has a much stronger adverse effect on experienced well-being than on life evaluation. Living with children also imposes a significant cost in the currency of daily feelings—reports of stress and anger are common among parents, but the adverse effects on life evaluation are smaller. Religious participation also has relatively greater favorable impact on both positive affect and stress reduction than on life evaluation. Surprisingly, however, religion provides no reduction of feelings of depression or worry (6701).

The satiation level beyond which experienced well-being no longer increases was a household income of about $75,000 in high-cost areas (it could be less in areas where the cost of living is lower). The average increase of experienced well-being associated with incomes beyond that level was precisely zero (6714)

System 1 is not readily educable. Except for some effects that I attribute mostly to age, my intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues. I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely: “This number will be an anchor…,” “The decision could change if the problem is reframed…” And I have made much more progress in recognizing the errors of others than my own (7083).

It is worthy of note that in other contexts people automatically transform equivalent messages into the same representation. Studies of language comprehension indicate that people quickly recode much of what they hear into an abstract representation that no longer distinguishes whether the idea was expressed in an active or in a passive form and no longer discriminates what was actually said from what was implied, presupposed, or implicated (Clark and Clark 1977) (7733).

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