With markets behaving more or less in a mano depressive fashion, it is a good time to read interesting articles, unless you are caught wrong in the market. The master of the mind on the human decision making, and the quiz he wants us to fail. Vanity Fair on Kahneman, and how humans think, perceive and make decisions;
Plainly put, a “heuristic” is a tool we use to simplify the decision-making process. For example, if you’re driving in the United Kingdom for the first time and don’t know the traffic laws, heuristics might help you correctly assume that a green light means go and a red light means stop. By applying what you already know about driving in America, you won’t have to waste hours reading up on England’s traffic laws. However, that same heuristic could prove harmful if you start driving in the right-hand lane, against traffic. Research psychologist Daniel Kahneman—Nobel Prize winner, and the subject of Michael Lewis’s article in this month’s issue, “The King of Human Error”—spent a great part of his life’s work discovering and cataloging the heuristics people use. Specifically, he concentrated on the situations where they lead us astray.
Between 1971 and 1984, Kahneman and Tversky had published a series of quirky papers exploring the ways human judgment may be distorted when we are making decisions in conditions of uncertainty. When we are trying to guess which 18-year-old baseball prospect would become a big-league all-star, for example. To a reader who is neither psychologist nor economist (i.e., me), these papers are not easy going, though I am told that compared with other academic papers in their field they are high literature. Still, they are not so much written as constructed, block by block. The moment the psychologists uncover some new kink in the human mind, they bestow a strange and forbidding name on it (“the availability heuristic”). In their most cited paper, cryptically titled “Prospect Theory,” they convinced a lot of people that human beings are best understood as being risk-averse when making a decision that offers hope of a gain but risk-seeking when making a decision that will lead to a certain loss. In a stroke they provided a framework to understand all sorts of human behavior that economists, athletic coaches, and other “experts” have trouble explaining: why people who play the lottery also buy insurance; why people are less likely to sell their houses and their stock portfolios in falling markets; why, most sensationally, professional golfers become better putters when they’re trying to save par (avoid losing a stroke) than when they’re trying to make a birdie (and gain a stroke).
Full must read article, for any investors or trader, click here.