Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Dirty Truth

Question: Why do we keep making the same mistake over and over?

Answer: Because we fail to identify the root cause of the mistake to begin with -- a tendency researchers call, "misattribution."

Example: Washing your clothes. Say you get a stain on your shirt. You throw the shirt in the washing machine, add some detergent and 45 minutes later -- Voila! – the stain is still there.

You cuss. You holler. You kick the washing machine. Maybe you blame the detergent. But do you blame yourself? Nooooo. But maybe should.

According to a recent study in The Wall Street Journal, most Americans -- 53% -- don’t use the recommended amount of detergent per wash load. Instead they guess, usually filling the cap up to the top. This is a big mistake.

Why? Because detergent "overpouring" creates a high, foamy tide inside the machine, lifting soil and lint above the water level so it isn't rinsed away. That leaves residue on clothing that fades colors and attracts more dirt.

It’s also bad for your washing machine. Inside the machine, detergent buildup encourages odor and bacteria growth, and leads in time to wear and tear that will require professional attention.

So why do we do this? Because we don’t read the instructions. And why don’t we read the instructions? Because we think we know better. Most of us, the article reports, have done so many loads of laundry in our lives that we consider ourselves to be laundry experts. And experts don’t need no stinking instructions.

So there you have it: Ignorance and overconfidence all wrapped into one.

Class dismissed.

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Foul? What foul?

For another example of how deeply-ingrained biases can affect our judgment -- even when we try to be objective -- check out this recent study on fouls during soccer games. (And thanks to my old soccer teammate Robbie Woodward for sending it along.)

Researchers at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, researched all recorded fouls in three major soccer competitions over seven years. They discovered an ambiguous foul is more likely to be attributed to the taller of two players.

Similar studies of over the years have found that the judgment of referees can be biased by other factors, too -- such as the color of a hockey team's jersey (teams with black jerseys accrue more fouls) or even the racial makeup of officiating crew in the National Basketball Association.

But we go on pretending the biases don't exist.

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