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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February 24, 2010 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Darryl said...

Hi Mr Hallinan,

I don't know if you read the comments on your blog but I recently read your book, "Why we Make Mistakes" it was certainly fascinating and quite enjoyable but I would like to discuss a certain point within it.

On page 52 you argue why you should change your answer rather than sticking with your first decision.

I thought about this along these lines, if most people believe that changing their answer would result in the answer being incorrect there is quite a bias towards not changing ones answer when they feel it may be a little wrong but sticking with the first impression.

Unless of course they're pretty sure their first answer is incorrect.

This results in a distortion as people mainly change their answer because they're pretty sure they're wrong/ they believe there's a strong argument against there first answer. Therefore only poor answers are changed, the ones that the testee comes back to that they think are 60% wrong /40% right are ones still lie on the side of the first impression and are unlikely to be changed.

From the above argument it appears that most answer changes are from wrong to right because the testee believes quite strongly that the change will result in a correct answer.

If the bias was in the other way ie: everyone believed changing your answer was a better idea, I theorize that it would probably result in the opposite being true.

Therefore either strategy of go with first impression or change answers are not good strategies in the 60/40 cases.

I happen to be a physicist so my language arguments aren't very strong but I believe the logic is sound. I can expand further if what I say sounds confusing.

I would like to hear your opinion on this theory.

Darryl Fleming

PS: I love the cover of your book! It had the bookstore staff really confused and running around to see if there was a "proper" cover.

March 23, 2010 at 11:26 AM  
Blogger Drew Byrne said...

At last: the truth comes out in the wash!

May 12, 2014 at 10:54 AM  

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