SPIEGEL Interview with Daniel Kahneman: Debunking the Myth of Intuition

Can doctors and investment advisers be trusted? And do we live more for experiences or memories? In a SPIEGEL interview, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman discusses the innate weakness of human thought, deceptive memories and the misleading power of intuition.

SPIEGEL: Professor Kahneman, you've spent your entire professional life studying the snares in which human thought can become entrapped. For example, in your book, you describe how easy it is to increase a person's willingness to contribute money to the coffee fund.

Kahneman: You just have to make sure that the right picture is hanging above the cash box. If a pair of eyes is looking back at them from the wall, people will contribute twice as much as they do when the picture shows flowers. People who feel observed behave more morally.

SPIEGEL: And this also works if we don't even pay attention to the photo on the wall?

Kahneman: All the more if you don't notice it. The phenomenon is called "priming": We aren't aware that we have perceived a certain stimulus, but it can be proved that we still respond to it.

SPIEGEL: People in advertising will like that.

Kahneman: Of course, that's where priming is in widespread use. An attractive woman in an ad automatically directs your attention to the name of the product. When you encounter it in the shop later on, it will already seem familiar to you.

SPIEGEL: Isn't erotic association much more important?

Kahneman: Of course, there are other mechanisms of advertising that also act on the subconscious. But the main effect is simply that a name we see in a shop looks familiar -- because, when it looks familiar, it looks good. There is a very good evolutionary explanation for that: If I encounter something many times, and it hasn't eaten me yet, then I'm safe. Familiarity is a safety signal. That's why we like what we know.

SPIEGEL: Can these insights also be applied to politics?

Kahneman: Of course. For example, one can show that anything that reminds people of their mortality makes them more obedient.

SPIEGEL: Like the cross above the altar?

Kahneman: Yes, there is even a theory that deals with the fear of death; it's called "Terror Management Theory." You can influence people by just reminding them of something -- it can be death; it can be money. Any symbol that is associated with money, even if it's just dollar signs as a screensaver, ensures that people will pay more attention to their own interests than they will want to help others.

SPIEGEL: It seems that priming works primarily in favor of the political right.

Kahneman: It would work just as well the other way around. There's an experiment, for example, in which people were playing a game but, in the first group, it was called a "competition game" and, in the other group, it was called a "community game." And, in the latter case, people acted less selfish even though it's exactly the same game.

SPIEGEL: Is there no way to escape those powerful suggestions?

Kahneman: It isn't easy, at any rate. The problem is that we usually don't notice these influences.

SPIEGEL: That's pretty unsettling.

Kahneman: Well, it can't be too bad because we live with that all the time. That's just the way it is.

SPIEGEL: But we want to know what our decisions are based on!

Kahneman: I'm not even sure I want that, to be honest, because it would be too complicated. I don't think we really are very keen to be self-controlled all the time.

SPIEGEL: You say in your book that, in such cases, we leave the decisions up to "System 1."

Kahneman: Yes. Psychologists distinguish between a "System 1" and a "System 2," which control our actions. System 1 represents what we may call intuition. It tirelessly provides us with quick impressions, intentions and feelings. System 2, on the other hand, represents reason, self-control and intelligence.

SPIEGEL: In other words, our conscious self?

Kahneman: Yes. System 2 is the one who believes that it's making the decisions. But in reality, most of the time, System 1 is acting on its own, without your being aware of it. It's System 1 that decides whether you like a person, which thoughts or associations come to mind, and what you feel about something. All of this happens automatically. You can't help it, and yet you often base your decisions on it.

SPIEGEL: And this System 1 never sleeps?

Kahneman: That's right. System 1 can never be switched off. You can't stop it from doing its thing. System 2, on the other hand, is lazy and only becomes active when necessary. Slow, deliberate thinking is hard work. It consumes chemical resources in the brain, and people usually don't like that. It's accompanied by physical arousal, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, activated sweat glands and dilated pupils …

SPIEGEL: … which you discovered as a useful tool for your research.

Kahneman: Yes. The pupil normally fluctuates in size, mostly depending on incoming light. But, when you give someone a mental task, it widens and remains surprisingly stable -- a strange circumstance that proved to be very useful to us. In fact, the pupils reflect the extent of mental effort in an incredibly precise way. I have never done any work in which the measurement is so precise.

Article...
  • For reasons of data protection and privacy, your IP address will only be stored if you are a registered user of Facebook and you are currently logged in to the service. For more detailed information, please click on the "i" symbol.
  • Post to other social networks

Comments
Discuss this issue with other readers!
1 total post
Show all comments
    Page 1    
1.
kyranieade 05/30/2012
---Quote (Originally by sysop)--- Can doctors and investment advisers be trusted? And do we live more for experiences or memories? In a SPIEGEL interview, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman discusses the innate weakness of human thought, deceptive memories and the misleading power of intuition. http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,834407,00.html ---End Quote--- I believe no the doctors and investment advisers cannot be trusted. The experiments regarding intuition are all double blinded, which means that there is nothing studied examining ESP and intuition inside of relationship. This is extremely important issue because pathological stress that leads to disease involves the presentation of harmful ideas under conditions of danger where a person experiences fear either consciously or subconsciously (ie only know they feel hot). I have posted about this subject in relation to disease here on my blog http://kyrani99.wordpress.com/2011/12/29/esp-the-scientific-evidence/ It is relevant in all of the major diseases.
Show all comments
    Page 1    
Keep track of the news

Stay informed with our free news services:

All news from SPIEGEL International
Twitter | RSS
All news from Zeitgeist section
RSS

SPIEGEL ONLINE 2012
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH



From DER SPIEGEL
About Daniel Kahnemann
  • REUTERS
    Daniel Kahneman, 78, is an Israeli-American psychologist specializing in the psychology of judgment and decision-making as well as behavioral economics. He is currently a senior scholar and emeritus professor at Princeton University. In 2002, Kahneman was awarded the Nobel prize in economics for his work on prospect theory, which helps explain the role biases play in decision-making. In 2011, he published a summary of much of his research in "Thinking, Fast and Slow," which became a best-seller. This interview took place on the occasion of the publication in May 2012 of the German translation of that book. The magazine Foreign Policy also included him in its list of the top global thinkers in 2011.


European Partners
Presseurop

Politiken

Corriere della Sera

Concordia Leaves Giglio

Concordia Casts Off


Facebook
Twitter