Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Disbelief and mental models

[excerpted from a letter to Sister G.]

Okay, last thing I wanted to tell you about: I want to share with you a thought about investigators' concerns and the conversion process, but first I have to read to you from a CIA publication called /The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis./ The CIA is pretty good at collecting lots of information but relatively bad at making good predictions, and the book is aimed at helping CIA analysts improve their analysis by, among other things, understanding the human mind and how memory works and the difference between how people think they think and how they actually often think.

Experienced analysts have an imperfect understanding of what information they actually use in making judgments. They are unaware of the extent to which their judgments are determined by a few dominant factors, rather than by the systematic integration of all available information. Analysts actually use much less of the available information than they think they do.

The expert perceives his or her own judgmental process, including the number of different kinds of information taken into account, as being considerably more complex than is in fact the case. Experts overestimate the importance of factors that have only a minor impact on their judgment and underestimate the extent to which their decisions are based on a few major variables. In short, people's mental models are simpler than they think, and the analyst is typically unaware not only of which variables should have the greatest influence, but also which variables actually are having the greatest influence. 

All this has been demonstrated by experiments in which analysts were asked to make quantitative estimates concerning a relatively large number of cases in their area of expertise, with each case defined by a number of quantifiable factors. In one experiment, for example, stock market analysts were asked to predict long-term price appreciation for 50 securities, with each security being described in such terms as price/earnings ratio, corporate earnings growth trend, and dividend yield. After completing this task, the analysts were asked to explain how they reached their conclusions, including how much weight they attached to each of the variables. They were instructed to be sufficiently explicit that another person going through the same information could apply the same judgmental rules and arrive at the same conclusions. 

In order to compare this verbal rationalization with the judgmental policy reflected in the stock market analysts' actual decisions, multiple regression analysis or other similar statistical procedures can be used to develop a mathematical model of how each analyst actually weighed and combined information on the relevant variables. There have been at least eight studies of this type in diverse fields, including one involving prediction of future socioeconomic growth of underdeveloped nations. The mathematical model based on the analyst's actual decisions is invariably a more accurate description of that analyst's decision making than the analyst's own verbal description of how the judgments were made. 

Although the existence of this phenomenon has been amply demonstrated, its causes are not well understood. The literature on these experiments contains only the following speculative explanation: Possibly our feeling that we can take into account a host of different factors comes about because, although we remember that at some time or other we have attended to each of the different factors, we fail to notice that it is seldom more than one or two that we consider at any one time.

So what's the relevance of this to missionary work? I think, Sister G--------, that people's mental models for believing or disbelieving the gospel are also often simpler than they think. I'm not saying that there aren't people who have genuine issues with doctrine or history or whatever, but I think there are also people who think they have issues when those issues would actually pretty much resolve themselves (or at least recede) if they had a spiritual witness of the truth and a desire to change their lives. If a stock analyst can fool himself about the real reasons why he thinks a stock is going to go up or down, how much easier is it for us to see false complexity in matters of faith!?!

Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty.
Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him.
Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place.
Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret.
Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

No comments: