Thursday, November 27, 2014

We are not aware

Colin Camerer, in an article in 2005 about Neuroeconomics, argues that neuroscientific evidence on our behaviour can be summarized along two dimensions. In one dimension, brain functions can be either controlled or automatic (similar to what Kahneman calls slow and fast thinking). In another dimension, mental functions can be affective or cognitive. Economics for most of its history has dealt with controlled, cognitive processes, neglecting the other possibilities, but it is slowly starting to investigate them. Camerer also argues that most of the time, our controlled cognitive system is not aware of what happens when we employ automatic or affective ways of "thinking". Since the affective system is a dominant one, that means that humans most of the time do not know themselves. One of the examples he gives is the tendency of people not to admit that they have prejudices or stereotypes. That can be recognized every day in societies dominated by identity conflicts. Sadly, in Catalonia for example it is increasingly easy to find someone who says that Catalans are more open-minded that the rest of Spaniards, and at the same time do not admit that it is almost impossible that that is a rational statement. Some people also claim that the pro-independence movement is not nationalistic, but it is rational and purely based on... who knows (sometimes the reasoning is not easy to follow). Of course affect is not always a bad thing. Thanks to affect, we tend to reject unfair offers, which makes elites propose fair options for fear of creating conflicts. Only an autistic child (not even autistic adults) would play as rationally as predicted by game theory in this kind of interactions (called the ultimatum game).

1 comment:

  1. Emotions and instincts are important for survival. Wanting what's good for you is an emotion. Wanting what's good for your community and mankind is also an emotion.

    Pure reason without emotion is dangerous, it's what leads to bad outcomes in the prisoners' dilemma. It's what led Kant to postulate that if an axe murderer asked you where your best friend was with an obvious intention to kill them, you'd still have to tell the truth - truthfulness being an absolute value, never mind the outcome for your friend. We now know better, it's emotions in the prefrontal cortex that help us prioritise and live a life worth living.