Behavioral Bias Bingo – The Illusion of Control

Behavioral Bias Bingo – The Illusion of Control by David Foulke, Alpha Architect

The Illusion of Control

In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.) Once you know this, it can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. ”

Nick Paumgarten, the New Yorker

The “Illusion of Control” is a well-researched behavioral bias that describes the tendency of people to believe that they have control over random circumstances. The elevator’s door-close, or “placebo” button is a classic case.

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Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn was an outfielder in major league baseball with a funny superstition. When Ashburn had a good hitting day, he liked to continue using the same bat to keep the streak going. Fearful of getting a “hot” bat mixed up with his others, he would bring it home and sleep with it under his bed.

Richie, it’s NOT the bat

Psychologists have theorized that the illusion of control may occur because people place more weight on outcomes that are consistent with their desires, and less weight on those that are undesired. As EJ Lance put it, “heads I win, tails it’s chance.”

We tend to seek out coherent narratives that have explanatory power and exaggerate their consistency in the real world. Hence, when Ashburn used the same bat, and got another hit the next day, he likely concluded that it was because he used the same bat that he succeeded. When he failed to get a hit the next day, well that was just bad luck, and time for a new bat.

Game 1: Lottery ticket

You are going to buy a lottery ticket. Which do you prefer?

  • Choice 1:  A ticket where you get to choose the numbers?
  • Choice 2: A ticket with randomly generated numbers?

Full article via  Alpha Architect