Let me start by being perfectly clear that I am not an expert, and will be speaking/typing about this in my own understanding of the concept. If you want to prove me wrong, or to read the empirical data proving the phycological phenomenon, or to just grab the actual scientific definition, head over to this little dude’s (Tobias Moskowitz and colleagues) research findings: Here.
OR listen to Freakonomics, the best podcast station in the world, which also has an episode on the topic. Found Here. (I am sure Mr. Moskowitz would be super pleased I called him a little dude. I am also sure he is reading my fashion blog. )
Happy Valentines day, have some depressing statistics! Joking. It is super interesting, but I will also be providing some V-Day treats to purchase in the post if you just came for that. 😉
Let me introduce you to the science of sequential decision making, also known as The Gambler’s Fallacy or –how you have less control over making bad decisions than you think. Don’t worry, I’ll get there.
The Gambler’s Fallacy is just this: Say you flip a coin ten times. Logic (and that 5th grade class you were totally paying attention to) would have taught you that each flip is a random event with a 50/50 chance of getting heads or tails each time no matter what. Makes sense, you got this.
Then say you flip the coin nine times with each time landing on heads, and that you are betting on the last flip with your buddy. For that last tenth flip, your brain is going to lie to you. Your brain is going to tell you that the universe has meaning; that the tenth coin flip has to be tails because it is due for it. 10 flips landing on heads is just insane right? Even if you know it has the same exact chance of getting heads as any of the other times you threw that shinny object into the air.
As the little dude says in his research, this principal is “people underestimating the likelihood of sequential streaks occurring by chance–leading to negatively autocorrelated decisions that result in errors.”
Who really cares about coin flips though? Diving into the gritty details, this phenomenon also can and does actually affect other people who are making decisions about YOU. Like say… bank loans!
Based on this research, a fairly new loan officer with no incentivized pay to make good decisions is the most likely to be overcome by this psychological nuisance. He would therefore be less likely to approve your perfectly acceptable loan simply because he may have already accepted too many good loan applications that day. To him it “felt” wrong, abnormal, or strange that your loan should also be very good after seeing and approving so many quality applications in a row. Your hypothetical A+ loan now has a much higher chance of being denied in this scenario to make the guy’s daily sequence of events “feel” more correct to him.
The same findings have been found in refugee approval hearings, baseball umpires, and teachers grading papers. Yikes! Crazy right?
Not applying for a loan any time soon? Well then I KNOW you are interested in your love life. I know this because despite being in a healthy committed relationship, I still like to prop up my head on my elbow, gaze at the side of my boyfriend’s face as he is tries unsuccessfully to ignore me and watch football, and dolefully ask, “So like, what are you thinking?”
Now that the gambler’s fallacy has been empirically proven, it is easy to see the effects in lots of different aspects of life! Take dating for example. You went on match.com, or Tinder if that floats your boat (no one is judging here), and scheduled 4 somewhat consecutive dates one week before Valentines Day. Each of the first three dates just seemed worse than the last. It can’t get more horrible than the the tirade of losers you had to commit your nights to instead of watching Friends or Family Guy (or any show you happen to love as much as I love those two).
Now your sitting on your 4th date with V-day creeping ever nearer, and this 4th guy won’t shut up about how often he moisturizes, how good he looks due to this extensive skin care process, and throws out some ill-conceived hints at how you could maybe use a little too… Yet, because of the stupid Gambler’s Fallacy and the sequence of bad dates leading up to this one, your hopeful little self can’t stop thinking this has to be a good date. It has to be a good date because you have put in the effort, and you are an awesome person who is DUE for an equally awesome Valentines Day. And hey, his skin does look amazing….
You see where I am going here right? Because of a sequence of bad decision-based events that was due purely through chance, you misinterpreted that the universe created this pattern with you in mind and you made a bad decision. Now your spending Valentines Day with a dude who needs to put the lotion in the basket and get off his egotistical high horse.
Don’t worry though! The solution is as simple as understanding this tendency, keeping your head level, and making decisions based on the information in front of you and not on what it “feels” like it should be.
It is important to remember that other people are also affected by this who are potentially making wrong decisions about you! So if you really are applying for a bank loan, make sure you are assessed after the guy with horrible credit. Sorry….
To end, I will quote from that Freakonomics podcast I am obsessed with and that you should listen to. In love and in life, “The smartest people know all the things they aren’t very good at.”
Thanks! ~ C*