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The Science of Happiness

Updated: Nov 12, 2019

When was the last time you stopped and spent some time with yourself? Do you realize how much time we spend reacting to others instead of simply allowing others' thoughts, dramas and actions to pass us by? I started this journey a little while ago. I started observing other people's behaviors, actions and characteristics; not as a judgement (well actually yes at first a little judgmental). But more because I began observing my own habits, traits and behaviors etc.

I found out that there are so many things we don't really know about ourselves because we pretty much go through life in reactive mode instead of an observatory mode. I will come back to my findings later in these writings but for now; let's learn about the G.I Joe/Joanne Fallacy. I learned about this during my study of the Science of well-being which launched me into creating this space.

The G. I Joe/Joanne Fallacy - Knowing is Half the Battle

Laurie R. Santos Professor of Psychology, Director, Comparative Cognition Laboratory and the Canine Cognition Center, Yale University

Tamar Gendler Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, and Chair, Department of Philosophy; Deputy Provost for Humanities and Initiatives, Yale University

Children of the 1980's (like the younger of these two co-authors) may fondly remember a TV cartoon called G. I. Joe, whose closing conceit—a cheesy public service announcement—remains a much-parodied YouTube sensation almost thirty years later. Following each of these moralizing pronouncements came the show's famous epithet: "Now you know. And knowing is half the battle."

While there may be some domains where knowing is half the battle, there are many more where it is not. Recent work in cognitive science has demonstrated that knowing is a shockingly tiny portion of the battle for most real world decisions.

Examples of knowing is half the battle:

1. You may know that $19.99 is pretty much the same price as $20.00, but the first still feels like a significantly better deal.

2. You may know a prisoner's guilt is independent of whether you are hungry or not, but she'll still seem like a better candidate for parole when you've recently had a snack.

3. You may know that a job applicant of African descent is as likely to be qualified as one of European descent, but the negative aspects of the former's resume will still stand out.

4. You may know that a tasty piece of fudge shaped like the poop emoji will taste delicious, but you'll still be pretty hesitant to eat it, because it looks like what else...poop.

The lesson of much contemporary research in judgment and decision-making is that knowledge— at least in the form of our consciously accessible representation of a situation—is rarely the central factor controlling our behavior. The real power of online behavioral control comes not from knowledge, but from things like:

a. situation selection

b. habit formation

c. emotion regulation.

This is a lesson that therapy has taken to heart, but one that "pure science" continues to neglect. And so the idea that cognitive science needs to retire is what we'll call the G. I. Joe/Joanne Fallacy: the idea that knowing is half the battle. It needs to be retired not just from our theories of how the mind works, but also from our practices of trying to shape minds to work better.

You might think that this is old news. After all, thinkers for the last 2500 years have been pointing out that much of human action isn't under rational control. Don't we know by now that the G.I Joe/Joanne Fallacy is just that—a fallacy?

Well, yeah we know, but . . .

The irony is that knowing that the G.I. Joe/Joanne Fallacy is a fallacy is—as the fallacy would predict—less than half the battle. As is knowing that people tend to experience $19.99 as a significantly lower price than $20.00. Even if you know about this left-digit anchoring effect, the first item will still feel like a significantly better deal. Even if you know about ego depletion effects, the prisoner you encounter after lunch will still seem like a better candidate for parole. Even if you know that implicit bias is likely to affect your assessment of a resume's quality, you will still experience the candidate with the African-American name as being less qualified than the candidate with the European-American name. And even if you know about Paul Rozin's disgust work, you will still hesitate to drink Dom Perignon out of a sterile toilet bowl.

Knowing is not half the battle for most cognitive biases, including the G. I. Joe/Joanne Fallacy. Simply recognizing that the G. I. Joe/Joanne Fallacy exists is not sufficient for avoiding its grasp.

So now you know. And that's less than half the battle. 

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1 Comment

Nov 04, 2019


Never knew about the GI Joe fallacy. Great read can't wait to see more posts from this writer.

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