Friday, October 31, 2014

Clinging Tightly

Closely related to loss aversion is the endowment effect, where we highly value things we possess. In loss aversion, we cling to what we have, not wanting to part with it. With the endowment effect, things we posses gain value merely by virtue of possession. This also can be applied to belief.

Daniel Kahneman repeated Richard Thaler's classic experiment with coffee cups many times, always with the same results. It is a simple demonstration of the endowment effect.

"Mugs were distributed randomly to half the participants. The Sellers had their mug in front of them, and the Buyers were invited to look at their neighbor's mug; all indicated the price at which they would trade. The Buyers had to use their own money to acquire a mug. The results were dramatic: the average selling price [determined by the one possessing the mug] was about double the average buying price [the price a buyer deemed he would be willing to pay for that mug], and the estimated number of trades was less than half of the number predicted by standard theory."

More than a coffee mug, beliefs are things that we cling to. We don't want to part with them; it is like they are a part of us and who we are. We gave up our former lives and our families for those beliefs. They cost us a lot. We value more highly things that require more effort to attain.

COG members were required to "witness," i.e. try to convince others of the value of our beliefs. Like the techniques used in multi-level marketing, the more we worked to "sell" our religion to others, the more we treasured it ourselves.

What of disconfirming evidence? 

"It is extremely rare for someone to simply abandon a valued belief when confronted with disconfirming information. In fact, recent psychological research shows that when this happens, people tend to hold the erroneous belief even more strongly." Dr. Steven Novella

Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills

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