5 Second Level: Substituting the Question

by malthrin 8y28th Oct 201110 comments


I picked this up in the new Kahneman book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. He describes a common characteristic of reasoning heuristics: rather than answer a difficult question, they substitute a simpler question with a more readily available answer. This is a common failure mode.

Later that evening, my wife made a comment about an article she was reading on diagnosing depression. I immediately thought, "I'm pretty sure I've never been depressed." The speed of my response was a red flag. Did I really just scan the past 10 years of my adult life for depression symptoms? Or did I answer an easier question: "Am I depressed right now?" With a mouth full of delicious toast, the available answer was, "I feel great!"

I think this technique is a good fit for the 5 Second Level, though it may need a name that indicates what to do rather than what to avoid doing. Hug the Query is close, but taken. The cover blurb for the skill is: take notice when you easily and swiftly answer a question, and double-check that you actually answered it.

Here are a some more examples from the book:

  • Target question: How much would I contribute to save an endangered species?
    Heuristic question: How much emotion do I feel when I think of dying dolphins?
  • Target question: How happy are you with your life these days?
    Heuristic question: What is my mood right now?
  • Target question: How popular will the President be six months from now?
    Heuristic question: How popular is the President right now?
  • Target question: How should financial advisers who prey on the elderly be punished?
    Heuristic question: How much anger do I feel when I think of financial predators?
  • Target question: This woman is running for the primary. How far will she go in politics?
    Heuristic question: Does this woman look like a political winner?