Tag Archives: data

Blog #4: Data, and the gullibility of the brain (Week 6)

How good, really, is our brain at retaining data? For instance, can you remember how much money you spent yesterday? Can you remember how many days it rained last week? Unless you’re Rainman, I’d say that the vast majority of people couldn’t correctly answer simple data-related questions such as these. Wolf states that we “make decisions with partial information. We are forced to steer by guesswork,” which is a flawed system which will invariably result in mistakes. Computers, on the other hand, are able to collect and collate data in a totally impartial and objective way, which adds more credence to the data itself.

“The brain is a gullible machine,” says Lehrer. This is true in many ways. For instance, he mentions an experiment where a group of people had to buy the same energy drink, half of whom purchased it at a discount, and then solve some puzzles. The people who bought the drink at a discount fared worse, because they felt the drink was less potent. This simply wasn’t true. The nature of how we acquire an item will change how our brain perceives it. I remember as a kid that my mum would buy bags of chocolate from Go-Lo. They were proper brands (Snickers, Twix or whatever) but because I knew they came from Go-Lo they always seemed to taste worse. CALL ME A SNOB.

Because of this, blind taste tests always interest me. In the same article, Lehrer describes a blind taste test of various wines. Often, people would say they liked the cheaper wines better. I’m sure, however, if they knew the prices beforehand, they would have preferred the more expensive wines. Our brain can be kind of dumb sometimes.

Lehrer, J 2010, ‘The Frontal Cortex: Self-Tracking’, viewed 17th April 2013, http://scienceblogs.com/cortex/2010/05/03/self-tracking/

Wolf, G 2010, ‘The Data-Driven Life’, viewed 17th April 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/magazine/02self-measurement-t.html?_r=0

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