Behavioral Economics in Action

Do doctors unnecessarily prolong Colonoscopy? the answer is: they surely might.

Colonoscopy is a painful and unpleasant procedure where a tube is shoved up your anus (not cool man). One would think doctors are up to get it over with ASAP. Unfortunately, we human-beings are wired in a funny, nontrivial way. That is to say, we want the tube in a bit longer, despite the pain, even though the procedure is done with.

I write this post to share a ted talk by Daniel Kahneman, I am a fan of him, or in modern terms I “like” him.

He was born in Tel-aviv, Israel, and started his academic career in Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2002 he earned (not won, as people insist on calling it) the Nobel Prize in economics, his major is not economics but actually psychology. After receiving the honor he came back to Israel to give few lectures. I was privileged to attend one of those, sitting on the stairs in the huge auditorium that was packed with people from all disciplines, from history to chemistry. Needless to say, it was fascinating.

I will share only a couple of comments which I think will be hard for you to find elsewhere:

1. The prize is joint with Amos Tversky. Amos and Daniel were working together. The reason the prize is not formally joint is the rule that prevents the dead from receiving the prize. (Amos died from cancer prior to the nobel award)

2. What sparked Daniel’s interest (among other things i’m sure) is his overconfidence. In Israel, army is compulsory. Daniel’s mission at that point was to evaluate candidates for officer’s training school. He was not good at it, meaning he could not judge which of the guys in front of him posses the qualities necessary for an officer. His predictions for who will become an officer eventually were inaccurate. Remember, this is not what bugged him. What he was wondering about is how come, with every new cohort, he was under the impression that “this time he will nail it”, despite failing time and again. This will later turn out to be the “overconfidence” bias.

You can read an awful lot about him online. His contribution to the world’s understanding of human nature and to the field of Behavioral Economics is tremendous. He also wrote the book Thinking, Fast and Slow.
What is more, in the embedded talk he reveals a deeper lair of what is taught these days in psychology courses around the world. Namely, why we judge our experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak and how they ended. Our memory is the one in-charge on decision making. There are many memory biases. For example, when presented with a successive list of options, you will have better memory of the last and the first options (so how come you remember better the first option than the second one if the second is more recent?). As another example: you know exactly where were you during the Septemeber 11 attack, but you have no idea where were you the day before. Apparently (I just googled it), this phenomena is called the “Flashbulb memory effect”. Well, after this lengthy introduction, take an extra 20 minutes to watch the real thing. From this, you will get an idea why it is ok to prolong a Colonoscopy more than medically necessary.

You can click here if you can’t see the embedded device.

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