Daniel Kahneman and neuro-psychology

Published by matt on

6 December 2014

[This is a re-post from my Evolutionary Leadership blog in April 2014]

You may have noticed that Daniel Kahneman is everywhere these days. I have heard him on Radio 4, seen him interviewed (nicely!) by Paxman on Newsnight and recently he was featured in a Horizon programme titled ‘How you really make decisions’.

In explaining how our thinking works, Kahneman makes the distinction between ‘system one’ (our automatic, unconscious mind that mostly runs the show) and ‘system two’ (our slow, deliberative, conscious mind, that thinks it runs the show). In his book, “Thinking Fast and Slow”, he also makes the key distinction between our experiencing self (apparently we have about 600,000 experiencing moments a month, most of which are lost) and our remembering self that evaluates, makes sense of our lives and decides your future. Horizon focuses on our systematic or in-built biases, errors or mistakes in decision making, and uses the modern TV documentary vernacular to explain some of the 150-odd ‘cognitive biases’ that have been identified by Kahneman and others (including Dan Ariely and Chris Chabris who also feature in the programme). These include:

  • In-attentional blindness (blissful ignorance of most of what goes on in our minds)
  • Present-bias focus (taking silly risks for immediate gratification)
  • The halo effect (either everything is good or everything is bad about something or someone)
  • The IKEA effect (things we have created or made our own are special and we over-value them)
  • Spotlight effect (thinking others pay a lot of attention to us when in fact they don’t)
  • Confirmation bias (only seeing evidence that supports our existing view about things)
  • Over-confidence (irrationally expecting the best outcome!)
  • Loss aversion (irrational behaviour to avoid losing something)

We make between 2,000-10,000 decision every day, so these and other kinds of errors in our decision making could be quit important. Altogether, the film reveals a stranger, less rational and less controllable world than we think we live in.

[You can see the whole BBC Horizon programme on Dailymotion.com and snippets on Youtube]

Danny Kahneman’s research may have started a revolution in our understanding of human thinking, but his work is also just part of a growing field that cuts across psychological and neuro-scientific research that is starting to have an impact on almost every field of human activity. Most prominent perhaps is behavioural economics, which I expect will gradually change the way most political and economic policy is determined. You might also be starting to hear about behavioural marketing or neuro-leadership as other examples of where this new wave of thinking is showing up.

Why is all this interesting or important to evolutionary leaders, coaches and others working in organisations?

  1. As indicated above, behavioural-/neuro- economics/marketing/leadership WILL have an increasing impact on the way that society and organisations work. Best stay up with the curve.
  1. Drawing upon these insights and incorporating into your practice of self-reflection will help you become a better leader, manager or coach. Some of the books I have summarised provide specific tools and skills that you may find valuable.
  1. if you are anchored in the depth-psychology traditions (inner-world subjective perspectives in Wilber terms), e.g. humanistic, transpersonal or developmental psychology (as I am), then watch out. Much of what this neuro-psychological-research ‘reveals’ may not seem so very new to you, but it is being presented in a way that can be absorbed by the mainstream. In a disturbing kind of way, these exterior-objective-scientific perspectives are subtly colonising the individual interior-inner world and may take it over entirely, but in the process exile stuff you consider important (self, soul, etc). In my view, this neuro-psychological thinking needs to now be absorbed and incorporated into an expanded world-view that also values depth perspectives. I will write more about this in the future.

Please post a comment or ask a question in response to this post, or even get in touch directly if you would like a copy of my leadership briefing on ‘Recent research in psychology and neuroscience’

Best wishes