Sunday, January 27, 2013

Deliberate vs...: A Post About Thinking (Part Two)

If you didn't read part one of this post series, you should really go back and do that. I don't actually say that very often, even when I do a series of posts. Generally, I try to keep the individual posts episodic in nature while being related in overall subject matter. However, this post is directly linked to the last post in this series, and, although you can read it all on its own, it won't have the same relevance. As such, I'm not repeating my disclaimer about how this is not meant to offend anyone.

Also, the planned part two of this series has been pushed to part three, because I realized there's something else that needs to be talked about in relation to part one that is more closely related than where I was going next. So those three types of thinking will be in part three.

I find this particular piece of information fascinating. I find it fascinating, because I completely do not understand how anyone can be this way, and, yet, most people are precisely this way. And that, actually, scares me, because, as I said, I just can't comprehend this.

80% of people (and I have to wonder how strongly this 80% correlates to the last 80% I was talking about) can not (pay attention to that: they CAN NOT) anticipate negative outcomes. Wait a minute, it gets better. Not only can they not anticipate them, when told what the negative outcomes might be along with the positive ones, they can not retain the negative ones. Their brains focus only on the positive outcomes and completely forget that anything bad could happen.

There is that "everything will work out for the best" thing that people say, and, it turns out, it is not just something people say, it is something people really believe. Not in a general sense, either; they believe it in a personal sense. 80% of people believe that everything's going to be okay but, not just "okay," they believe things will be awesome. For them. Personally. Sometime in the future. And, I suppose, that's how people keep from existing in terminal depression even when things are horrible and, worse, completely hopeless.

This whole area of study began over gambling addiction. Some people wondered why gambling addiction happened so as to be able to prevent it from happening, and what they found is that people suffering from gambling addiction absolutely cannot foresee the possibility that they might lose. Given scenarios of lower and lower odds of winning, they would keep going, and they would keep going because they believed that they would actually win. Some of them would keep going even if they were told "there is 0% chance that you will win this. You will not win this," because they couldn't believe that there was no chance that they would win.

That makes sense with gambling addicts, right? Well, when the financial collapse happened, that study was broadened because some people wondered if the cause or, at least, part of the cause was, basically, gambling addiction. Were those people that were in charge of all of that money behaving in the same way that gambling addicts behave? Well, yes. Yes, they were. But what they found out is that that behavior is endemic to all people. 80% of them, anyway. Because they literally can not believe that they will lose.

Even more interesting, they've found this same "risk taking" behavior in animals at around the same percentages. Evolutionary biologists are all over this. At the moment, the simple explanation is that the cautious members of the group insure the survival of the group against the recklessness of the rest of the group. The risk taking behavior is necessary, though, because, otherwise, the group would settle into its niche and cease to grow and change and, then, if there was any kind of catastrophe, the group would be wiped out.

From this perspective, it makes sense that so many people want only "decisiveness." Heedlessness is part of their brain chemistry. So to speak. However, that doesn't change the fact that most of those decisions are the wrong ones. That is why there are so many of those people, though. The cautious members hang back and watch the 80% stumble blindly ahead, most of them getting killed. The cautious ones then follow the ones that fortuitously chose the correct path. It's an interesting dynamic.

Now, I would imagine that most writers, the good ones, at any rate, fall into the 20% group that can envision bad outcomes to situations. You have to be able to think of the bad things to make the story interesting. Otherwise, you're just a happy happy joy joy writer. And I'm sure there are some of those out there, but I bet they are the minority among writers. I'd like to see a study on that, so, "science," get out there and do that! Beyond just thinking of the hypothetical bad outcome, the writer has to be able to put him/herself in the mental space of the character and experience that nastiness. I suppose, in the end, that's why there aren't more people that write. They can't think of the bad stuff.

I suppose, also, that that's why the 80% are attracted to stories where bad stuff happens and why they are surprised by the bad things that happen -- they just cannot anticipate those things, so they get the joy of being surprised every single time because, as I said, not only can they not anticipate those things, they can't remember them from one situation to the next.
That's good for us writerly people, I would say.

Next time we'll get back to those three thinking styles.


  1. My attitude is usually positive, but I do plan for things to go wrong as well. (Expect the best, prepare for the worst?) And risk-taking is not in my DNA.

  2. Man, I only ever envision the bad scenarios. Then I'm pleasantly surprised when something positive happens.

    ...That sounds a lot more depressing than it really is.

    Maybe that helps me as a writer, but I love to really screw my characters over. Throw them out of their comfort zone and into a complete crap storm. Happy happy joy joy is not even in my vocabulary.

  3. I've heard similar things said about introverts - or people with agoraphobia. You know, when disease strikes and all the social folks get wiped out its up to the outcasts to carry on to ensure the survival of the group.

    But that gambler's mentality is just a vestige of what made us successful before civilization. As a wise man once said about the human brain "it's a man riding on a horse, that sits on an alligator.

  4. Plan for the worst but hope for the best is my my motto. I was watching "Premium Rush" last night and in one part the bad guy loses a bunch of money gambling so he borrows some from a loan shark and immediately goes across the street to gamble it away on one hand. Now there's some gambling addiction.

  5. So interesting. I am a fairly positive person on the surface. Underneath though, I am very aware that horrible things can and do happen, to me, and to everyone else. In the blink of an eye your entire existence can change forever. To dwell on those things though is a recipe for lasting depression. I've had to train myself to see things in a positive light...or, no, that's not exactly what I mean..some things have no positive side at all...I mean that I've had to learn to focus on the good stuff in life and not the bad.
    Can't wait for Part 3. Until then I'll be in a church basement somewhere singing 'Kumbaya' with fellow recovering depressives! JK, lol!

  6. I would want to see this study as pertaining to race, color, religion, and sex just to see all the breakdowns. Especially regarding sex, because I think that men would be more prone than women to fall into the 80%.

  7. Alex: I'll take risks but only after I've done a pretty thorough investigation of whatever it is and it looks like there are good chances of success.

    ABftS: No, I totally get that. In fact, I almost do it on purpose because it makes the good things that much better. Really, though, it's so I can avoid the bad things I envision.

    Rusty: I think, probably, you'd find that that 20% overlaps a lot with introverts. But that's speculation on my part.

    PT: See, I just don't understand that. I can't get my head around it. I'm sure he falls into that category of people that is sure he's going to win despite prior experience.

    Eve: Part 3 is long and, yet, not long enough.
    I agree that you can't focus on the negatives. That why some people won't leave their houses. However, it's also why I check my rear view mirror before I back out of the driveway.

    Michael: That would be very interesting to see. I don't believe any of the stuff I've read has mentioned any breakdowns like those or not. I do know that many of them have had a "random" population, but it's hard to know what that means in practice. However, I don't think men are any more prone to it than women. There are some cultural differences, though. For example, the Japanese tend to be much more cautious than Westerners.

  8. That there are people who don't envision bad outcomes doesn't surprise me. That it's eighty percent of the population however is quite shocking.

    I know I'd count myself as part of the cautious group. I wonder if I'd actually rate that way if I was tested, though. Very interesting info.

  9. Well, I am a positive person, and I always try to understand the other side of things, but I'm more of a "hope fore the best, but prepare for the worst" kind of gal. I do think our gut feelings should always be taken into account, but only a small piece. I am an analyzer, an over-analyzer, in fact. I don't think that makes me any smarter or less so than anyone else. It's just a matter of style. I'm not the bravest person; I don't jump into anything heedlessly, but I do enjoy a thrill from time to time. And that usually comes from the need to experience something different. I am moderately conservative and socially progressive, and while I do believe in the second amendment, I also believe there should be much stricter gun control. Much. Stricter. But yeah, all these people who wander into precarious situations simply because they didn't think first, they are the stuff of every writer's dreams!

  10. Jeanne: I know. I was shocked, too. What was most shocking to me is that people, when presented with the bad outcomes, still choose to ignore those.

    Nancy: They are. The only problem with those people is that sometimes they do things so outrageous that people don't believe it. I find that hilarious.

  11. Quite honestly, I just want to see the study at all.

    Andrew, I like ya, but you've got a bad habit of making assertions without backing them up. If you want to be taken seriously by people who seriously think then you need to learn to 1. define your terms. A lot of the stuff you say is utterly meaningless without a definition of terms. (Where exactly did you get the whole "decisive vs. deliberate" distinction and what exactly do you mean by it?) And 2. provide documentation when you are making assertions, especially statistical ones. Only an idiot would accept that "80% of people cannot anticipate negative outcomes" just because some blogger says so.

    Honestly, your whole approach to discussing this subject is so vague and full of unsupported assertions that I can't imagine anyone who claims to think "deliberately" would take it seriously. Which is unfortunate, because I was hoping you would provide some good food for thought here.

  12. Sarah: This is not a research paper nor is it a scientific journal; therefore, I don't feel the need nor do I have the desire to spend the time and effort it would take to dig up the references for anything I want to say. Most people (meaning pretty much everyone but you) don't care and wouldn't use the links anyway, so I'm just not going to spend the time doing that. If I read something 2 months or 6 months or 1 year ago and I want to talk about it, I'm going to do that, but I'm not going to go looking for whatever article I originally read or whatever. If you want to verify my information, please feel free to do so.

    That said, when I'm doing new research, I do sometimes leave links. For instance, there are a couple of links in part 3 because I quote from the source material, so the links to those articles are provided.

    As for defining terms, I also don't feel the need to do that most of the time. You, also, seem to be the only one with any issue of understanding the terms as they are meant to be used. That does not seem to be a failing on my part. However, as for this post in particular, I did actually offer definitions as to what I mean by "decisive" and "deliberate" in part 1.