The Strategist

Think or run? How action bias affects our life

07/31/2020 - 06:55

The wait is always excruciating. But often it is active action that leads to consequences much more deplorable than doing nothing. Why is this happening, and how not to fall into the mental trap of "ready-to-action"?

A footballer, who is supposed to shoot the penalty kick, aims either at the center of the goal, or at the left corner, or at the right. The probability of success in all cases is the same and is equal to one third.

What does the goalkeeper do? 50% of the time he throws himself to the left and 50% - to the right. Goalkeepers rarely stay in the center of the goal - and this is despite the well-known fact that the ball flies to the center in every third case.

Why? Because it's better to jump in the wrong direction than to stand and watch the ball rushing to your left or right. Not so embarrassing and generally looks better. Here, the ready-to-action (overactive, action bias) is triggered: you need to react actively, even if it is useless. The behavior of football players was studied by Israeli researcher Michael Bar-Eli. He analyzed hundreds of penalties. But it's not just goalkeepers who have a penchant for action.

The action bias is especially strong in a new and unfamiliar situation or when the setting is unclear. So, many exchange investors sometimes show excessive activity, since they cannot yet correctly assess the fuss on the exchange. Of course, such activity does not justify itself. Warren Buffett put it this way: "When investing, activity does not correlate with achievement."

The propensity for action is characteristic of even the most highly educated people. A patient with an unclear picture of the disease comes to a doctor. The doctor is faced with a choice: to intervene immediately or to wait. To prescribe any medicine or not? Most often, doctors choose the option of active action. And do not immediately assume that they are doing this for financial reasons. The reason that prompts them to do this may well be the usual inclination to act.

Where did we get it? We inherited it. In the days of hunter-gatherers, in the conditions for which we were optimized, active reaction was valued more than the ability to reason. For our ancestors, a lightning-fast reaction was the key to survival. The tendency to contemplate could lead to death.

When our ancestors noticed a silhouette resembling a saber-toothed tiger at the edge of the forest, they did not sit on a stone. They rushed to run - with all their might. And all of us today are the descendants of those who fled. Who ran away even too often.

The modern world has become different – now, more often a sharp mind wins, and not physical activity. But it is very difficult to rebuild. You will not be honored, you will not be given a medal or a monument erected if you choose to wait and make the only right decision - for the good of the company, the state or humanity. If you demonstrate decisiveness, quick reaction and if the situation (albeit by accident) improves, you will get a good chance that you will be honored and awarded somewhere in the city square, at least named the best employee of the year. Our society so far prefers those who act without thought to those who deliberately wait for the right moment.

So, when the situation is vague, we feel the impulse to do something, to take, and it does not matter if it helps or not. As a result, it becomes easier for us, even if nothing has improved. Deterioration often occurs. In general, we have a clear tendency to act too quickly and intervene too often. That is why it is worth doing nothing at all until the situation is cleared up - until the moment when you can more accurately assess the situation. Restrain your impulses.

Based on “"Die Kunst des klaren Denkens. 52 Denkfehler, die Sie besser anderen überlassen (The Art of Thinking Clearly)" by Rolf Dobelli