Nav: Home

Human nature: Behavioral economists create model of our desire to make sense of it all

May 09, 2016

Researchers have identified a powerful human motive that has not been adequately appreciated by social and behavioral scientists: the drive to make sense of our lives and the world around us.

Published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Carnegie Mellon University's George Loewenstein and Warwick Business School's Nick Chater developed a theoretical model of the drive for sense-making and how it is traded off against other goals.

They show that the drive for sense-making can help to make sense of a wide range of disparate phenomena, including curiosity, boredom, confirmation bias and information avoidance, esthetics (in both art and science), caring about other's beliefs, the importance of narrative and the role of "the good life" in decision-making.

"The mind is a sense-making machine; we are informavores as much as we are omnivores," said Loewenstein, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Most drives are extensions of autonomous internal processes. For example, when our body temperature drops, without any conscious planning our bodies work to keep us warm: we shiver, get goose bumps, and blood flow to our extremities is reduced.

But autonomous processes are not always sufficient; sometimes our conscious mind needs to take control. The conscious experience of feeling cold, and the conscious "drive" to warm ourselves, prompt us to put on a sweater, or turn up the thermostat.

In the same way that it regulates our internal temperature, our brain is constantly, and autonomously, engaged in sense-making and simplification, distilling sensory inputs to make it possible for us to make sense of our environment and our lives.

In some situations, however, internal processes are not up to the task; our conscious mind needs to be recruited to help us make sense of the world around us. We feel conscious drives, such as curiosity that can motivate us to seek out more information (whether by scrutinizing an old photo, searching the Internet or conducting a scientific experiment). Our drive for sense-making, like our drives to avoid cold and hunger, can intrude on, and direct, our conscious attention.

The sense-making drive also helps to explain the appeal of religion as well as conspiracy theories, although these two forms of explanation satisfy the drive in different ways. Religion provides simple answers, like "God decides everything," to daunting questions, but simple answers fail to predict specific facts, experiences or events. Conspiracy theories, by contrast, aim to explain a plethora of specific facts by using explanations that are generally complicated and convoluted.

"We make a particular sense of our lives and of our world that allows us to process and retain information and to decide what to do," said Chater, professor of behavioural science at Warwick Business School. "Our drive for sense-making can make us hostile to alternative points of view that might suggest that our world, and even our lives, makes less sense than we thought,"

The model has novel implications both for when people choose to obtain or avoid information, and it sheds light on phenomena, such as political polarization and emotionally charged beliefs relating to topics like the cause of autism and the reality of climate change.

"There is an irony to the paper," Loewenstein added. "It is an attempt to make sense of our desire to make sense of the world."
-end-
Read "The Under-Appreciated Drive for Sense-Making" at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167268115002838.

Carnegie Mellon University

Related Conspiracy Theories Articles:

Studies find link between belief in conspiracy theories and political engagement
A belief in the existence of conspiracies seems to go hand-in-hand with the assumption that political violence is an acceptable option
One of Darwin's evolution theories finally proved by Cambridge researcher
Scientists have proved one of Charles Darwin's theories of evolution for the first time -- nearly 140 years after his death.
Conspiracy beliefs could increase fringe political engagement, shows new study
New research appearing in Social Psychological and Personality Science finds that when studying an average person, conspiracy beliefs lead to more willingness for engagement in 'non-normative' roles, like illegally blocking a public entryway, while avoiding more typical political engagement, such as voting.
Fake news makes disease outbreaks worse, research shows
The rise of fake news could be making disease outbreaks worse -- according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).
Social media contributes to increased perception of food technology as risky business
Nowhere is this more evident than consumers' mistrust of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), despite assurances from the scientific community and food experts.
The geoengineering of consent: How conspiracists dominate YouTube climate science content
Using YouTube to learn about climate-change-related topics will expose you to video content that mostly opposes worldwide scientific consensus.
Fake news 'vaccine' works: 'Pre-bunking' game reduces susceptibility to disinformation
Study of thousands of players shows a simple online game works like a 'vaccine,' increasing skepticism of fake news by giving people a 'weak dose' of the methods behind disinformation.
Belief in conspiracy theories makes people more likely to engage in low-level crime
People who believe in conspiracy theories -- such as the theory that Princess Diana was murdered by the British establishment -- are more likely to accept or engage in everyday criminal activity.
Newly discovered supernova complicates origin story theories
A supernova discovered by an international group of astronomers including Carnegie's Tom Holoien andMaria Drout, and led by University of Hawaii's Ben Shappee, provides an unprecedented look at the first moments of a violent stellar explosion.
Elephant-sized triassic creature sheds new light on old theories
The recent discovery of the gargantuan four-legged creature Lisowicia bojani, from the Late Triassic period of Poland, has overturned established beliefs that the only giant herbivores to roam Triassic lands were dinosaurs, report Tomasz Sulej and Grzegorz Nied?wiedzki.
More Conspiracy Theories News and Conspiracy Theories Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.