The Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman lives in an airy penthouse on the 14th floor of an apartment block in downtown Manhattan, not far from the Eighth Street subway station. But never mind that for a moment. Instead, without thinking too hard about it, try answering the following question: roughly what percentage of the member states of the United Nations are in Africa? (I’ll wait.)
The correct figure isn’t what’s important here. What matters is that your answer is likely to be lower than if you had first been informed that Kahneman is 77 years old, or if I had claimed his apartment – where he lives with his wife, the British-born psychologist Ann Triesman – was 60 floors up, and near the 86th Street station. This is the phenomenon known as the “anchoring effect”, and it is typical of Kahneman’s contributions to psychology in that it suggests something rather disturbing about the human mind: not just that we’re susceptible to making skewed judgments, but that we’re influenced by factors more subtle and preposterous than we could ever imagine.
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