Friday, June 10, 2011

Human behavior is fascinating

I've been reading (read: consuming) books about the pharmaceutical industry. I find it all fascinating. Yes, human behavior is fascinating, as the title says.

I don't know why, but from an early age, I've always wanted to analyze why we act and think in certain, seemingly fairly predictable ways. If most girls liked to play with dolls, and boys with trucks, I wanted to know why that was so. I always wanted to know, "Who decided this?"

Knowing my parents had opinions and ideas that weren't typical might have something to do with my need to analyze. My parents were opposed to many things ranging from the seemingly trivial (deodorant) to that which most people would consider pretty darned important (religion).

I understood my parents' motives pretty well. What I didn't understand was the motives of everyone else.

I clearly remember one day when it was a religious holiday, standing at the door of my house, observing how quiet it was outside, and thinking to myself, "What is it that everyone else believes? How can my parents be right and the entire rest of society be wrong?"

These were good questions.

I've analyzed myself. I have always wondered why I'm like this. Know I think I  know!

So, back to the pharmaceutical companies. . .

Wait. Do I hear some of you sighing? Are some of you thinking, "When is she going to get off this topic?!" I will, I'm sure, when something more interesting comes along. My knitting is very interesting to me, but there's not much to analyze (or maybe not - I'll give it some thought).

I just read some highly interesting research. Studies have shown that disclosure of conflict of interests actually creates more bias.

The first study that noted this was published as "The Dirt on Coming Clean: Perverse Effects of Disclosing Conflicts of Interest." I've read about this on line and in a few books, and I don't think it's "perverse" in any way. It's totally logical to me.

Think about it for a moment. I'll use myself as an example, just for fun: If I'm working in a yarn store, and I recommend a yarn for a company I work for, if I say "Please keep in mind that I'm biased because I work for them," then I feel free to say whatever I want after that disclosure. If I have not disclosed that I have an interest in seeing this particular yarn sell, I'd feel uncomfortable promoting it.

Disclosure clears consciences.

I'm not suggesting that we eliminate disclosure, but we should be aware of this effect. Lawyers know that saying something that will be struck from the record is a sure fire way to get a point across. They may be simply outrageous in the courtroom, say something that they know full well they'll be admonished for, but they want the jury to hear it. Then they'll say, "I'm sorry." The judge will tell the jury not to take this bit of information into account. Not only will the jury take the "stricken" information into account, they'll probably remember it more than other things.

That's not exactly the same as disclosure, but it's similar. With disclosure, a person is in effect saying, "Don't listen to or trust what I'm telling you." If that's said, the person can now say anything, and the listener thinks they aren't being swayed. Not just this study, but many more, point to what does seem to be a paradox: the fact that the more someone thinks they are unswayable, the more easily that person can be manipulated. A con artist can con a person who thinks they're smart, or un-connable very easily.

This post has been all over the map. I'll end with this thought. Our society, and capitalism, is one big con. Con artists, in my opinion, are perhaps simply more honest versions of the rest of us. They know they're criminals. A big CEO, or a rich doctor may be quite self-deluded, and think that they're performing great public services (and indeed, they might be doing so), but unlike the con artist, they're not only conning others but they're conning themselves.

How often have you done something in your life, that in retrospect, you said, "Wow. How did ever I believe that was okay?"

Image note: The "crew," the most likable con artists you'll ever (not) meet. Never seen Hustle? It's a heck of a lot of fun.

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