Tag Archives: Randomness

“Why didn’t anyone stop this? It seems so obvious!”

By, Adam K. Fetterman
After an act of extreme violence, it is normal for people to want answers. The shooting of Arizona officials a couple weeks ago is no exception. Briefly, a disturbed man opened fire on public officials killing six and leaving U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona in critical condition. Many accusations were thrown about to explain the man’s extreme behavior. For example, mental health was pointed out in an article on TheHill.com. While there is all this blame thrown around, many question why no one had noticed his erratic behavior and stopped it. According to The Hill article, polls have been conducted and many blame the mental health system for failing to identify dangerous individuals. It also notes that many people have the same feelings regarding other shootings. It seems so obvious to those around these shooters that these people are unstable. Unfortunately, they only notice after the fact.

Part of the reason that people only notice mentally unstable shooters after fact is because of a psychological effect called “Hindsight Bias” (Fischhoff, 1975). Hindsight bias occurs when one misjudges the predictability of an event after the event occurs. According to Campbell and Tesser (1983), one motive for this bias is that people have a need for predictability. Particularly in the case of these shooters, we have a strong motivation to believe that these events are predictable, and not random. Therefore, it is easy to blame an institution or individuals for not recognizing the instability beforehand and “do something” to prevent these atrocities, because we have all the evidence after the fact. With the benefit of hindsight, we believe the events are quite a bit more predictive than they really are, because it makes us feel safe. However, in reality, these events are fairly random. With this in mind, perhaps we should hold back on finding out who is to blame for not stopping these things from happening.

Poll: Mental health linked to Arizona shooting. By Jason Millman from TheHill.com

Campbell, J. D. and Tesser, A. (1983), Motivational interpretations of hindsight bias: An individual difference analysis. Journal of Personality, 51: 605–620.

Read all of Adam K. Fetterman’s posts here.

That is probably not a ghost, it’s probably just randomness.

By, Adam K. Fetterman

Poster design by Gravillis Inc.

A recent trend in cable television is paranormal investigation shows. For example, the SyFy channel has Ghost Hunters and A&E has Paranormal State. The point of these shows is to investigate claims of the paranormal and then confirm or debunk them. While certain shows do a fairly good job of at least “trying” to debunk the claims, others make no clear attempt. For instance, many, if not all, of these shows feature a time of “investigation” in which the main “characters” try to communicate with the spirit world. They do so by asking the “ghosts” to make a noise or make themselves appear. Usually they will come up with some sort of noise or evidence and conclude that, “indeed, there is a presence!” The first problem here is that, in order to properly debunk such events, one must not believe in them in the first place, or at least have some education in explaining psychological or natural experiences. However, the main issue is that a truly skeptical person will take the evidence of a random noise in response to a question as chance occurrence that is more likely to be explained statistical randomness. One the other hand, a paranormal believer would dismiss that event as chance and explain it paranormally.

This is what is known as the conjunction fallacy. According to Rogers, Davis, & Fisk (2008), indeed those who believe in the paranormal, are more susceptible to the conjunction fallacy than non-believers. Furthermore, they found that those less educated in math, statistics and psychology were more susceptible as well. Therefore, when two not-so-rare events occur (i.e. talking and a bump in the night), paranormal believers make the error in concluding that both events occurring simultaneously was too improbable to be coincidence. Based on previous findings, Rogers and colleagues suggest that this happens because those that believe in the paranormal have less understanding of chance and randomness. In closing, it is obvious that these shows are for purely entertainment value and most people would not tune in if they didn’t find “evidence” of the paranormal. However, it does seem troublesome to perpetuate a lack of rational and logical reasoning skills.

In a couple weeks: Why some are motivated to believe in the paranormal?

Researching the paranormal with Ryan Buell. By, Jennifer Vazquez – The Leader

A&E’s Paranormal State website.

SyFy’s Ghost Hunters website.

Rogers, P., Davis T., & Fisk, J. (2009). Paranormal belief and susceptibility of the conjunction fallacy. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 524-542