Only 13 short months ago, we were all enjoying our little adult
evening class in social psychology and behavioural economics. You remember
anchoring, framing, cognitive dissonance, ...
Maybe you dont remember. But just because youve forgotten,
doesnt mean its gone away. There it was on the steam
radio this week, with Daniel Finkelstein explaining how the government
could persuade us to be good by the application of the laws of social
psychology. Matthew Taylor of the RSA
even started mulling over the possibility of people-shaping.
Its all a bit creepy. More so if Mr Finkelstein is right, and
David Cameron believes this nonsense.
President Obama appears to believe it. He has just made Cass Sunstein
director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Professor
Sunstein is one of the authors of last years Nudge
Hes got a new book out now, Going
to Extremes. Its all about group
Groups go to extremes. More precisely,
members of a deliberating group usually end up at a more extreme position,
in the same general direction as their inclinations before deliberation
The professor provides an example from a study he conducted in Colorado.
He divided a panel of Americans into two groups based on their views,
liberal and conservative. Then he sought their opinion, individually,
on a range of political questions. He asked, for instance, their view
on allowing same-sex civil unions, and what they thought of an international
treaty on climate change. He then let the two groups have separate meetings
to discuss the issues. When the meetings were concluded, Professor Sunstein
surveyed the members again.
He found that almost every member of either group ended up with a stronger,
more extreme, position after they spoke with one another. The liberals
became more passionately liberal, the conservatives more conservative.
If you think extremes are a bad place to go, the implication would
seem to be that you should never let like-minded people talk to each
other. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is presumably
a meeting-free zone. Thats a novel departure for government
WIBBI* no-one ever met?
* wouldn't it be better if