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bcrowell

decision-making heuristics

Good point about helmets. If you read an issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering, one factor you'll see over and over in fatalities is that people weren't wearing a helmet.

Another issue that comes through really clearly in Andrew's trip report is the use of some bad heuristics for decision making. A heuristic is a quick and dirty method for solving problems or making decisions, which may work in many cases but will not always work. Sociologists have studied this kind of thing extensively by looking at deaths in avalanches. A couple of the common heuristics they've documented seem to have been used by Andrew.

One is the logic that if you see other people doing it, it's probably OK. For instance, when you're crossing the street, you may step into the street because you see other people doing it, without checking the traffic signal. In Andrew's account, he talks about having some doubts, but continuing on the climb because other people in the group were continuing. (People are knocking down other people in the group like bowling pins, but they keep climbing!)

Another has to do with commitment. Once people are there, they feel committed to the activity, so they go on. The more time and effort it's taken to get to where they are, the more reluctant they are to turn around. This seems pretty clear from Andrew's description of the meetup group as one that he had wanted to join and had been having trouble gaining entree into.

The leader of the group also clearly made a bad decision. One heuristic that can play into this kind of thing is that people have a strong psychological need to demonstrate to others through their own actions that they are the kind of person they present themselves as. Andrew seems to have perceived this guy as experienced, which was probably based on the guy's presentation of himself as an experienced person.
Sean

It's truly sad that sociologists need a fancy PC-word for what used to be called STUPID. Stupid is no longer a result of poor parenting and the failure of schools to teach independence and critical thinking. It's caused by "heuristics" gone wrong. Blah.

These people were on a hike. They didn't need to use mental shortcuts to quickly act during an avalanche or earthquake. They simply needed to pause for a couple minutes and consider the wisdom of their stupid behavior before it got them stuck in an absurd situation. The problem is not heuristics. It's much deeper than that. The problem is an epidemic of STUPID.
Mike P

Re: decision-making heuristics

bcrowell wrote:
Good point about helmets. If you read an issue of Accidents in North American Mountaineering, one factor you'll see over and over in fatalities is that people weren't wearing a helmet.

Another issue that comes through really clearly in Andrew's trip report is the use of some bad heuristics for decision making. A heuristic is a quick and dirty method for solving problems or making decisions, which may work in many cases but will not always work. Sociologists have studied this kind of thing extensively by looking at deaths in avalanches. A couple of the common heuristics they've documented seem to have been used by Andrew.
===edit===
The leader of the group also clearly made a bad decision. One heuristic that can play into this kind of thing is that people have a strong psychological need to demonstrate to others through their own actions that they are the kind of person they present themselves as. Andrew seems to have perceived this guy as experienced, which was probably based on the guy's presentation of himself as an experienced person.


Sean wrote:
It's truly sad that sociologists need a fancy PC-word for what used to be called STUPID. Stupid is no longer a result of poor parenting and the failure of schools to teach independence and critical thinking. It's caused by "heuristics" gone wrong. Blah.

These people were on a hike. They didn't need to use mental shortcuts to quickly act during an avalanche or earthquake. They simply needed to pause for a couple minutes and consider the wisdom of their stupid behavior before it got them stuck in an absurd situation. The problem is not heuristics. It's much deeper than that. The problem is an epidemic of STUPID.


Both of you are saying the same thing. It is fascinating, however, what goes into decision-making as bcrowell points out. We can all learn from those mistakes (or STUPID decisions) as Sean would like to put it.
Sean

I guess I need to clarify something. Not all mistakes are stupid decisions. If you knowingly begin a risky activity, with adequate knowledge, skill and gear, and then you mess up and die, then I would refer to that as a tragic decision. You took a risk that you were prepared for, but failed.

On the other hand, the group referenced here had neither the knowledge, skill, nor the gear for what they were attempting. They realized that the Cucamonga trail was too much for them, but then somehow decided to give a XC scramble to Bighorn a try?!!?

I'm pretty sure I know what that is all about, because despite some experience I'm not immune to such dumbness. That is the ego saying, "I didn't come all this way just to turn around at the saddle." And if a group leader can't shake off that stupid mentality, he shouldn't be a leader.
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