Friday, June 15, 2012

Political Ads Appeal to our Lazy Brains

Sometimes, a bunch of stuff from different sources comes together in my brain. My "slow" brain, that is. I recently started reading "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman, which is based on the idea of two types of thinking which he calls System 1 and System 2. System 1 operates quickly and automatically, with very little effort on the part of the thinker. You see a guy in a red shirt and your brain goes "red shirt" without much thought. Or you can add 2+2. System 2 gets involved to in more in-depth thinking and problem solving. It requires more effort and concentration. If you had to multiply 123x456 in your head, you need system 2. There is some interesting research in his book about what happens when the two different systems are at work that is far too extensive to go into here. But one thing that is interesting is that the two systems arrive often arrive at different answers. A popular example is solving this problem:
A boy buys a bat and ball for a total of $1.10. The bat cost $1 more than the ball. What did the ball cost?
If I made you answer that in 2 seconds, there is a good chance you answer it with system 1 and say "10 cents". However, if I give you a minute to think about it, and you are not too lazy to use system 2 to think about it, you will come up with the correct answer of 5 cents. Some people, however, would be too lazy to bother to switch on system 2, and stick with the wrong answer. Last night I was reading "TF&S" right after watching Jeopardy, during which I was bombarded at every break with ads from Obama and Romney providing conflicting, shallow and misleading information about Romney's performance as Gov. of Mass, during which I posted on Facebook about how they must assume we are idiots. As I read, what goes on with political advertising became apparent, and was reinforced this morning when I read Director Brooks Jackson's piece "Why the Truth Still Matters". Political ads are designed to work on System 1. Almost all political ads take selected facts about a candidate and make those appear as if that is the candidate's entire story. Okay, those are the closest to honest ones. Others, mostly being run now by the Superpacs, take things completely out of context, or just outright lie. Either way, the 20 second ad that says "Romney, job creator", which during Jeopardy in this swing state is followed by "Romney, job destroyer" are trying to plant that connection in your head, and assume you will not apply system 2 thought to the situation and actually think about what was said. And they definitely assume you are too lazy to look up the real facts. I guess there is nothing surprising about that, except that when it happens when I'm watching Jeopardy I really have to wonder who is placing the ads. The whole point of the game is to get your system 2 brain operating at full capacity and full speed. It is not a system 1 type of show. So, why are they wasting their money insulting those of us who enjoy the brain exercise of Jeopardy with their ads. Do they really think Jeopardy watchers are so dumb and lazy they will buy this bullshit? Or do they just have so much money to spend they need to put ads somewhere? Maybe I am just exhausted from living in a swing state all these years. Those of you who live in safe states, consider yourself lucky, even if your guy is going to lose in your state. At least you don't get this constant barrage of crap that makes you hate Democracy by November! Meanwhile, I am looking forward to finishing the book, and maybe it will explain how Jeopardy contestants are able to think the way they do. Or maybe former Jeopardy contestant Budd Bailey can explain it to us.