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Steven Alvey 915099575

Dr. Kendon Kurzer
Human Errors in Logic Based Choices


Human reasoning and decision making has been examined from many different angles.

However, there has not been a study that took the different ideas and looked at them at the same

time. My study, although mostly replication, looks multiple aspects of reasoning and decision

making, putting them altogether in one place. Using a short, but dense, survey I have compiled

information about the choices people make. The survey used some deception and

counterbalancing to see not only the choices people made but also what those choices were given

different options and scenarios.


Along with being large and having no clear solution, wicked problems are defined by

being both caused by humans and connected to other wicked problems. I believe the illogical

nature of humanity is to blame for many of the problems in the world today. Poor resource

management and distribution is in part due to the way humans think. Hatred and extreme

nationalism are both by products of human ignorance. I believe if we can better understand the

ways people are illogical we can build social systems to lessen the negative aspects of human



Human brains did not evolve to live in the environment that they currently do. People

have rapidly changed their own surroundings over the past few thousand years. On an

evolutionary scale this is no time at all. The result is that our brains evolved to keep us a live and

reproducing in small communities. Instead, we find ourselves in massive interconnected and

complicated civilizations with large amounts of choices. Problems navigating this system are


Literature review:

[I have decided that rather than get a 0 for poor citing format and plagiarism I will not have a

literature review. This is not what I want to do but based mathematically it is the smart thing to

do. I am sorry, this does not meet my standard for how I like to do my work.]

Research Question

Do UC Davis students make logical errors when asked to make choices in multiple

scenarios? Is there a pattern to which choices are made logically and which choices are made

illogically? What can be extrapolated from these errors?


I created a survey based mostly based on my literature research. There were four main

areas of interest in the survey. The first consists of someone choosing images, then at the end

they are shown their choice and asked to justify it. One of the images they are shown is the

opposite of the one they picked. Originally, when I was designing the survey I had only one

image choice, but after thinking it over and reviewing the work of Petter Johansson I realized

that it was important to include several images choices so that the deception would be less clear.

The objective is to see if people will justify a choice that they did not make. Additionally, as a

follow up I asked if they were aware of the switch.

Another an area of interest is how people think about cost, based on the work of Dan

Gilbert. There were two similar questions asking about making a choice between paying a more

expensive cost at a convenient location or a lower cost at an inconvenient location. The


difference in cost between options is the same for both questions, but in one case the difference

makes up half the cost, while in the other it is a small fraction. The important thing is that the

cost difference is the same, in both cases someone would exert the same amount of effort to save

the same amount of money. When the money saved is later spent, it has no more value based on

how it was saved. Thus, if someone is willing to save the money in one scenario they should be

willing to in the other one as well. But because people think about the percent of money they are

saving rather than the actual amount there is a difference.

A similar section of the survey is based on the work of Dan Ariely. Based on their answer

to one of the image choices subjects are split in two groups. Both are asked about textbook

prices. One group is provided the option of either a digital or a hard copy with a digital version,

the other group has the digital, hard copy or both. The catch, so to speak, is in the group the hard

copy only option, it is the same price as the choice of both. The idea is that by having this extra

bad option, the both option will look more reasonable.

Data Collection:

The survey was created in Qualtrics. I posted a link to the survey the message board of

the lab I work at. After no one replied to it I started asking friends and posted the link in a group

chat of a club I am in. I scraped together 14 replies. This is enough to start noticing patterns but I

am not sure I strong my conclusions can be with this amount of data.

Data Analysis:

I separated the data based on which of the four areas of interest it belonged to. For the

image justification, I looked at how many subjects were aware of the switch and what image they

though had been switched. For the Price comparison, I looked at two pieces of evidence, within a

question the ratio of choices and between questions I looked how many people changed between

cheaper or convenient. For the textbook cost question, I found the ratio within questions and

compared how much it changed or did not change.


The results for the cheaper vs convenient questions can be seen here in figure 1.

FIGURE 1: Comparing Willingness to Save $25







$25/$50 $425/$450

Cheaper Convieniant

The figure shows the percentage of people who chose to either inconvenience themselves

to save $25 or pay more for a convenient option. All subjects answered both questions. As the

figure shows, when choosing between twenty-five and fifty dollars most people choose to save

the money. But when the unchanged amount increases to a four-hundred-twenty-five and four-

hundred-fifty an almost complete opposite result is seen. When making a choice, most people

think about what are they getting for what they are doing, in other words a cost. In both cases the

savings is the same amount of twenty-five dollars, but that is not the way that most people look

at it. Most people seem to think about a percentage of savings. In the first case, they are saving

fifty percent on the purchase. Most people think of a fifty percent savings as a lot, naturally

people are more willing to save the money. In the second case the savings is only around five

percent. Most people, based on the data, will not go out of their way to save five percent. The

problem with is line of thinking is that money does not change value, depending on environment

commodities and services change value but money (excluding inflation over time) has a constant

value. The twenty-five dollars in both cases is worth twenty-five dollars. How someone acquired

or saved the money does not impact the buying power it will have later. This is to say if someone

is willing to inconvenience themselves in the first case, they should also be willing to

inconvenience themselves in the second. In both cases the inconvenience is worth twenty

dollars. It should be noted that there were no subjects that said they would pay the higher amount

in the first case but the lower amount in the second. That means the change from the first case to

the second is only made up of people who are willing to save in the first case but not in the

second case. That means that 57% of subjects did not have a logically consistent approach to

these scenarios. The importance here is that if a majority of people are not logically consistent

when it comes to a simple purchasing choice, it is more than likely that inconsistent way of

making choices could impact more important or consequential decision.

There are two figures for the image justification question. Figure 2 shows a self-report of

how aware people were that they had been asked to justify the wrong image. Figure 3 shows

when directly asked to determine which image they thought was swapped.

FIGURE 2: Self Reported FIGURE 3: Change

Indentification Awareness
Change Awareness
No, I had no clue

No, but something
21% felt wrong 40%
14% Yes, but I justified
it anyway
Yes, and I said that
in my explanation

The two figures seem to suggest a very curious result. Figure two shows the majority of

people were aware that there had been some kind of change. The interesting thing data comes

from looking at the subjects that did not notice the change. 35% of subjects said they did not

know that there was a change in the image, but only one subject miss identified which image pair

had been changed. There are a few explanations for this result that are the most likely. One is

although consciously people were not aware that something had changed, there brain was still

aware enough to internalize it somehow. When asked to recall what, the change could have been

the brain new and communicated that to conscious thought. Another possibility is that the rocks

were one of the most similar of the images. Because they were more similar than other pictures

people were able to use process of elimination to conclude it must have been the rocks that were

swapped. The last possibility is that people were not honest about how aware they were that a

deception took place.

The original intent of this experiment was to see if people would justify choices they did

not make. Although 55% of subjects knew there was a deception, intriguingly, 64% of subjects

justified a choice they did not make. It is unclear why the 29% who knew image was swapped

chose to justify it. Regardless, it is troubling to think that a majority of people, aware or not, are

willing to justify a choice that they did not make. This sample size is small so it is unclear how

or if this data could be extrapolated to any greater population. However, the possibility that

citizens, employees or politicians are willing, aware or not, to justify a choice or decision (or

maybe even an idea) that they do not agree with has dangerous consequences.

One of the area of interests has data with a skewed sample size that renders it useless.

The intention was to split the subjects into two equal groups and have both of them answer a

slightly different question. The problem is the method which I used to split the groups was not

effective. I chose one of the image pairs and split people into two groups based on their choice of

image. What I did not account for is that one image was selected three types more often than the

other. With such a small sample size, this disparity makes the data I collected un useable. Along

with the size of the data there is also a problem of group difference. Based on the justifications

for the image choice it is clear the image pair I chose had strong opinions. Even if the sample

size had been evenly split the groups would not be the same. The goal of splitting people into

two groups is that they are no different from one another. Because the image pair had a strong

division, it is possible the results I would have gotten would not have been from the change I

imposed, but rather from the initial difference in the two groups. With these two forms of error

and bias in the data it would be irresponsible to try to make any conclusion with them. I will note

that it is important to mention when data is inconclusive. Often people will hide their bad data or

try to do something to it to say it is useful in some way.


I observed two ways in which humans are illogical. The first is when making dictions of

cost, people will assess the comparative value rather than the true value. This suggest that people

may waist money because they view cost in a specific way. The other logical error I found is that

sometimes people may justify choices they did not make. Although there are varying degrees of

awareness to the deception, a majority of people justified choice they did not make. This could

suggest a greater problem in what people think to be there opinions. However, my sample size

was very small, not collected randomly or representatively, and the amount of care taken to

answer the survey is unknown. These factors would imply that my data does not extrapolate to

any greater piece of the population. At best, they data seems to loosely support the findings of

the data it replicated. In future research, I would collect a much larger sample size, have a

random way to split people into different groups, have more vague images to choose, and focus

specifically on one area of human cognition.



Ariely, D (2008, December) Dan Ariely: Are we in control of our own decisions? [Video File]. Retrieved



Gilbert, D (2005, July) Dan Gilbert: Why we make bad decisions [Video File]. Retrieved


Gilbert, D (2004, February) Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness [Video File]. Retrieved


Johansson, P (2016, November) Petter Johansson: Do we really know why we do what we do? [Video

File]. Retrieved