Cognitive Psychology

We’re So Fucked: Caused by Present Bias and the Hacks We’ll Need to be Less Fucked


As part of our ongoing series We’re So Fucked, Ye Olde Blogge is explaining the psychological reasons behind our collective wickedness. Today, we’ll be relying on the work of Katy Milkman and her colleagues as published in her book, How to Change: The Science of Getting From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be as heard on the podcast, Hidden Brain hosted by Shankar Vedantam.

In case, you have just emerged from a cave-in after being revived from a coma, and released from an iron lung and hadn’t yet noticed how good and truly fucked we are by the Putin-GAP disinformation campaigns on #COVID19, the 2020 election, and culture war racist bullshit go back and look at the previous two We’re So Fucked posts.

What does game theory say about leaving a sustainable future for future generations?

In We’re So Fucked: The Greedy “Defector,” edition, we explore how the game theory study, Intergenerational Goods Game, suggests that there are just enough psychopathic self-serving mo’fo’s among us to duck up whatever constructive collective good shit we’re trying to do on climate, #COVID19, race, and whatnot.

Why aren't Republican States pushing vaccines and healthcare?

We’re So Fucked: The Vaccination Rates, Political Polarization, and Presidential Voting, edition takes a deeper dive into the unheard of correlation between presidential vote and #COVID19 bad rates. Spoiler: 0.85. These numbnuts are gonna have their very own chaos inducing, resource consuming, healthcare provider exhausting outbreak in the fall and winter and saddle the world with a bad resistant strain.

How can we explain the destructive political stances of conservatives?

And just for fun and edification, read about who benefits from keeping us divided and chaotic and who are the useful idiots that are helping them in The Six Types of Conservative and How They Explain Our Current Craziness.

If you’re like me, one of the things that has been driving you crazy the last couple of decades is the question, why. As in why the fuck would anyone want the things conservatives say they want? Dangerous deadly back alley abortions, unrestrained reproduction rates, high infant and maternal mortality rates, Flint water, Cancer Alley, Texas utilities, rampant gun violence, and now an unending #COVID19 pandemic. Who the fuck would want any of that, yet they do and they keep passing laws and winning court cases to make it all so.

We’ve explained why the rank and vile MAGA voter supports this crap: the seductive allure of racism and misogyny, gaslighting, groupthink, and cognitive dissonance. We’ve explained why backbencher and the long-serving yet ambitiousless politicians go along with this crap, diffusion of responsibility and groupthink. We’ve even explained the self-servingness and short-sightedness nature of their leadership. But why the fuck would people who are leading the parade of the stupid and gullible circus parade embark on such an obviously self-destructive path? Why do so many billionaires want this dystopian nightmare for us?

Here’s Katy Milkman’s explanation and how to apply it to one of our current problems, getting more people vaxxed!

Katy Milkman’s Explanation: Present Bias

Present bias is the cognitive tendency “to focus on all the things we want right now and how lovely it will make us feel to have something right now.” In other words we are BIASED towards instant gratification. “What do we want?” scream the cheerleading gremlins in our psyches. “Satisfication!” we answer. “When do we want it?” the mindless cheer continues. “NOW!” it concludes blotting out the possibility of everything else.

This kinda thing might be great for football games and midnight runs to the Donut Shack, but it’s not what we want in our political, business, and social leaders. We rely on these folks to have some notion of what lies ahead of us and take steps to mitigate the disasters that are laying in wait, especially the ones that we can predict.

That’s the role of We the People in a free society: elect political leaders that will make political decisions that will keep us safe even if it is something that we don’t want to hear or do; support companies that balance profit with social needs; and follow people on social media who understand when instant gratification is fun and useful and when we need to make hard choices to continue living in a sustainable world. When we don’t hold up our end of the bargain because we fell for the sweet lies of the Trumps, Bezos, and Carlsons of the world who are willing to sacrifice our future for their immediate satisfication, we can’t have nice things, not now, not ever.

Just knowing about present bias can help us avoid the pitfalls it presents, but, as we’ve experienced, it can still bite us in our collective assets if a minority of us can’t resists its sweet siren seductive song. Part of Katy Milkman’s research has been on how we can can get better at doing the things that are less immediate and more future oriented. While she’s focused on things like diets and New Year’s resolutions, we’ll be focused more on getting people to vax.

Katy Milkman’s Brain Hacks

Setting and Achieving Personal Goals

As promised Milkman is the real deal. She has examined that age old dilemma of, That’s a nice New Year’s Resolution you’ve got there; it’d be a shame if anything happened to it. We’ll look at her suggestions and then apply them to increasing vaccination rates.

  • Make it fun! I’ve run three marathons and a tri. “What you? Mr. Irregularly Erratic Haphazard?” Yeah. One I trained for and ran with a friend, one I trained alone but ran with a small group, and one I did all by my lonesome.. The one with the friend was the easiest to do because it was FUN! Or at least funner.
  • Temptation bundling: Pairing a hard task with an enjoyable one. Listening to a podcast or audio book while working out or doing housework.
  • Breaking the complex into smaller steps. An interesting study showed that people were more likely to save more if you asked them to save $5.00 a day rather than asking them to save $35.00 per week or $150.00 per month. Do the math: it all works out to $5.00 per day. Smaller and more immediate is better.
  • Immediate feedback. Knowing what you’re doing right and wrong as soon as you’ve done it does wonders for keeping you on the straight and narrow. This is the basis of persuasive design and we’ve seen how successful that’s been for games, social media, and Fox News. Capture your liking and wanting systems and you’re gonna wanna do one more.
  • Chapter breaks. As it turns out we divide our lives into chapters, you know, before, during, and after prison. There are other days like birthdays, important holidays, and significant anniversaries that primes us to make changes. We do it automatically, mentally, without effort or realization.

Milkman’s Hacking Of Our Vaccine Fuckedness

As it turns out, Katy Milkman has already studied what works works for #COVID19 — See? I told you she was the real deal — but that was back in September 2020, so a life time ago. Still, looking at what she found in those studies will be interesting and will get our own creative juices flowing.

She and her colleagues put together a huge natural experiment that encompasses urban, suburban, and rural settings and thousands of people so they could test what types of phrasing worked best and where. They tested these phrases:

  • Everyone else is getting the vaccine
  • Do it for the person you love
  • They used a lame dad joke that I’ve already forgotten — I know, lame.
  • A vaccine has been reserved specifically for you. It’s waiting for you with your name on it.

The last one worked best. It activated the endowment effect (we put higher value on things we own). It made the vaccine seem special, it produced a feeling of obligation in the recipient.

Hacking Vaccine Resistance and Anti-Vaxxers

I think many people have concluded that there a are just some people who are so dead set against getting the vaccine they are beyond reach. That may very well be, but are there other folks that are persuadable? What about Biden’s plan of sending volunteers door-to-door to appeal to folks? And the GQP governors who have sworn not a penny of state money or an ounce of state resources are going to help with the effort and other folks who have likened it to fascist gun grabbing and invasions of privacy?

  • Make it fun!
    • Give it a jazzy name riffing off of pop culture, like Magneto’s Magnetizing Summer of Vaccinated FUN! You know taking advantage of how popular super heroes are nowadays.
    • Use fun little gimmicky toys like a Biden-shaped metal refrigerator magnet with catchy phrases like “Don’t let #COVID19 stick to you, when you can get stuck to the vaccine!”
    • You get the idea.
  • Temptation bundling
    • Get businesses around the vax sites to donate gift certificates and gift cards to be redeemed after being vaccinated.
    • Include a free 5G Obama phone, you know, something everybody wants.
  • Break it into smaller manageable steps
    • Make a checklist of the steps.
    • Include information about the vaccine and where and how to get it.
    • Provide names and numbers of known community members willing to talk about the vaccine.
    • Provide a list of hospitals and doctors specializing in #COVID19and respiratory illnesses.
    • Include a coupon for a mortuary redeemable only by the unvaxxed who died of #COVID19.
    • You know each step of the process can be checked off and has its own special little thing with it.
  • Chapter breaks
    • Target upcoming holidays. Labor Day is just before the cold and flu season and it’s right around the corner!
    • Birthday reminders — the perfect gift for that guy or gal who has everything!
    • Death anniversaries of famous or local people who died of #COVID19, especially vax refusers. Charlie Pride, Herman Cain, Nick Cordero, and any loudmouth preacher or social media influencer who refused the vaccine.

You see how these ideas can be applied. You could also adapt them to more personal use like dealing with a friend or relative. Here’s an idea, let us know how well these hacks have worked for you for New Year’s resoltuions, getting vaxxed, or anything else!

Well, you’ve done it again. You’ve read the entire post and now your final task is to resist leaving a tangible sign that you’ve been here, you know, like one of the following:

  • Comment: How successful have you been at making changes?
  • Like: Use the little like button after the post to add your name to the half dozen or so who usually do like these posts!
  • Rate: Give this post the five-star rating it deserves! Right up at the top after the title!
  • Share: Use the social media icons after the post to share it on your favorite social media platform.
  • Join the score or so of people who are already receiving email notifications everytime a post goes up according to my erratic irregular sense of doing things!

Image Attribution

“10 Brain Hacks To Make You Smarter & Hack Your Way to Success | Motivated To Achieve http://buff.ly/2hzvt9A” by harvest316 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

39 replies »

  1. Another juicy episode of Hidden Brain. It is of note that one strategy that does not work well is trying to guilt yourself or someone else into doing an important thing. Even if they do the thing, the resistance and resentment to guilting will backfire on some other important thing.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      Shame is the most destructive emotion whether cast upon us by others or ourselves. Resentment will eventually poison a relationship. It’s funny, though, how instinctively and often we turn to such emotional manipulations when we’re trying to influence the behavior of others.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 2 people

      • Shame is basic to social control because it threatens expulsion from the tribe. Others harboring resentments against us is much the same. They have been working at least since we were naked apes on the African savannas throwing rocks at scavengers to take over a kill.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Howdy Bob!

          Group membership is so important to us that solitary existences have negative health effects on most of us. We still need to live in small of even though we don’t need to for protection and food.

          Huzzah!
          Jack

          Liked by 2 people

          • We are, have been since before we stood upright, social animals. Our long infancy and dependency makes us the most intensely social creatures on this planet. There really is no way around that.

            Liked by 1 person

              • The do not have an individual consciousness of their own mortality. We are the only creatures we know of who we can be sure do have that, although there are indications that a few others may have some inkling of it. Maybe it is that, more than any other trait which makes us the mad apes we are.

                Like

                • Howdy Bob!

                  Since studying the nervous system a bit for the psychology class I teach, I’ve become somewhat fascinated by insects, especially the social insects. They really are little more than biological machines. Since they do not have a brain, only ganglia, everything they do is environmentally guided behavior, yet they’ve found a niche in nearly as many environments as we have a and have a far greater population. Human beings and social insects are the only species to have developed ultrasocial societies.

                  Huzzah!
                  Jack

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • And most of their coordinated group behavior is managed through pheromone trails and messaging, even to build the huge nests of some specie of termites. Well, they have had at least 100 Million years to work on it.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Here in Asia, you’ll see huge columns of ants walking up the walls of apartment buildings. If you don’t you know they’re spraying for them, which is worse than having the ants in my opinion. The other thing you’ll find here is the house gecko, which many Asian people hate and will kill on sight.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I remember my mom, who was not fond of things with more than four legs, telling about clearing out her aunt’s house in Tampa, FL when the aunt had to move into a nursing home due to a stroke. Of course, where the bugs go, the geckos will follow. Those critters who have successfully adapted to the environments we create have done well.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • The funny thing is that I don’t see cockroaches here in tropical Asia — we did see them in South Korea, where they claimed they came from Americans — like I did growing up in sub-tropical US. When I was there a couple years ago organizing my mom’s estate, I didn’t see many cockroaches then, either. I don’t know where all the cockroaches went.

                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I saw some in Vietnam in our barracks areas, especially when I opened a storage box that had been made from a packing crate and was empty except for a mass of roaches, a main nest. Normally, they nest underground unless humans supply a nice dark and private place. Maybe the Koreans were right.

                      Like

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I’m occasion I would see one in a tree, but never in our house. Even when we had the kitchen cabinets replaced. Lots of mold, but no cockroaches or their eggs.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Maybe they don’t like mold, at least in their nests (bad for the eggs?), even if they might like to eat some of it. Even leaf cutter ants keep their fungus gardens well away from the nurseries.

                      Like

          • I was reminded of a couple of quotes from Robert Heinlein:

            “All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly which can – and must – be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “Women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly – and no doubt will keep trying.”

            “It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population.”

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              Much of the wisdom in Heinlein’s quotes were born off the hard experience of WWII. Indeed, much of the wisdom of the 20th Century was the result of trying to understand the atrocities committed by the Nazis during WWII.

              I’m struck by the parallels of our current time and that — as are many — and the lack of urgency of many of our leaders in confronting it. I’m afraid, we’re fixing to acquire some hard 21st Century learning.

              Huzzah!
              Jack

              Liked by 1 person

              • In that way, Heinlein was very much like the other sci-fi writers of his generation, as different as some of their visions were, they were exploring those lessons, with a sense of urgency. In a similar vein of the problem of lack of urgency, I recall Bateson’s comment that it too ten years from the publication of Silent Spring for any serious moves to do something about DDT to begin, and how we are now 30-40 years past the clear warnings about climate change.

                The lessons of this century are upon us and many are the same old lessons in new clothes, but not all that new.

                Liked by 1 person

                • We’ve always had the luxury of moving on from spoiled environments. There are Brazilians who cannot accept that the Amazon could cease to exist, so they refuse to conserve it. There are many more who cling to the idea that the earth will provide for us because it always has before. Trying to harness all of those disparate view points, especially when we have to overcome the cynical exploitation of those points-of-view, too, may be the undoing of democracy.

                  Huzzah!
                  Jack

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • We are increasingly approaching the point of there being no place to move to that isn’t either also spoiled or fully occupied and unwilling to accept migrants. We can’t all go to Mars with Jeff Bezos. Although, if we are going to ever live on other worlds it is good to remember, as one sci-fi writer (I forget which) said, exploration is mostly a matter of finding new and interesting ways to die. Now, 50 years after the Apollo landings, we have six people (rotating on and off) living in a tin can in low Earth orbit, mainly because we were not willing to pay that price. You can’t make taking up residence in a fundamentally hostile environment safe, especially when you have to figure out how to do it while doing it.

                    Asimov wrote that democracy cannot survive overpopulation because the value of individual life is lost along with individual dignity and security. I wonder, then, how that relates to authoritarians (with the notable exception for a while of the Chinese Communist Party) are always wanting to outlaw abortion and birth control and pushing for more babies.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Demographics have had interesting effects on countries and governments. All authoritarian political parties have had their youth groups, for example. They served several purposes: to indoctrinate, to harness youthful enthusiasm, and to give the young something to do. Countries with large numbers of young unmarried men have the worst problems with crime. Nothing worse for a community than a lot of twenty something unmarried unemployed men. They will always get into trouble.

                      Political youth groups, armies, paramilitary forces, police forced all serve to soak up this youthful energy and put it to work for the state. Fighting a war or two in the eighties would’ve probably been a more effective way for Mexico to have fought the drug cartels, for example.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • The Mexico example is a good one. Instead of a war on the cartels, they have a war between the cartels, fueled by money and guns brought in from the US and those young men as cannon fodder.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I think that has been the playbook: play both sides of the middle class off against each other while the wealth of the nation is transferred to the 1%. As long as we’re scrapping over stupid shit like abortion, open carry, and mask wearing, we won’t notice how much more money the wealthy have made and the housing stock they’ve outbid you for, so now you can rent for the rest of your life!

                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • And keeping the underclass shooting up and shooting at each other so they don’t get organized and the police have lots of reasons to keep their knee on the neck. The reported rise in shootings associated with the pandemic seems to fit with that and is becoming a major GOP talking point as we approach the 2022 election.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      2022 will certainly be a litmus test for white suburban voters. Will they be more swayed by Republican dog whistle demagoguery on rising black crime, hordes of brown immigrants racing towards the border, government gun registries, debt, and socialism, then we’ll know that most white people can be easily manipulated and swayed by appeals to implicit and explicit racism. If it is a high-turnout backlash against their authoritarian grab, then we’ll know we are on course to build a more perfect union.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Another factor that will be in play with unpredictable results is the Delta Variant surge. Will some of the anti-mask and anti-vaccination crowd realize their leaders have been selling lies and fantasies with deadly consequences, and begin to question the rest of the pitch? We will see.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      The CDC report released today on the delta variant was very sobering. We’re in a new pandemic. Luckily, we’re starting with an effective vaccine. The surge itself has driven some vaccinations.

                      My research into cognitive dissonance indicates that when reality intrudes forcefully into the collective delusion, most people quit the cult.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      The more strongly and stubbornly you cling to the cult, the more you have to do to maintain the false belief of the cult. Eventually, reality will make it impossible to do so. That people are surviving #COVID19 or losing loved ones to it and still clinging to the false beliefs is just amazing to me. That is some first class and very righteous cognitive dissonance right there.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I heard a prime example of the phenomenon in an on-the-street interview comment from a woman who said she would never get the vaccine. She said the whole thing of the so-called pandemic was exaggerated for political purposes (to take away our rights), and she knew that because you didn’t see people dropping dead in the street. At that point, about all one can do is wish her luck (good luck or bad, your choice). As somebody pointed out in a meme, polio and small pox never did reach natural heard immunity. Neither has the common cold.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Smallpox has the distinction of being one of two communicable diseases that we’ve eradicated due to vaccines. The other is rinderpest a disease among cattle. It goes along with Sen. Johnson saying that he would back a vaccine mandate only if there were a deadly disease on the lose. It reminds me of people going to hospitals early in the pandemic and thinking they’d found proof that it was all a fake because the parking lots weren’t crowded with cars. And, people in NYC believing there was a serious pandemic because they could hear the ambulances running night and day.

                      That kind of rugged individualism that says that we have to take every person by the hand and lead them to the evidence so they can evaluate it and either accept or reject it is the stuff that will kill us. The GQP has succeeded in destroying the trust that we need to have a functional society.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

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