HCOL 195 9/2/09

On Wednesday we did the little quiz, which illustrated some of the things we’ll be studying this semester. The important things to take away are:

  • People’s reaction to questions can be affected by the context or wording of the question, even if underneath the question is the same. So talking about the number of soldiers “saved” or “dying”, or whether you will “be cured” or “will die” from a medical procedure, or phrasing things in terms of “gains” or “losses” can strongly affect how decisions are made. It isn’t a sure thing, we found out, because some of the questions asked didn’t really elicit different results from the two sides of the classroom.
  • We saw in the taxi example how not only the probability of correctly identifying a color, but also the number of each color in the city, affects the probability that the witness correctly identified the color of the taxi. We saw the same phenomenon in the mammogram example, where the number of false positives greatly outweighed the number of true positives, simply because there are so few women in the population we discussed that had cancer.
  • We saw that we are hard-wired not to take some actions that are morally repugnant because we are so close to them, but would take other actions if our distance from the outcomes can be maintained, even though the net numerical results are the same.
  • We saw that it makes a difference to many people whether they lose a ticket or an equivalent amount of money, as to whether they will buy a new ticket. So losing money and losing things, even when of equal value, don’t seem the same to us.
  • We noted that the more narrowly a category is described, the smaller the probability that a randomly chosen example will fall into that category.
  • We learned that small samples have a larger relative variation than a large sample, as with the births in hospitals of various sizes.
  • Interestingly, everyone finally decided that they would sign up for or remain in a 401(k) plan if it were available.

On Friday, the last 15 minutes of the class will be taken up by a survey that the Honors College wishes to take.

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