3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on Putting Things in Perspective
Fallhöhe, Scope Neglect & Heuristic Questions
In literature, the German loanword Fallhöhe (height of fall) is the extent of a dramatic hero's fall. Imagine a well-respected and morally steadfast queen being slowly corrupted until she’s lost everything. Compare that to the fall of a hapless poor nobody with nothing left to lose.
The higher the status of a character, the more empathy an audience will feel for his or her downfall. The term was coined by German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. He noted that people with low social standing can always be saved by high-status people. Whereas kings and queens are already at the top of the social food chain. This would make their failure more tragic in the eyes of an audience.
II. Scope Neglect
Scope Neglect is a cognitive bias that leads people to disregard the extent of a problem. In an experiment, psychologists asked people how much they would give to save birds affected by oil spillage. Whether 2,000; 20,000 or 200,000 birds were in need of saving didn’t make much difference to how much people would donate.
Why? Psychologist Daniel Kahneman suggested that humans can’t cope with large numbers and tend to revert back to a single simple image:
The story […] probably evokes for many readers a mental representation of a prototypical incident, perhaps an image of an exhausted bird, its feathers soaked in black oil, unable to escape.
As a species that evolved from tribal life, we don’t seem to cope well with huge numbers.
III. Heuristic Questions
Most of our everyday questions and problems are just too complex. Kahneman proposed that our mind generates intuitive opinions as a response. It does that by simply replacing a given difficult question with an easier heuristic question. According to Kahneman, this is an:
alternative to careful reasoning, which sometimes works fairly well and sometimes leads to serious errors.
—Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow
For example, the question How much would you contribute to save an endangered species? becomes How much emotion do I feel when I think of dying dolphins? A question about how happy we are with our lives these days turns into What is my mood right now?
These questions are much easier to answer. But they don’t always relate to what was being asked in the first place. We tell ourselves they do. Seriously though, who has the time to go through a lengthy process of reasoning every time we get asked something?
If you’re interested in heuristics, check out my posts on Mental Shortcuts: 5 Ways Heuristics Can Lead to Poor Decisions. 🐘
Have a great week,
P.S.: Check out my latest post: How to Get Better at Writing in 7+1 Steps