decision making

Why men cannot think straight in the presence of an attractive woman!

I suppose many read the story the other week about research that showed men who spend even a few minutes in the company of a very attractive woman perform less well in cognitive tests designed to measure brain function. Apparently when men are intensely focused on an attractive female such is the extent that cognitive resources are used up that it is almost impossible to think of anything else – in this case one researcher could not remember his address when asked by a particularly impressively built young lady. The effect does not work the other way women I’m afraid – women are more focused on status and potential in a mate and on much more practical matters such as how much dosh she can squeeze out of the hapless jerk when they get to the divorce courts

This effect is well known in fact in the psychology self-regulation area. It is thought that the cognitive resources we have to apply to particular tasks are actually finite and get used up as we carry out tasks – particularly demanding thinking jobs at hand deplete these resources quickly. In this case the young man in question was intensely studying a potential mate and the brain power needed to do this zapped his thinking powers and blood rushed to the head and elsewhere and the thinking power simply was not available to carry out easy declarative tasks like giving her his phone number (yer dummy!). The findings have implications for the performance of men who flirt with women in the workplace or even better using attractive women in negotiating situations. When an attractive female manager is presenting the product plan and talking about market penetration there is a finite chance that her males colleagues are not thinking about marketing strategies at that moment and are thus unable to come to rational judgments about the approach. There we have it – at a stroke (forgive the pun) – the reason for the lack of seriousness given to female presenters is apparently down to innate and unalterable sexual drives due to the reproductive orientation of men when confronted with an attractive potential mate – and is not due to any socialisation process (oh no its not – this is more of your sexist claptrap ed.)

By way of balance I found this up to date picture on the functional MRI breakdown of the cognitive process in male human brain that goes a long way in explaining the key aspects of behaviour described above.

Royston

The male brain

The Buriden’s Ass ‘method’ of decision making

The Buriden’s Ass ‘method’ of decision making is used when two or more equally attractive alternatives exist and it is difficult to make a choice. It is of course based on the old fable of Buriden’s Ass, who starved to death because he was tethered halfway between two equally large and succulent piles of hay – he couldn’t make up his mind which one to walk over to and eat. The approach is really simple; if the outcome of a choice between two options in terms of benefit is equally attractive focus on the drawbacks or downside risk of choosing an option. Pick the option based on minimising the downside – I am not sure how this would have helped Buriden’s ass but let’s put that to one side.

Example

Your kindly old boss wants to increase your salary but in the credit crunch times he offers you these choices:

1. Take an increase in salary,
2. Go part time and work fewer days per week at the current annual salary,
3. Take a long paid sabbatical each year of six weeks and continue at the same annual salary.

In terms of economic value, each of the three choices comes out exactly the same.

Now drawbacks of:

1. Is that I still have to commute each day to the office in rain or snow whilst
2. Means I will have to cope on my current salary for another year and my wife might nag and
3. Although attractive means I will be out of circulation for a long time and may lose track of my grip on the business and my job.

I’d go for 2) as although I get no rise this year there is a good chance I could get one in the future and spend the money on the extra days off I would have in the bank.

Try one yourself:

You are offered a choice of new assignments
1) an ex patriot assignment in Holland for 2 years
2) a promotion to manager of the small department you currently work within and
3) a transfer to the head office in London doing the same job as now but with a higher salary.

All are economically equivalent which would you choose?

Be critical and think about what people are really saying

Be more critical and critique what people say

To a large extent in the academic and business world things move forward by a thorough critique of the existing body of knowledge or by taking apart the
position people take on a particular issue (usually in hindsight). Often very strong positions are held based on very shaky ground and expertise claimed based on little supporting evidence. I think it is always interesting when you look at a newspaper report or an article in the trade press one can always determine the authors own position vis a vis the issue being discussed as well as the position they take in the field of knowledge they are advancing.

What we need to do when we look at a report being presented to us at work, or even on the nightly television bulletin, is to learn how to evaluate what people say and weigh the truth and merit of the argument they are proposing.

When we listen to these arguments try to assess:

  • What are the assumptions being mobilised by the author from her own perspective to support the case and what approach is being taken in the construction of the argument as far as evidence is concerned.
  • What is the purpose of the review or report – what is it for and for whom is it written?
  • What is being included or excluded from the author under scrutiny in terms of the body of knowledge and alternative views?
  • How are countervailing views dealt with and what form of words is being used to describe them – dismissive, pejorative or supportive?
  • How gaps in our understanding of the issue are explained – or are they glossed over and simplified in order to trivialise opposition?
  • What is the actual or implied call to action – what is it the writer wishes you to buy or accept that forms the core of the message?
  • I personally also ask – so what have you brought to the party, what contribution have you added to my understanding of this topic?

The way to read a newspaper follows the same approach – it means we engage with the author and as a consequence perhaps we will learn something. Remember we should not accept any assertions, claims, or recourses to expertise from any authors of these papers or articles unless they demonstrate their expertise with erudite argument. We need to look at all of them with a sceptical eye and try to get behind the purpose of the message and how it is aimed to persuade and orient opinion in a certain way and in business to ensure the ‘right’ decision is made.