Cognitive Limitations

Look, we’re basically monkeys* with ideas waaaaay above our station.  We got opposable thumbs and language, and have been busy wreaking havoc for a long time.  Probably not for much longer, certainly if you measure your time geologically …

In addition to this cognitive limitation are various mechanisms that retard attending to and acting on information, which we summarise as cognitive friction (Jones, Sulkin, and Larsen 2003; Jones and Baumgartner 2005b). As a consequence, we observe a pattern of under- and overreaction to new information. Humans are simply not generally capable of matching expected marginal costs of information to expected marginal returns. The basic architecture of human decision making hardwires us into a pattern of lurching, not to smooth transitions from one decision to the next. We are disproportionate information processors, and the implications of that is that we underattend to issues below some cognitive threshold of urgency and then later we react in surprised alarm to something that may have been there for quite some time, but to which we were not paying sufficient attention. Further, these are not “errors in judgment” or “mistakes,” and they are certainly not “anomalies”; these are basic characteristics of human decision making.

(Baumgartner and Jones, 2015:46)

Baumgartner, F. and Jones, B. 2015. The Politics of Information: Problem Definition and the Course of Public Policy in America. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.



*Okay, “apes”, if you want to get technical

see also cognitive friction, bounded rationality


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