Food for Thought: Decisions of the Primate Mind

Originally, I had turned on this TED talk to play in the background while I was doing some gathering in World of Warcraft. But as the talk went on, I stopped what I was doing to order to give the video my full attention. Ever since I read Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory for Everyday Life, I have been keen to learn more about the decision making and risk evaluation processes that people engage to determine the choices that they make. Laurie Santos explains how they conducted a series of experiments to see whether our primitive relatives exhibit the same irrational behaviors when it comes to making decisions.

[I highly recommend taking the time to watch the clip. It is the context upon which the rest of this post is based.]

It’s a great piece about how different decisions are arrived at when considered in absolute versus relative terms. I had not known that a simple shift in perception (whether in dealing with a gain or a loss) can radically change the way in which situations are evaluated and determinations are made. It really got me to thinking as to how people look at trying new or different ideas within the library field: is it being evaluated as a potential gain or loss?

Would it be a gain to create a Facebook page for the library in terms of outreach to patrons on the service, or is it a loss for being another job for staff with an inconsistent rate of return for the time investment?

Would it be a gain to reorganize the collection like a bookstore, something patrons are more familiar with than Dewey, or a loss because the library loses its traditional classification scheme?

Would it be a gain for libraries to offer e-book checkouts as sales of e-readers continue to climb, or a loss because it shifts the library into a world of unsettled copyright, proprietary platforms, and nervous publishers?

My guess is that the initial answers to these questions were determined by how you feel about the subjects involved. Perhaps not the logical evaluation and reasoning functions that our evolved brains have arrived at, but enough to recognize the difference between judging on the absolute and the relative. And that is certainly something to think about.

2 thoughts on “Food for Thought: Decisions of the Primate Mind

  1. Great article, Andy. It is important to evaluate risk/reward when making decisions, but to also look at how just the simplest change can effect decisions made by others. When making marketing decisions an internal war breaks out between the “marketer” me & the “librarian” me. Sidenote: check out “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer for another book on the thought processes dealing with decision making.

    • I’ve been meaning to read that book. Ever since I read his article in Wired about failure, I’ve been keen to read more of his stuff.

      I think library schools really need to address marketing. I think it’s one of the most overlooked areas of study for the MLS programs right now, and it’s really something that needs to be addressed.

      There are times when I have that same internal debate, trying to balance what makes sense for the library versus what is practical in terms of reaching out to patrons on different types of media.

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