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Researchers say our thirst for information affects how we behave

Engadget Engadget 10/05/2016 Mat Smith
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Researchers say the desire to make sense of our lives and the world we live in is a powerful motive in how we live and the decisions we make. Behavioral economists from Carnegie Mellon And Warwick Business School have made a model that links our drive for information and understanding to various human qualities, including boredom, curiosity, aesthetics in art and science, compassion and the role of "the good life" -- whatever that means -- in making decisions. They reckon it can help offer explanations to behavior and actions that might seem illogical to others.

"The mind is a sense-making machine; we are informavores as much as we are omnivores," said George Loewenstein, the Herbert A. Simon University Professor of Economics and Psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The model suggests that our drive for sense-making can intrude even direction our conscious attention, similar to how we eat when we're hungry, or put on more clothes when we're gold. The paper suggests that the theoretical model helps to explain the appeal of both religion and conspiracy theories. It also offers an explanation of core behavioral traits like confirmation bias: the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions -- and one that leads to statistical errors.

"It is an attempt to make sense of our desire to make sense of the world."

"We make a particular sense of our lives and of our world that allows us to process and retain information and to decide what to do," said Nick Chater, professor of behavioral science at Warwick Business School. "Our drive for sense-making can make us hostile to alternative points of view that might suggest that our world, and even our lives, makes less sense than we thought."

The model could help explain why people choose to obtain information (or avoid it), and helps to explain emotionally charged beliefs relating to topics like climate change. "There is an irony to the paper," Loewenstein adds. "It is an attempt to make sense of our desire to make sense of the world."

Carnegie Mellon

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