Second-Guessing First Impressions: With Guests Allen Sarven & Richard Nisbett

March 28, 2022
When we judge someone, rarely do we stop to consider how their particular situation likely played a large role in guiding their actions.

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Many decision-making errors arise because we focus on salient information. With Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, the most salient stories often seem to involve people getting rich practically overnight. Is there context you might be missing?

Many decision-making errors arise because we focus on salient information. With Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, the most salient stories often seem to involve people getting rich practically overnight. Is there context you might be missing?

"Don't shoot the messenger" is a metaphorical phrase for blaming the bearer of bad news. It's easy to be angry with someone who is associated with information you don't want to hear–say, a doctor delivering an unwelcome diagnosis, or a manager who has to fire you due to budget issues beyond her control. The phrase also points to a tendency we all have to overweight someone's personality or disposition (that person who fired me is a jerk) and underweight the situation (sales were down this year, and they can't afford current staffing levels).

In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we look at this bias in a number of different contexts, and explore how it often leads us to make mistakes.

Allen Sarven, a.k.a Al Snow, is a man who has been viewed as both a villain and a hero. He spent many years as a professional wrestler in the WWE as a heel, or bad guy. Wrestling fans would heap scorn on him and cheer on his opponents. Of course, it was all an act and as you'll hear, he is a three-dimensional human being who thinks deeply about the nature of storytelling in pro wrestling and beyond.

Recently, Sarven found himself being lauded by the media as a hero in a dramatic rescue in Florida. But he argues that anyone would have done the same thing if they were in his shoes.

Allen Sarven is currently the owner and CEO of Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville, Kentucky.

Next, Katy speaks with renowned social psychologist Richard Nisbett about how incomplete information can result in consequential errors. Nisbett argues that the fundamental attribution error gets us in trouble constantly. We often trust people we ought not to, or avoid people who really are perfectly nice, or we might hire people who are not all that competent, simply because we fail to recognize situational forces that may be affecting the person's behavior.

Richard Nisbett is the Theodore M. Newcomb Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Michigan. He's also the author of many books, including Thinking: A Memoir.

Finally, Katy talks about the ways that fundamental attribution can affect businesses and even your investment strategy.

Choiceology is an original podcast from Charles Schwab.

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