Magical thinking [...] refers--this actually goes back to B.F. Skinner, a psychologist who [...] did a famous experiment with pigeons which, in the 1940s--1948--in which he induced strange behavior patterns in pigeons by the following simple experiment. The experiment was, he would put--the pigeon was in a cage and he'd let the pigeon get pretty hungry--hungry pigeons are not happy pigeons. Then he had a machine that granted each pigeon one piece of corn every fifteen seconds; that's very, frustratingly slow for a hungry pigeon to get one piece every fifteen seconds. Then he observed, through time, after subjecting pigeons to this torture for some time--it might be not approved by--it's not really torture, it's like dieting or something, you've all lived through that, right? Semi-torture for a pigeon. He noticed that the pigeons started behaving in strange ways and he kept them separate so they couldn't learn from each other.
One pigeon was jumping up and down a lot, another one was bobbing its head, and another one was doing kind of a little dance. What he concluded was, these pigeons were trying to figure out what makes those pieces of corn come and they started to think--well, they had to get the interval between corns right to make this work. But he started--the pigeons started to think, effectively, what was it I did just before that last piece of corn came? I was bobbing my head, so maybe I better bob my head again and sure enough another piece of corn comes. So, he started assuming that what they were doing is making the corn come. But each one does a different thing. If they're all in isolation they would all be doing different things. I think our financial markets are like that. That people--they develop some investment strategy and through pure chance it does well. But they--because of over confidence and magical thinking, it starts to go to their ego. They think, I'm really a smart investor, I figured it out,; it can reinforce the behavior until they get to maybe some terrible end. It doesn't necessarily work out as well. B.F. Skinner never let his pigeons starve; they all made it out alright.
There's something else called quasi-magical thinking, which was a term coined many years later by Eldar Shafir and Amos Tversky. Shafir is a young psychologist at Princeton who teamed up with the old psychologist Tversky and wrote this paper. What it refers to is--people get the impression that they can control randomness. Maybe the pigeons were thinking that, maybe not, we don't know; Shafir and Tversky report experiments with people, not pigeons. Quasi-magical thinking is an illusion that they documented that occurs regularly in people, which they might deny if asked about, but there's an illusion that I can control randomness through my willpower. I won't talk about their experiments, but I just want to mention one by a Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer. I mentioned this before--I think I mentioned it before--if you say, I'm going to ask you to bet on a coin toss. There are two different ways of doing it. One is to say, how much will you bet and then I toss the coin. The other way is, I toss the coin first and I can conceal the outcome and then I ask, how much would you like to bet?
Langer found that people want to bet more if the coin hasn't been tossed yet. Why would that be--why would you care? It's still the same experiment. It appears that people, at some level, think that they can exert willpower over it and control it. This gives rise again to overconfidence among investors.
Robert Shiller, en la clase titulada Human Foibles, Fraud, Manipulation, and Regulation [Debilidades humanas, fraude, manipulación y regulación] de su curso Financial Markets que comentaba yo ayer.
¿Quién dice ahora que un curso de mercados financieros no puede ser divertido?
Al escucharlo, me vinieron a la kabeza las "danzas de la lluvia" de esas tribus que se ven en las películas. Pero igualmente me vale cualquier otro ritual del estilo y muchos (casi todos...) los aspectos de nuestra vida diaria:
Como palomas que no tienen ni idea de por qué les cae el siguiente grano de alpiste, probamos a hacer cualquier locura (sacrificar un cordero o una muchacha virgen, recitar no sé qué encantamientos en el momento en que el sol se pone sobre el horizonte, arrodillarnos y murmurar una frase específica al pasar por cierto lugar, lo que sea) para ver si así la semilla cae antes.
Si resulta que nuestra desesperada ceremonia coincide con la aparición de la comida, en lugar de aceptar la casualidad, el pensamiento mágico se alía con nuestro exceso de confianza para convencernos de que se trata de causalidad.
Y ahí empiezan todos nuestros problemas...