ad verecundiam

Have you noticed that we are social creatures who devote a lot of our time to thinking about social ranking?

And that a by-product of this obsession is a tendency to blindly trust the claims and ideas of people who rank above us?

Perceptions of authority and superiority impress us, they also influence us—whether they are valid or not.

Do people in authority in one field, however, have an innate authority to talk about everything they feel like taking about?

On top of that, we don’t even require authority to influence us, because as social creatures, we have the tendency to conform with others.  And this conformity bias is so powerful that it might lead us to do foolish things.

One good example is shown in the following experiment by Solomon Asch.

Asch asked one real subject and several fake ones (who were working with him) which of the lines B, C, D, and E is of equal length as A? conformity bias

If all the fake subjects say that D is of equal length as A, the real subject will agree with this objectively false answer a shocking three quarters of the time.

“We have found the tendency to conformity in our society so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black.  This is a matter of concern,” Asch wrote.  “It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.”

Are you a good enough skeptic who knows to assess the merits of a claim independent of who presents it?

Just remember that the truth can come from below us, and lies from above us.

Personally, I endeavor to pay less attention to the messenger and more (attention) to the message; to pay less attention to what they say and more (attention) to what they do.

This especially applies to decisions on money.

1) Who am I listening to?

2) Is he/she the first person in the world who can reliably predict the future?

3) Why is he/she telling me that?

4) Who is paying him/her for saying or writing that?

5) Does that person have the same financial objectives as me?

Asking and answering these types of questions would help to reduce your “respect for authority”, your “bias for ad verecundiam”.

 

Moreover, it would also help you not to behave like Ted:

Ted meets his friend Al and exclaims, “Al!  I heard you died!”

“Hardly,” says Al, laughing.  “As you can see, I’m very much alive.”

“Impossible,” says Ted. “The man who told me is much more reliable than you.”

 

Overcoming the conformity and the credulity biases is the first step to avoiding following the herd blindly and finding your edge in investing by thinking for yourself.

 

Don’t sell in the current turmoil.  Believe me,  I have no authority whatsoever.

 

“Many mistakes in business and in life result from failure to distinguish between fact and opinion or hearsay.” — John Paul Getty

“Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.” — Albert Einstein

“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice; it is conformity.” – Rollo May Psychologist

“That we have found the tendency to conformity in our society so strong that reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.”  – Solomon Asch

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