Right Under Your Nose

Posted on August 22, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |



Losing your keys is rough, especially when you are in a hurry. Where are some of the first places you look? Probably places that readily come to your memory: the kitchen table, the desk, etc. What you do not take into account are other factors that can complicate the situation. For instance, when you came home, you put your keys on the nightstand next to the window, but the window was open and the wind blew your keys under your bed. Unfortunately, under the bed was the last place you looked.

This scenario illustrates how we often make decisions by absorbing the simplest model possible without taking into account other variables and alternatives. In Robert Jervis’ article, The Drunkard’s Search, he concluded, “the cost of gathering and processing information needs to be taken into account by any intelligent decision maker. But the pattern cannot be entirely explained by the rational search for and use of information…the use of simple benchmarks and analogies are manageable but inappropriate.” (p. 270).

Jervis discussed how people do not often consider possible alternatives before making a decision; that we may forget to account for changing conditions (the window) and how they might effect the decision. He also states that we use a linear spectrum when evaluating past decisions to compare to present ones. Decisions are either good or bad, which usually equates to a success or failure. “Use of this measure does not seem to be restricted to situations where it fits.” (p. 261). We cannot use this measure correctly because comparing past decisions with present ones does not help the present situation; this is due to the fact that the variables and alternatives will always be different.

When we only look at alternatives in front of us, we pick out important information but do not combine it with others. “To say the right hand does not pay attention to what the left hand is doing is not quite accurate: rather the right hand does not pay any attention to the implications of the left hand’s activities.” (p. 265).


Text Credit: Jervis, Robert, The Drunkard’s Search, Political Psychology, 2004. pp. 259-270.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=9255471&size=m


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