Rebecca Glenapp (who will be studying Executive MSc Behavioural Science from January 2021) writes that parents could help children take a broader view of their beliefs by betting on decisions, as suggested by professional poker player Annie Duke.
The siren call of my childhood “Wanna bet?” might put you in mind of a family of inveterate gamblers, prepared to wager on anything: which raindrop would reach the window sill first? Who can swing the highest? But it wasn’t the concept of luck my father was trying to introduce into our young lives, it was the idea of taking inventory of information.
Former professional poker player and behavioural science writer, Annie Duke bases her book, Thinking In Bets (2018), on the insight that most decisions are bets. Not bets in the traditional, zero-sum sense, but bets against future versions of ourselves; the selves who chose the other job, the alternative new house, the chicken and not the steak for dinner.
Separating fact from fiction
It almost goes without saying that the more accurate our beliefs, the better the foundation is for the bets we make. Unfortunately, the way we form beliefs means we get right in our own way.
Duke defines the belief forming process as three stages:
- We hear something.
- We believe it to be true.
- Only sometimes, later, if we have the time or inclination, we think about it and vet it, determining whether it is, in fact, true or false.
This process is exactly what my father was trying to test in his children, gently pushing us towards stage three and towards more accurate beliefs.
Duke’s view is that offering a wager makes us more honest with ourselves
Let’s look at the sort of thing my father would offer to bet on. On a long car journey, one of us might decide we had not only seen a restaurant on the side of the road, but that it was the perfect stop for lunch and we should turn the car around immediately. Instead of letting low blood sugar take over and snapping that what we had seen was at best a petrol station, he would offer to bet.
Now, we might have been prepared to risk a car of hungry people’s time (shameful children!) but were we really happy to countenance the loss of five pounds? As a result, vetting considerations came into play and we discussed and considered all the information, how fast were we going, were we certain about what we’d seen, and so on.
Children possess basic skills for argument. The issue is that confirmation bias is also present as soon as they reach this stage (Mercier, 2011). As a parent, using bets could be a way to help them examine information in a less biased way, and be more open to updating their beliefs.
I know this comes twenty years too late but thanks, Dad.
P.S It was definitely a petrol station.
- The views expressed here are of the authors and not of the Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science or London School of Economics and Political Science.
- Featured image by Myles Tan via Unsplash
Duke, A. (2018). Thinking In Bets. Penguin Mercier, H. (2011). Reasoning Serves Argumentation in Children. Cognitive Development, 26(3), 9-22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2010.12.001