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How much do people make their own decisions?

I commented on an article at New Scientist a bit back called, "You say sin, I say disease" -

Here's my comment -

More and more, I'm starting to come to the awful conclusion that most people have very little control over how their lives go. They maybe have a few key decision points in their life - but maybe not all that many.

And the rest is autopilot. They watch some subset of the new movies, new TV programs, websites they stumble across. They eat whatever's more or less served near them and eaten by people they associate with. They pick the political party that matches their friends and relatives, or no party, or maybe they pick up a book that has an emotional impact on them and swear loyalty to that. Maybe.

I hate this idea, because it seems to subtly advocate for totalitarianism, which I've been against my whole life. But then there's nagging voice that says, "well, just ban all the food that's unhealthy, and people will eat better..." - but we know where that road leads.

Conflict of Interest: On Confidence, and Confidence

My friend Joshua Spodek recommended The Invisible Gorilla to me, and I got it on audio. I've been listening to it while running errands and going to the gym recently.

The most striking thing from the book are the sections on confidence. By acting confident in your abilities and predictions, people's confidence in you goes way up. If you hedge your predictions, act uncertain at all, or consult reference material - their confidence in you goes down, and satisfaction in your performance also goes down.

So what's the problem? Well, the scariest part for me was talking about doctors. They set up an experiment where they filmed two actors playing a doctor and a patient.

The patient was asking the doctor about getting antibiotics prescribed before a dental procedure, which might or might be necessary and helpful. They presented one of three scenarios to viewers and asked them to rate the doctor and how satisfied they'd be with the doctor:

Scenario #1: The doctor prescribes the antibiotics confidently, with no hedging or uncertainty.

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