College Tips: Take Time to Study Human Behavior

I know that your course load is heavy and the last thing you think you need is something else to study, but there is something you can and need to study every single day. That something is “human behavior” and it’s an inherent part of everything else you study in school.  

Last century, when I attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the study of human behavior was limited to world of psychologists and the study of mental illnesses. After a semester of psychosis, bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia I wanted nothing to do with studying crazy people. But what about all of those people who aren’t crazy, who don’t suffer from mental illness? Where do you go to study them.

I found out in the last place I expected… Economics 101. WHAT????? Well it turned out that economics involved the study of the behavior of markets and low and behold, all markets were made up of people, so it was a very short distance to behavioral economics, which integrated insights from psychology with economic theory covered a incredibly diverse range of concepts, methods, and fields.  Who knew? Even better, the human beings that economics studies are sane every day people who often behave in non rational ways, eschewing the facts before them for their “gut instinct”.  This was incredibly cool, and remains so to this day.  

Learn a few of the concepts of behavioral science and then simply open yourself up to your fellows by observing them. You will see, hear and learn amazing things, and not just about them because these rules apply to you. I know because they apply to me too.

Watch as you and your fellow students fall prey to confirmation bias and hindsight bias. Hindsight bias is when you feel that you “knew it all along”, because, obviously, an event is more predictable after it becomes known than it was before it became known. Or confirmation bias where you only like the data that supports your position and reject, in a knee jerk fashion any data that demonstrates you or your theory are flat out wrong. Perhaps the coolest thing about studying ourselves and our biases is that they keep changing and growing. The newest one I heard about and am convinced is true is the Google Bias which is our tendency to forget to learn information that can easily be found on line.

As you observe yourself and your fellow students you may even figure out how to avoid the pitfalls of your own biases and understand why we do things like say we are deeply concerned about our privacy while we post our location and the next thing we intend to do on Twitter.

If you get through college with a firm understanding of how you and your fellow citizens act, you’re going to do just fine. The world is full of people and they are endlessly entertaining, at the very least. Instead of being angry and frustrated on the long commute home, laugh out loud at your fellows mindlessly changing lanes, heedless to the fact that the data is in….you are not going to get home any earlier by changing lanes 100 times. 



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