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Mark is a graph advocate and field engineer for Neo Technology, the company behind the Neo4j graph database. As a field engineer, Mark helps customers embrace graph data and Neo4j building sophisticated solutions to challenging data problems. When he's not with customers Mark is a developer on Neo4j and writes his experiences of being a graphista on a popular blog at http://markhneedham.com/blog. He tweets at @markhneedham. Mark is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 522 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

The Affect Heuristic

06.08.2013
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In my continued reading of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow I’ve reached the section which talks about the affect heuristic which seems particularly applicable to the technical decisions that we make.

The dominance of conclusions over arguments is most pronounced where emotions are involved. The psychologist Paul Slovic has proposed an affect heuristic in which people let their likes and dislikes determine their beliefs about the world.

The way I’ve seen this heuristic coming into play in the software world is when we do an ‘objective’ overview of the technical tools/options that we could use to solve a particular problem.

We may do this by coming up with a list of advantages/disadvantages for each technology but the way we come up with this will probably be influenced by which of the technologies we prefer.

We’ll therefore place strong emphasis on the advantages of a technology and not think too much of disadvantages or work arounds that we have to implement.

For example if Clojure were the technology in question then as an advocate of Clojure you might focus on the reduced lines of code and benefits of the functional way of programming and place less emphasis on the learning curve that new team members will have to overcome.

Equally if you weren’t a fan of Clojure then you’d do the opposite.

I covered similar ground in a post I wrote a few months ago about compatible opinions where I suggested people used confirmation bias to back up their own opinions.

I think the affect heuristic is slightly different though because it applies even when we think we’re being impartial in our judgement.

When I read things I like to try and think what action I should be taking as a result of learning new information. In this case I think the take away is to be more self aware than usual when talking about things we’re passionate about.

One way to achieve that could be to run our opinions via someone who is knowledgeable in the subject area but is less emotionally involved.

It’d be interesting to see whether this resonates with others as well and how you handle it.

Published at DZone with permission of Mark Needham, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)