I guess we’re all aware of the wave of texting while driving legislation, as well as recent moves in a number of jurisdictions to make the penalties more draconian. And it seems like a reasonable supposition that such legislation would reduce the incidence of accidents doesn’t it?
Archives For Psychology
Human psychology and the role it plays in decision making under uncertainty.
In a slight segue, I was reading Bruce Schneier’s blog on security and came across this post on the psychology behind fraud. Bruce points to this post on why, yes I know, ‘good people do bad things’. The explanation that researchers such as Ann Tenbrunsel of Notre Dame offer is that in the same way that we are boundedly rational in other aspects of decision making so to are our ethical decisions.
In particular, the way in which decision problems were framed seems to have a great impact upon how we make decisions. Basically if a problem was framed without an ethical dimension then decision makers were much less likely to consider that aspect.
Additionally to framing effects, researchers found in studying collusion in fraud cases most people seem to act from an honest desire simply to help others, regardless of any attendant ethical issues.
What fascinates me is how closely such research parallels the work in system safer and human error. Clearly if management works within a frame based upon performance and efficiency, they are simply going to overlook the down side completely, and in a desire to be helpful why everyone else ‘goes along for the ride’.
There is as I see it a concrete recommendation that come out of this research that we can apply to safety; that fundamentally safety management systems need to be designed to take account of of our weaknesses as boundedly rational actors.
One of the perennial issues in regulating the safety of technological systems is how prescriptively one should write the regulations. At one end of the spectrum is a rule based approach, where very specific norms are imposed and at least in theory there is little ambiguity in either their interpretation or application. At the other end you have performance standards, which are much more open-ended, allowing a regulator to make circumstance specific determinations as to whether the standard has been met. Continue Reading…
Taboo transactions and the safety dilemma Again my thanks goes to Ross Anderson over on the Light Blue Touchpaper blog for the reference, this time to a paper by Alan Fiske an anthropologist and Philip Tetlock a social psychologist, on what they terms taboo transactions. What they point out is that there are domains of sharing in society which each work on different rules; communal, versus reciprocal obligations for example, or authority versus market. And within each domain we socially ‘transact’ trade-offs between equivalent social goods. Continue Reading…
I was reading a post by Ross Anderson on his dismal experiences at John Lewis, and ran across the term security theatre, I’ve actually heard the term, before, it was orignally coined by Bruce Schneier, but this time it got me thinking about how much activity in the safety field is really nothing more than theatrical devices that give the appearance of achieving safety, but not the reality. From zero harm initiatives to hi-vis vests, from the stylised playbook of public consultation to the use of safety integrity levels that purport to show a system is safe. How much of this adds any real value?
Worse yet, and as with security theatre, an entire industry has grown up around this culture of risk, which in reality amounts to a culture of risk aversion in western society. As I see it risk as a cultural concept is like fire, a dangerous tool and an even more terrible master.
From Les Hatton, here’s how, in four easy steps:
- Insist on using R = F x C in your assessment. This will panic HR (People go into HR to avoid nasty things like multiplication.)
- Put “end of universe” as risk number 1 (Rationale: R = F x C. Since the end of the universe has an infinite consequence C, then no matter how small the frequency F, the Risk is also infinite)
- Ignore all other risks as insignificant
- Wait for call from HR…
A humorous note, amongst many, in an excellent presentation on the fell effect that bureaucracies can have upon the development of safety critical systems. I would add my own small corollary that when you see warning notes on microwaves and hot water services the risk assessment lunatics have taken over the asylum…
With apologies to the philosopher George Santayana, I’ll make the point that the BMW Head Up Display technology is in fact not the unalloyed blessing premised by BMW in their marketing material.