FF Insights 715: Peak experience

August 12, 2022: China’s data problem, How junk science spreads, The burden of expectations

Founding Fuel

[From Pixabay]

Good morning,

Our special package for India’s 75th Independence Day—an intergenerational dialogue between Arun Maira and his grandson, and our list of 21 stories that shaped modern India—triggered some reflection on how we assess our experiences and what we tend to remember. 

An interesting answer came from Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. They write that “we don’t average our minute-by-minute sensations. Rather, we tend to remember flagship moments: the peaks, the pits, and the transitions.”

They point to an experiment in which the participants were asked to undergo three painful trials. 

“In the first, they submerged their hands for 60 seconds in buckets filled with frigid, 57-degree water. (Keep in mind that 57-degree water feels much colder than 57-degree air.)

“The second trial was similar, except that they kept their hands submerged for 90 seconds instead of 60, and during the final 30 seconds, the water warmed up to 59 degrees. That final half minute was still unpleasant, but noticeably less so for most participants. (Note that the researchers were monitoring the time carefully, but the participants were not told how much time had elapsed.)

“For their third painful experience, the participants were given a choice: Would you rather repeat the first trial or the second?

“This is an easy question: Both trials featured 60 seconds of identical pain, and the second trial added another 30 seconds of slightly reduced pain. So this is kind of like asking, Would you rather be slapped in the face for 60 seconds or 90?

“Nevertheless, 69% chose the longer trial.

“Psychologists have untangled the reasons for this puzzling result. When people assess an experience, they tend to forget or ignore its length—a phenomenon called ‘duration neglect.’ Instead, they seem to rate the experience based on two key moments: (1) the best or worst moment, known as the ‘peak’; and (2) the ending. Psychologists call it the ‘peak-end rule.’

“So in the participants’ memories, the difference between 60 and 90 seconds washed out. That’s duration neglect. And what stood out for them was that the longer trial ended more comfortably than the shorter one. (Both trials, by the way, had a similar peak moment of pain: close to the 60-second mark.)”

What in your view are the peak experiences that India had in the last 75 years? By the way, tomorrow’s story is not about moments, but something closely related to that. 

Have a great week!

China’s data problem

Now that India has withdrawn the Personal Data Protection (PDP) Bill that was in the works for a few years, it may be a good time to pause and look at what is happening around the world. Consider China. That it lies on the authoritarian spectrum is well known. That is also why it has gone about building one of the most extensive surveillance systems in the world. However, an investigation by The Wall Street Journal earlier this year showed the system is vulnerable and that “a thriving cross-border underground market has grown up around the trade in the data of Chinese citizens.

“An anonymous user on a popular online cybercrime forum put up for sale data of an estimated 1 billion Chinese citizens that was stolen from the Shanghai police. The heist was one of the largest in history and included particularly sensitive data, such as government ID numbers, criminal records, and detailed case summaries such as allegations of rape and domestic abuse.

“Tens of thousands more databases in China remain exposed on the internet with no security, totaling over 700 terabytes of data, the largest volume of any country, according to LeakIX, a service which tracks such databases.  

“In 2021, China’s government passed a personal information protection law modeled on the European Union’s data rules—considered among the world’s strictest—which put tight limits on the collection and cross-border transfer of personal data. It was the capstone on an elaborate structure of new data-protection regulations that also included a sweeping Cybersecurity Law passed in 2017 to stop sensitive Chinese data from leaving the country.”

But it is clear not all is well and the Chinese government has much to rethink. As the Indian authorities get back to the drawing board to come up with a more comprehensive PDP, they will do well to look at how to balance freedom and protection.

Dig deeper

China has a problem with data leaks 

How junk science spreads

When the most cited names in science make assertions, most people take it seriously. But a dose of scepticism is healthy, argues a short essay by Alasdair Munro on his blog, The Munro Report. He is a medical doctor and studies infectious diseases.

He begins by talking about how a study on the efficacy of Covid-19 masks that was riddled with multiple basic errors was uploaded for others to see. The intent was to examine how many people would see through the hoax. Munro lists out how anyone with an understanding of the subject could see through the study. But something else altogether happened, he writes.

“To the horror of many onlookers with an interest in Covid-19 science, this study spread like absolute wildfire from some of the biggest scientific accounts on Twitter. 

“Not because it was bad.

“Because they were sincerely using it as proof of the effectiveness of mask wearing.

“We are not talking small fries here.

“We are talking an ex-director of the World Health Organization (90,000 followers), a professorial member of a UK based scientific political activist group (200,000 followers), a Pulitzer prize winning science journalist (260,000 followers), head of a translational research laboratory in the US (600,000 followers) and even the health minister for a large western European country (1,000,000 followers).

“According to Altmetric, the pre-print has also been cited in 10 news articles—all of which using it as evidence of the effectiveness of masking.”

Why did this happen? Munro has an explanation.

“This appears, for the most part, to have been like a bad game of Chinese whispers.

  1. Someone tweeted a very, very bad study, presumably without reading it.
  2. Someone else liked the results and likes/trusts the original tweeter, so re-tweets it (to millions of people) without reading it.
  3. Someone else liked the results and likes/trusts the original tweeter, so re-tweets it and so on and so on…

“Confirmation bias is such a powerful motivator that the desire to smash ‘Retweet’ when seeing this kind of result which aligns with your preconceptions is almost irresistible.”

Dig deeper

How junk science spread like wildfire

The burden of expectations

(Via WhatsApp)

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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