The Other I

July 16, 2008

Making a good guess

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 8:06 pm

Psychologists discovered some time ago that the average answer to a problem produced by a number of people will almost always be more accurate than the answer of any single person.  For instance, if you are trying to estimate the number of years the Roman Empire was in existence, the average of the guesses from twenty people will be closer to the right answer than the answer from any single individual – unless, of course, you ask a professional historian who doesn’t have to guess at all, but who can probably provide you with the precise dates.  The same thing works with almost any question.  “How many airports are there in the U.S.?” works just as well as “What percentage of the population had earned a college degree in 1920?” which works just as well as “How many bees live in an average hive?”

Now, however, psychologists have discovered that the same pattern evolves even if it’s the same person who is making a series of guesses instead of just one.  Even second guesses made immediately after the first guess improved the average accuracy.  Second guesses made with some time in between were even better.  Multiple guesses from one person aren’t as good as multiple guesses from different people, but it’s better than just guessing once.

So it seems that “I’m just guessing” isn’t quite as bad a strategy for reaching a conclusion as we might think.  The next time I’m trying to decide how much wine we’ll need for Saturday’s party, or how long it will take to drive to San Francisco from home, I will make more than one estimate and ask Peter too.  Then I’ll put my money on the average of all the estimates as the best bet.

Keep guessing.  Things can only get better.

1 Comment »

  1. I love this. I wish I could make all my life’s decisions on one ginormous poll. I would seriously do that… haha.


    Comment by jooliedee — April 8, 2009 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

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