In the [psychological] study two people, A and B, were seated on opposite sides of the dividing wall, looking at a screen. Each person was instructed to learn by trial and error how to recognize the difference between slides of healthy cells and sick cells. For each slidee, they had to push one of two buttons in front of them, “Healthy” or “Sick,” at which point one of two lamps, labeled “Right” or “Wrong,” would light up.
Person A received true feedback, meaning that his “Right” lamp would light up when he was correct and his “Wrong” lamp would light up when he was incorrect. These people – the A’s – learned to tell the difference between healthy and sick cells with a high level of accuracy. Person B’s situation was quite different. His right or wrong lamps lit up based not on his own guesses but on Person A’s guesses. He didn’t know it, but he was searching for an order where none could possibly exist.
A and B were then asked to work together to establish the rules for determining healthy vs. sick cells. The A’s told the B’s what they had learned and what simple characteristics they had looked for to tell the difference. B’s explanations, by necessity, were subtle and quite complex – and completely bogus.
Here’s the amazing part. After the collaboration, all B’s and nearly all A’s came to believe that the delusional B had a much better understanding of healthy vs. sick cells. In fact, A’s were impressed with B’s sophisticated brilliance, and felt inferior because of the pedestrian simplicity of their assumptions. In a follow-up test, the B’s showed almost no improvement, but the A’s scores dropped because the A’s had incorporated some B’s completely baseless ideas.
This had me laughing out loud – as well as appreciating how it ties into the theme of valuing the ordinary.