Thoughts on Perspective

"You won't last six months in this town." - Anonymous

If you’re sensible, you take an indirect hint from the broke fuckers who spend half their lives wasting away at the blackjack table, pounding back cigarette after drink after sorrow.

“It’s always like this,” The stranger across the table from me says after yet another losing hand.

I was in the same boat as him, walking away from the cards with 2/3 fewer chips than I started with. Thankfully, the $60 I used to bet with all came from video poker winnings from earlier. No matter what, I told myself, I’m leaving here $20 up.

Greed got the best of me that night. Though ending the night with a profit, it was much less than it could have been. After hitting two four of a kinds on video poker, I had turned my initial $40 into $150 for $110 profit. Half an hour and two more free beers, and that dropped to $60 profit, and I cashed out. It was 4 a.m., and this is when I tried to sleep and couldn’t. So I tried my luck at blackjack at 6 in the morning. On a Sunday. Though I lost winnings, I convinced the pit boss to comp me breakfast.

There are two ways to look at this situation I put myself in. Either I could have won more, got greedy and lost, or I simply won $20, free food and drinks, and a night out. All of this seems to relate back to a concept I recently read about called the anchoring effect.

You’ve undoubtedly experienced the anchoring effect, where your perceived value of something is set by an “anchor” value, then negotiated otherwise. This is why department stores have sales every damn day of the year: All of their “regular” prices are set unrealistically high then put “on sale” to give the appearance that it’s a good deal.

But that’s not the only situation the anchoring effect is found in. From the blog by David McRaney on “You Are Not So Smart:”

Is the population of Venezuela greater or fewer than 65 million?

Go ahead and guess.

Ok, another question, how many people do you think live Venezuela? […]

In 1974, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman conducted a study asking a similar question.

They asked people to estimate how many African countries were part of the United Nations, but first they spun a wheel of fortune.

The wheel was painted with numbers from 0 to 100, but rigged to always land on 10 or 65. When the arrow stopped spinning, they asked the person in the experiment to say if they believed the percentage of countries was higher or lower than the number on the wheel.

They then asked people to estimate what they thought the actual percentage of nations was.

They found people who landed on 10 in the first half of the experiment guessed around 25 percent of Africa was part of the U.N. Those who landed on 65 said around 45 percent.

They had been locked in place by the anchoring effect.

The trick here is no one really knew what the answer was. They had to guess, yet it didn’t feel like a guess. As far as they knew, the wheel was a random number generator, but it produced something concrete to work from.

When they adjusted their estimates, they couldn’t avoid the anchor.

The populations of South American countries probably aren’t numbers you have memorized. You need some sort of cue, a point of reference.

You searched your mental assets for something of value concerning Venezuela – the flag, the language, Hugo Chavez – but the population figures aren’t in your head.

What is in your head is the figure I gave you, 65 million, and it’s right there up front influencing how you answer the second question. When you have nothing else to go on, you fixate on the information at hand.

Anchoring happens more often than we realize. So, in the example of my gambling situation, I have to consider what my anchor is, and in some cases like this one, consciously set it myself. Is my anchor, “I have more than I started with,” or “I have less profit than I could have had.”? One makes me slightly happy, the other makes me slightly depressed. Which anchor do you think I chose to stick with?

(Click to enlarge. Image source: Unknown)

I believe the anchoring effect can even reach beyond numbers. Ask yourself these questions: Are you happy with who you are? Why? Is there anything about your life that you want to change?

If you are ever unhappy or doubt your self-worth, consider what you’re basing that opinion on. I believe people should be wary of the social anchors they expose themselves to. Societal “norms” aren’t always normal. Remember that. Identify what you (and only you) want to get out of your life and set those as your anchors.

Besides, an anchor should never be above you. If it is, it’s only going to crush you. (Gravity can be a bitch.)

Consider something motivational and uplifting, like the image on the right.

This is motivating simply because it helps to lower your social anchor, your expectations of life and yourself, if not just for a minute. It’s unrealistic to directly compare yourself to someone living in a completely different reality, but to take a step away from your reality for a change of perspective – that’s worthwhile in helping you feel better about who you are.

So, in brief, try to set your own standards/anchors to be happier with yourself. And don’t get too greedy when gambling; quit while you’re ahead!

About The Author

Kyle Anderson
I'm a media and IT professional and JavaScript developer who worked most recently as an Associate Broadcast IT Engineer (Tier II) for CNN in Atlanta. One of my life-long goals is to help bridge data divides - missing connections between software systems and data stores - promoting inter-system communication and automation. Many of the projects described here reflect this goal in some way or another.