Every discipline of social science, I believe, has some ritual tests of competence, which must be passed before a piece of work is considered worthy of attention. Such tests are necessary to prevent information overload, and they are also important aspects of the tribal life of the disciplines. In particular, they allow insiders to ignore just about anything that is done by members of other tribes, and to feel no scholarly guilt about doing so. To serve this screening function efficiently, the competence tests usually focus on some aspect of form or method, and have little or nothing to do with substance. Prospect theory passed such a test in economics, and its observations became a legitimate (though optional) part of the scholarly discourse in that discipline. It is a strange and rather arbitrary process that selects some pieces of scientific writing for relatively enduring fame while committing most of what is published to almost immediate oblivion.
Daniel Kahneman, ‘Daniel Kahneman – Biographical’, in Tore Frängsmyr (ed.), The Nobel Prizes 2002, Stockholm, 2003
Intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract attention. The most dramatic demonstration was offered by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in their book The Invisible Gorilla. They constructed a short film of two teams passing basketballs, one team wearing white shirts, the other wearing black. The viewers of the film are instructed to count the number of passes made by the white team, ignoring the black players. This task is difficult and completely absorbing. Halfway through the video, a woman wearing a gorilla suit appears, crosses the court, thumps her chest, and moves on. The gorilla is in view for 9 seconds. Many thousands of people have seen the video, and about half of them do not notice anything unusual. It is the counting task—and especially the instruction to ignore one of the teams—that causes the blindness. No one who watches the video without that task would miss the gorilla. Seeing and orienting are automatic functions of System 1, but they depend on the allocation of some attention to the relevant stimulus. The authors note that the most remarkable observation of their study is that people find its results very surprising. Indeed, the viewers who fail to see the gorilla are initially sure that it was not there—they cannot imagine missing such a striking event. The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness.
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, New York, 2011, pp. 23-24
[M]oment utility is measured by collecting introspective reports, but this […] is not necessary. Appropriately validated physiological measures of moment utility could be used instead, and may have important advantages. The most promising physiological indicator of momentary affect is the prefrontal cortical asymmetry in the electroencephalogram (EEG), which has been extensively validated by Davidson and his team as a measure of the balance of positive and negative feelings, and of the relative strength of tendencies toward approach or avoidance. A portable measuring instrument is not yet available, but is technically feasible. When success is achieved, Davidson’s technique will be a candidate for a continuous and non-intrusive indicator of moment utility.
Daniel Kahneman and Jason Riis, ‘Living, and Thinking about it: Two Perspectives on Life’, in Felicia A. Huppert, Nick Baylis and Barry Keverne (eds.), The Science of Well-Being, Oxford, 2005, p. 292