Solomon’s Paradox: Our Wisdom Is Relative

King Solomon is famous for rendering judgments of the pragmatism and the wisdom. In fact, there is a biblical episode in which it is told how the good king came to know the truth in a case where two mothers quarrel over a child, each attributing motherhood to himself. However, the Jewish king turned out not to be so adept at administering Yahweh’s law to preserve his kingdom.

Solomon ended up letting his own motives and greed for the great luxuries degrade the kingdom of Israel, which he ended up dividing under the reign of his son. This step blurred the shape of the realm, but it also served to highlight the negative influence that subjective impulses can have on matters that require more rational analysis. It is from this dialectic between objectivity and subjectivity that a so-called cognitive bias is created. Solomon’s paradox.

Let’s see what it is.

Solomon is not alone in this

It is difficult to ridicule Solomon for his lack of judgment. It is also normal that we feel that we are being given much better advice to make good decisions, the result affects us. It is as if, the moment a problem affects us, we lose all ability to fight it rationally. This phenomenon has nothing to do with karma, nor do we have to look for esoteric explanations.

It’s just a sign that for our brains, solving problems in which something is at stake follows a different logic than we apply to problems that we perceive as aliens … even if it does take us away from it all. worst decisions. This newly discovered bias is called the Solomon’s Paradox, or the Solomon’s Paradox, in reference to the (yet) wise Jewish king.

Science studies Solomon’s paradox

Igor grossman I Ethan Kross, The University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan respectively, were commissioned to bring to light the Solomon’s paradox. These researchers have experimented with the process by which people are more rational when it comes to advising others than deciding for us what to do about the problems that come our way. For this, a serial sample of volunteers with a stable partner was used and asked to imagine one of two possible scenarios.

Some people must have imagined that their partner was unfaithful to them, while in the case of the other group, the person who was unfaithful was their best friend’s partner. Then the two groups had to reflect on this situation and answer a series of questions linked to the situation of the couple affected by the case of infidelity.

It’s easier to think rationally about things that don’t concern us

These questions were designed to measure the extent to which the respondent’s thinking was pragmatic and focused on resolving the conflict in the best possible way. From these results, it was possible to see how people in the group who had to imagine infidelity from their own partner scored significantly lower than in the other group. In short, these people were less able to predict possible outcomes, consider the point of view of the infidel, recognize the limits of their own knowledge, and assess the needs of the other. Likewise, it was confirmed that participants were more likely to think pragmatically when they were not directly involved in the situation.

In addition, Solomon’s paradox it was present to the same extent in both young adults (From 20 to 40 years old) as in the elderly (60 to 80 years old), which means that this is a very persistent bias and does not correct with age.

However, Grossmann and Kross thought of a way to correct this bias. What if the people consulted tried to distance themselves psychologically from the problem? Was it possible to think about his own infidelity as if it were experienced by a third person? The truth is yes, at least in an experimental setting. People who imagined their partner’s infidelity from another person’s perspective may have provided better answers during the question-and-answer session. This conclusion is the one that may interest us the most on a daily basis: to make wiser decisions, it suffices to put yourself in the shoes of a relatively neutral “commentator”.

The external observer

In short, Grossmann and Kross have shown experimentally that our beliefs about the importance of the “neutral observer” are based on something that exists: a predisposition to act less rationally in the face of social problems that affect us closely. Like King Solomon, we are able to make the best judgments from a role characterized by their estrangement, but when it comes to playing our cards, it is easy for us to lose that righteousness.

Bibliographical references:

  • Grossmann, I. and Kross, E. (2014). Exploring Solomon’s Paradox: Getting Away From Self eliminates the other asymmetry in wise reasoning about close relationships in younger and older adults. Psychological Science, 25 (8), pages 1571-1580.

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