Perception Evaluatives of Mental Models: Hedonic Value and Uncertainty

The famous studies in cognitive bias by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman reveal our beliefs are framed by how we interpret uncertainty.  They claim people rely on heuristic principles, which reduce complex tasks of evaluating probabilities and lead towards simpler judgmental operations.  Their first study from 1974, “Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases,” indicate the importance of perception.  Humans naturally coagulate perceptual data to form abstractions, or mental models, or schemas, in their minds. 


The reliance on heuristics and the predominance of biases affect both the layperson and expert. Tversky and Kahneman claim the expert only fails when they rely upon intuition.  In their study, the authors find cognitive bias appears on account of representativeness, i.e. the illusion of similarities and cause and effect relationships we perceive; availability, i.e., the retrieval of what is most easily recalled and imaginable; and the evaluation of perceptions as a function of “anchoring,” i.e. the weighing of subjective preferences as a function of value. 


The world appears less simplistic today, and for those contributing to the work force, the everyday tasks require the availability of problem solving skills suited to interpret sense perceptions in a world that is as illusionistic, distorted and seemingly incomprehensible as walking through a hall of mirrors.  In fact, while much of what we can do is constructed from the bottom up in terms of objectivity and tacit awareness much of it also inevitably requires we address how from the top down intuition and subjectivity are actually a part of what we all do.  


About at the same time Tersky and Kahneman published their study, D.E. Berlyne published his study, Aesthetics and Psychobiology, in which he also discusses how humans handle judgment and uncertainty.   How people make judgments of works of art and how they see them depends upon the function of hedonic value, i.e, the pleasure we take in a work of art.  There is a very good reason why left-wing scholars claim Andy Warhol was the master of sublime irony.  He was actually a harsh critic of those whose tastes he placated, realizing the average person does not really want to think, and he laughed all the way to the bank!


Andy Warhol, Marily Monroe 1967.jpg

Generally, people respond to pleasure and displeasure in art.  People react to art when a stimulus and response occur together in close succession, and that is when learning takes place.  People like repetition and emphasis and like to make associations.  People typically find nothing to gain out of a work of art that offers no stimulation but also do not like a work of art that offers too much confused information.  The psychosexual drives of human perception incline us to seek out art that offers a kind of simulation and also release as kind of gratification or reward of the viewing experience.  


Berlyne’s experimental aesthetics also draws upon some ideas in information theory toward an understanding of the motivational aspects of aesthetics.  For him, the human drive of perception as a motivational function may be compared to information-theoretic measures.  Surely, scientific studies do show the human eye functions in similar ways among all people.  We look for certain signals that are like “values” and “intensities.”  However, Berlyne is identifying the same pitfalls of perception about which Tversky and Kahneman’s study is written. 


As in true art historical expertise, business strategy draws upon the ability to both understand and see a way around mental models, to find those windows into new vistas. As an exploration in knowledge construction, examining the way we can deconstruct those mental models help us break through into unlocked modes of thinking.  This begins with making judgments, those first assertions we make about a work of art which make us form an picture of an idea in our minds.  We learn to lean away from the easiest explanation and seek out those ambiguous areas that beg for clarification.  Looking at a work of art is more about seeking the questions than finding the answers.