Beeminder Forum

Satisficer or Maximizer?

(Disclaimer: I have not read this entire thread. Also, I don’t know much about this topic.)

This is a super good point. But could the distinction be made based on what the person is intentionally focused on? The stereotypical perfectionist maximizes at the expense of other considerations by failing to take anything except the current obsession into account. (I know from personal experience. :sweat_smile:) So, yes, something is being satisficed, but not consciously.


My knowledge on this is limited to the following from the wikipedia article I linked, but apparently there have been twin studies (there’s a bit more there than I’m quoting):

I certainly regard myself as, though having particular tendencies one way, capable of changing them through rational thought – with as much help as I can get from tricks like beeminder of course.

I was trying to nudge people to notice that my poll was referring to the “System 1” idea that the wikipedia quote above points to, but I think I lost that tiny battle already :slight_smile:

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I’m sure I might be wrong, but here’s an unapologetically psychology-free explanation why your idea there seems implausible to me. Fundamentally – on various different levels (evolution, learning, science) – the only way we know to find new knowledge is to somehow make guesses and then correct them (I don’t know who it was in cinema who said “nobody knows anything”: same idea). Because that is how new things get found out, if all people were clones, we might tend to make the same guesses, and get stuck. Something like that does seem to happen in our most well-regarded fields of study: mathematical conjectures stick around for centuries until a bunch of unusual people have quirky new ideas, and fundamental physics is thought by many to be pretty stuck in a “string theory groupthink” rut as we discuss this.

So, if progress is held back in the way you describe, what will the effect be? We should expect progress is slower by some constant factor. On the other hand, if the problem is too much homogeneity? Then things can get stuck for as long as you like.

So though I may have put it kind of in these terms the first time around, perhaps even optimisation / pessimisation is not really the main problem here, but rather continuing to make steady progress at all – and in as many directions as possible at once. It’s not that I expect it to stop – just that diversity of thought is very important and I have merely a hunch that the maximizer personality trait might be good at providing that.

Do you believe your “outsourced coping labour” theory, or is that just an example of a possible way it doesn’t work out the way I’m guessing? If you do, according to your own standards, I guess you have some empirical study to back that up? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

I wonder what you mean by “empirical” and “confirm”? It’s a trap, don’t answer that :wink: – you just triggered me a little bit with those words, what I’m getting at is: scientific truth doesn’t come from empirical tests, rather they (imperfectly) test explanatory theories. If our best theories – which aren’t limited to specifics like “how do maximizers affect other people’s lives”, or we’d know nothing about anything in science really – point one way, we should take them seriously, regardless of whether any empirical test focused on this particular subject ever gets done. In principle, anyway. In practice of course, our best theories of psychology are not super-powerful (yet), but I suppose I do think our best theories of epistemology are better than that in some ways, and that seems an important part of this, for the reason I tried to point at above.

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Let me start with this: If I understand System 1-thinking at all, then it refers to a kind of automatic/unconscious thinking. On this level tendencies become high probabilities, I’d guess. So yeah. “Naturally” you might be a maximizer or satisficer. But: If we can change the strategy by employing triggers and retrain habits, then we have to be careful. Because this kind of retraining might happen through a suitable environment unintentionally. Can I become a natural Maximizer from a natural Satisficer? Maybe. But then: Why call it natural? Why not call it temporary?

Great stuff. Really enjoyed thinking about this. And I agree: We guess, we correct. We acquire knowledge. We learn what works, etc. But it’s all guessing. And it’s good to diversify the strategies. I agree with that too. And I furthermore agree that if there would only be those two options, then it’s inescapable that you’d want both approaches available to you.

(Also we could go down the rabbit hole of what if satisficers would differentiate themselves in much more productive ways after maximizers are gone, which in turn would produce much more progress then the current dichotomy could, etc. Not that interesting, I think, but still another way to continue this thread of the discussion…)

What I have a hard time to reconcile is that even a tendency of doing things a certain way doesn’t mean that maximizing and satisficing are more than strategies. And if they are strategies then any person can use any of those depending on what makes the most sense (or nonsense, which in the context of progress might be a good thing). But this means that a tendency of doing one thing over the other isn’t really the last word on the problem. It’s just that: A tendency, that we can choose to give into or not. Technology and policy can help to control this (at least somewhat, maybe even enough). I hope I could show that we can distinguish the question of what is the “best” strategy for acquiring knowledge from personality traits at least a little bit.

About that study:

On the Heritability of Consumer Decision Making: An Exploratory Approach for Studying Genetic Effects on Judgment and Choice

(Disclaimer: I have read the abstract. And what is said in the wikipedia article.)

If I understand this at all correctly this study talks about self-reported cases and talks about personality traits. I have voiced my concerns regarding self reporting these things (since maximizing is satisficing somewhere else). And at least to me it seems that ending with personality traits seems incomplete (or an oversimplification as I tried to say earlier), if an interesting starting point for a lot more work/discussion.

About the ‘work’ to be done (“empirical studies” and all that):

:laughing: Yeah. It was a truly clumsy way to put this. It was probably even wrong. As somebody who has studied history of science and technology I should know better. I just tried to underline that we can accumulate a lot of complexity and uncertainty about our conjectures regarding this. Which is, generally speaking, a good thing! In other words: There is potential here! But then the question is: Is it worth it? I hope I communicated that it seems to me too much of a oversimplification, since - say it with me - maximizing is satisficing somewhere else. Put differently: It’s not worth the trouble to make the distinction work. But what is worth the trouble: To think about what this simplified view articulates about a possible more complex view and work on that.

One might say that trying to make the distinction work is already the work I’m looking for. But then rejecting the distinction is part of this work in this view as well. So: yeah.

P. S. : I was confused about “System 1”/“System 2”, because they don’t seems to appear (as these words) in the linked articles (Satisficing, Maximization (Psychology)).

Yes absolutely.

I didn’t even read the abstract, but: I’m not sure what alternative theory you’re discussing here that explains the data?

Are you saying you don’t believe certain people are prone by nature to spending hours finding a slightly cheaper gadget, and yes maybe in doing so neglecting to do their taxes? You’re an odd sort of beeminder if so, perhaps :slight_smile: To my understanding, that’s the sort of phenomenon that’s being referred to with this research, however you prefer to label it or try to explain it.


Nothing you can hang your hat on. Just my own little thoughts, strung together. Do you think it has merit enough to be talked about as a thing or are the missing credentials of these ideas an actual problem? I hope not. But I could see that this might be important to you.

No, I’m not saying that at all. At least I hope! What I’m saying is that being prone to overuse one strategy is not the most interesting thing (I don’t even know if I needed confirmation that these personality traits exist per se). What I’m saying is that it gets interesting when we dissociate the strategies from our predetermined tendencies and ask ourselves: how could we work productively with these tools (we can choose strategies) we have found? What is needed to do so? So maybe what I’m suggesting is: “Alright, we might be prone to do certain things. But we might be able to change the impact of that. We might be able to employ these strategies consciously. We might need to observe our current situation and come up with some small little private theory, a concept here and there and we might find that employing these strategies is also a question of scarcity of resources, etc.” And of course we can turn this line of thinking also inside out in the sense that we can take for granted (at least as a thought experiment) that it’s not only subconscious traits that are at play here and we can speculate that this mix of intentional and unintentional decision making is probably a more real world version of what we can observe in our own lifes.

This seems worthwhile. But collecting or rather deciding between personality traits? Not sure. Does this mean I reject that personality traits exist? No (really: Me rejecting the premise of being either/or comes from not being willing to see my personality as determined by my traits, without any possible interference by my intentionality. It’s an ever changing mix of things that makes me, me). That people can self report traits under certain circumstances? No. That Genetics or Science or any of that is humbug? No. How does this follow from what I wrote? I can’t see it.

(Let me also say: I enjoy(ed) the discussion very much. I just find only talking about the distinction and only as it pertains to predetermined traits to be unfulfilling. Which is why I tried to open it up, with some thoughts of my own. But maybe that’s just annoying and/or easily misunderstood. I am not sure if me being a non native speaker has anything to do with this. Maybe I should have used many more disclaimers? And/Or maybe there is some culture divide at work here: Maybe I’m just more used to a free floating, ad-hoc theory building kind of discussion style, wherein credentials do not matter as much - which doesn’t mean they don’t matter at all either? Hm. This is what confuses me the most.)

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I am tentatively on the side of @matti here (I think… the conversation honestly could do with a flowchart to keep track of who is proposing what!), based on my own experiences. I am both a hardcore maximizer (I have done multiple hours of research to choose which toothpaste I should use, which cell phone I’ll buy, and oh my god the hours I spent picking out my refrigerator) and a die-hard satisficer (not only do I pick the first good-looking item on a menu in a new restaurant, if that item does in fact prove tasty, I will order it every subsequent time I visit that restaurant). For every case of maximization (to an absurd degree) I’ve dedicated myself to, I can give an example of a non-trivial decision that I completely made off the top of my head/my gut feeling.

So I honestly don’t even know what I’d say I “naturally” leaned towards. I maximize the decisions that are important and interesting to me, and satisfice the ones that I don’t care about or that bore me. I’d say “isn’t this what everyone does?” except the preceding conversation makes it clear that no, this isn’t what everyone does :laughing: But it does mean my status re: M vs S is strongly environmentally determined, and any personality test that attempted to determine my M/S ranking would swing wildly based on exactly what questions they asked or what context I was thinking of myself in.

So based on myself, I would be skeptical of an academic attempt to discuss M vs S as “personality attributes” unless they made some very specific definitions of what M and S mean, and when.