Dave Falls Prey to the Sequential Contrast Effect
The new episode of Freakonomics Radio: How to Make a Bad Decision is a lesson in how subjective we are in all our judgements; major league umpires fall prey to the "gambler's fallacy" and are more likely to call a "ball" on a close pitch after they've called two previous close pitches "strike" . . . this is the same psychological effect that makes many people think that tails is more likely to come up on a fair coin toss after someone has tossed ten heads in a row-- they think a tails is due to happen, despite the fact that every toss is an independent 50/50 event; I don't think the gambler's logical fallacy affects me when I'm grading essays, but the episode also details the perils of the "sequential contrast effect," and I know this can influence my evaluation of an essay-- so much so that I've often told the class, after we've heard an especially excellent piece of writing by a student, "Wow . . . you don't want to be next in the pile after I read that one," and while I was kidding, of course, there's no question that reading something really amazing (or really awful) resets the grading bar a bit higher or a bit lower . . . the solution is to take frequent breaks when grading (or doing any task where the previous work can influence the current decision-- like approving loan applications or determining asylum or parole) and recalibrate your internal judgement meter: remind yourself exactly what criteria you are looking for . . . this is easier said than done, of course, especially when you're umpiring a baseball game in real time.