Is Your Child Lying to You? That’s Good

This experiment, designed by the developmental psychologist Michael Lewis in the mid-1980s and performed in one form or another on hundreds of kids, has yielded two consistent findings. The first is that a vast majority of children will peek at the toy within seconds of being left alone. The other is that a significant number of them lie about it. At least a third of 2-year-olds, half of 3-year-olds and 80 percent or more of children 4 and older will deny their transgression, regardless of their gender, race or family’s religion.

Professor Lewis has found that toddlers who lie about peeking at the toy have higher verbal I.Q.s than those who don’t, by as much as 10 points. (Children who don’t peek at the toy in the first place are actually the smartest of all, but they are a rarity.)

Other research has shown that the children who lie have better “executive functioning skills” (an array of faculties that enable us to control our impulses and remain focused on a task) as well as a heightened ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, a crucial indicator of cognitive development known as “theory of mind.”

Alex Stone, New York Times, January 5, 2018

How Mega Millions changed the game so everyone gets rich — except you

[A] recent rule change has made it harder for anyone to win the estimated $450 million jackpot (or $281 million if you opt for the cash buyout).

Mega Millions (and Powerball, whose Saturday-night jackpot now stands at $570 million) discovered that when the jackpot grows to an absurdly high figure, even skeptical players will buy tickets (New York Lottery’s commission tagline: “Hey, You Never Know”). Kelly Tabor, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Lottery, called them “jackpot chasers” in August.

Tabor also said customers wanted more chances to win smaller prizes. In response, both Powerball and Mega Millions tweaked their formulas.

Reducing the number of balls for the first five numbers increases the chances of winning a smaller prize. But raising the number of Mega balls makes it harder to win the jackpot.

“Starting jackpots will more than double from $15 million to $40 million, and jackpots will grow faster overall. There will be better odds to win $1 million prizes and higher secondary prizes,” the multi-state lottery said in a release.

Alex Horton, Washington Post, January 5, 2018

What I Was Wrong About This Year

I’ve come to realize that I was wrong about a major aspect of probabilities.

They are inherently hard to grasp. That’s especially true for an individual event, like a war or election. People understand that if they roll a die 100 times, they will get some 1’s. But when they see a probability for one event, they tend to think: Is this going to happen or not?

They then effectively round to 0 or to 100 percent. That’s what the Israeli official did. It’s also what many Americans did when they heard Hillary Clinton had a 72 percent or 85 percent chance of winning. It’s what football fans did in the Super Bowl when the Atlanta Falcons had a 99 percent chance of victory.

And when the unlikely happens, people scream: The probabilities were wrong!

Usually, they were not wrong. The screamers were wrong.

It’s not enough to say an event has a 10 percent probability. People need a story that forces them to visualize the unlikely event — so they don’t round 10 to zero.

Imagine that a forecast giving Candidate X a 10 percent chance included a prominent link, “How X wins.” It would explain how the polling could be off and include a winning map for X. It would all but shout: This really may happen.

David Leonhardt, New York Times, December 24, 2017

Why Surge Prices Make Us So Mad: What Springsteen, Home Depot and a Nobel Winner Know

[U]nderstanding the hidden logic behind concert pricing — or how Home Depot responds to a hurricane, or even how your neighborhood restaurant handles the Valentine’s Day crunch — can provide a guide to solving some of society’s biggest problems while satisfying people’s deep need for a sense of fairness....

Utilities and regulators, in other words, have to think a little like Mr. Springsteen: It’s not just about maximizing the efficiency of the energy market on any one day, just as the Boss isn’t trying to maximize his revenue from any one concert. Rather, it’s about maintaining a relationship in which people do not feel like they have been exploited.

Some short-term inefficiency can buy long-term viability. And that’s never truer than when disaster strikes, whether a heat wave, a blizzard or a hurricane barreling toward the most populous area of Florida.

As Hurricane Irma did just that in early September, about 150 Home Depot officials gathered in the company’s Atlanta headquarters in an auditorium and a series of conference rooms that became the company’s temporary command center. Logistics experts, store operations officials, corporate security staffers, human resources employees, lawyers and representatives of major suppliers were all there, in what is now a well-rehearsed exercise.

The first thing they did was direct all prices to be frozen in areas likely to be affected by the storm. There is no surge pricing at Home Depot stores after a disaster, in both a longstanding corporate policy and a matter of law in many states.

Neil Irwin, New York Times, October 14, 2017