Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Perceptions of incongruity: when is a "dollar" not worth a dollar?

Bruner and Postman (1949):
Generally speaking, there appear to be four kinds of reaction to rapidly presented incongruities. The first of these we have called the dominance reaction. It consists, essentially, of a "perceptual denial" of the incongruous elements m the stimulus pattern. Faced with a red six of spades, for example, a subject may report with considerable assurance, "the six of spades" or the "six of hearts," depending upon whether he is color or form bound. In the one case the form dominates and the color is assimilated to it; in the other the stimulus color dominates and form is assimilated to it. In both instances the perceptual resultant conforms with past expectations about the "normal" nature of playing cards.
The full title of Bruner and Postman's 1949 article is "ON THE PERCEPTION OF INCONGRUITY: A PARADIGM." In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn referred to the research as "a psychological experiment that deserves to be far better known outside the trade."

The Walrasian numéraire is incongruous. It is not money. It is, as Orléan explained. "a purely technical device, introduced simply for the purpose of making exchange values [in a barter economy] explicit." It is, in other words, a red six of spades. What Bruner and Postman called the dominance reaction leads the subject to perceive the numéraire as good old dollar-in-the-pocket money. But it is not money because in the model real money does not exist. This incongruity produces "a bit of economic sophistry." (Clark) "unacceptable nonsense," (Little) "a still thicker and more terrifying smoke-screen," (Chipman and Moore) and "rubbish that prevents the flowering of new theory," (Minsky).

Isn't it about time to call a red spade a red spade?

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