Thursday, February 19, 2015

Industries that Rely on the Illusion of Causality

I've been intrigued (and somewhat disgusted) by industries that sell worthless products to people who desperately want to find a cure for some condition in their life. These types of products are rampant in the multi-level-marketing industry (see our other posts on MLMs) but also can be found in the nutritional supplement industry. Often, amazing, too-good-to-be-true claims are made because the government doesn't regulate these industries or they make their outrageous claims off the record in private conversations, etc. Well, psychologists have a name for the illusion that these industries rely on. Read on to see what I'm talking about...

In a great post on FiveThirtyEight you can read about research on "The Illusion of Causality." Basically, this illusion, along with other biases, leads people to believe in a causal mechanism that does not exist. Our brains are essentially wired to lead us to be very poor scientists. As a result, doctors often recommend drugs and procedures that are later proven ineffective and multi-level-marketing and nutritional supplement companies can sell supplements and vitamins that have been shown to be essentially worthless. This illusion is the reason why it's so critical that we are skeptical of products such as ASEA or Amized Fusion Technology pens and only consider spending your hard earned money on them after you see double-blind, peer reviewed research performed by independent and competent scientists.

I think there are several groups that are particularly susceptible to the illusion of causality. First, those with chronic health conditions with little or no hope for a cure. This group wants desperately to believe that someone has found a product that is truly the fountain of youth or that will cure their condition. They have no other hope so they try the product and, because the placebo effect works in a good chunk of the population, and because of the cognitive biases that lead to the illusion of causality, they are convinced that the product works.

The second group of people who are susceptible to the illusion of causality are athletes who are looking for any edge to help them perform at a higher level. They hear claims from sports nutrition companies that their latest product will increase aerobic capacity so they spend money on the product. (For example, read my posts on ASEA here; they are the most popular posts this blog has ever had). Meanwhile, there is no reputable research supporting these product's claims because they are essentially worthless.

In both these cases there are multiple human biases that the post on FiveThirtyEight mentions that contribute to the success of these two industries including such as "motivated reasoning (all of us want to believe that the things we do make a difference), base rate neglect (failing to pay attention to what happens in the absence of the intervention), and confirmation bias (the tendency to look for evidence that supports what you already know and to ignore the rest)."

I personally think it's a sad industry that adds no real value to society but, instead, relies on human foibles, biases and weaknesses. That's why I don't buy any of these products. IMO, most, if not all, health and performance supplements and tonics are built on false hopes if not fraudulent claims.

Eat healthy, unprocessed foods, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and get quality, regular sleep and you'll be amazed at how much your health--mental and physical--will improve! The good news is that you don't have to take my word for this since it not only works for me, it's supported by double-blind, competent and independent research. Tons of it!

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