Theory about Internet and judging personal probabilities already exist?
March 28, 2014 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I have an original pet theory I came up with a long time ago involving the Internet and how people judge probability. It probably would fall into the anthropological, sociological or psychological fields. I'm not intending to make this post to discuss the theory itself as a sort of "let's b.s. back and forth about my idea" kind of thing. Reason I'm posting is because I'd like to know if this theory already exists or is an application of something broader that already exists. Maybe it's a theory being applied onto the communications medium of the Internet of some older theory in one of the above field(s) of study, or maybe it's a piecemeal construction of a few theories spliced together. Anyway, enough babbling, actual theory after the cut.

So, I have this theory that our brains aren't well-equipped to handle the "tribe size" that the Internet gives us access to. For millennia, we've only had the means to be exposed to a small "tribe" of people personally. You probably would know 200-500 in your lifetime.

So, for example, if you knew 180 people who get fwangied when thwipping, and you yourself are going to thwip, you'd think that you had a good chance of getting fwangied yourself, because you'd compare it against your tribe -- your 200 or so people.

Wikipedia seems to suggest there's about 1.5 billion people on the Internet who speak English. But, your brain isn't equipped to judge probability based on those numbers. So when it reads 180 posts from people who got fwangied, it doesn't say to itself, "That's 180 people who got fwangied out of 500,000 who thwip annually." Instead, it says, "That's 180 people out of my tribe!" and it misjudges the likelihood that you'll get fwangied, making you feel as if it's a lot more common than getting fwangied actually really is.

I would imagine this is probably a lot more prevalent among those who lived some part of their life without the Internet. I wouldn't be surprised if this sort of problem disappears as people continue to grow up who have never not had the Internet.
posted by WCityMike to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Misleading Vividness
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:43 PM on March 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

By the way, this isn't unique to the Internet. It was observed decades ago that people who watched a lot of TV news thought the world was a much more dangerous place than people who didn't.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:45 PM on March 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

I do remember reading a theory in organizational psychology (though it may have been a Malcolm Gladwell-ism) that 150-200 people is the optimal organization size and that larger organizations should seperate into sub-organizations beyond that point. It doesn't relate directly to probabilities but may provide some anthropological basis for the 'tribe size' part of your theory.
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:47 PM on March 28, 2014

A quick search tells me that this is known as Dunbar's number and is apparently relative to the size of our neocortex compared to other primates.
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:49 PM on March 28, 2014

Response by poster: Just realized seconds ago it may be an offshoot of the Monkeysphere, as well.
posted by WCityMike at 5:06 PM on March 28, 2014

Also it would seem that those who had a notible experience, whether good or bad are more likely to comment on the internet about something rather than those who had a pretty typical one. For example, if you are at a restaurant and had a really bad meal or an amazing one you will probably be more likey to write a review rather than if you just thought it was "meh."
posted by photoexplorer at 8:36 PM on March 28, 2014

Read Wellman and Rainie 's Networked.
posted by k8t at 6:04 AM on March 29, 2014

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