Thursday 12 March 2020


The mother of all cognitive illusions

Robert H. Frank, Cornell University

Psychologists have long understood that social environments profoundly shape our behaviour, sometimes for the better, often for the worse. But social influence is a two-way street—our environments are themselves products of our behaviour.

Robert Frank’s new book, Under the Influence, explains how to unlock the latent power of social context. In this talk he will focus on climate-related issues, explaining how social contagion has been partly responsible for the mess we are in – but also how we can turn this to our advantage in our quest to avert the climate crisis.

What is stopping us? Our mistaken belief that changes that are applied across society will have the same effect on us as the same changes if they were applied only to us. This is the mother of all cognitive illusions.

When people imagine what it would be like to live in a smaller house, for example, they implicitly assume that all other houses remain the same size as before. But the effect would be much different if everyone lived in a smaller house. Hear from Professor Frank about why this happens, what it means and how we might overcome the illusion.

Robert H. Frank

Robert is the H. J. Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.

He has been an Economic View columnist for the New York Times for more than a decade. His many books include The Winner-Take-All Society, The Economic Naturalist, and Success and Luck. He lives in Ithaca, New York.

"Brilliant, fun, and profound. Other people influence us a lot more than we think, which is a big problem but also a terrific opportunity."

Cass R. Sunstein