What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI)

Do you think that crime in the US worse than it was last year?  Most Americans believe that crime is worse than it was last year, when the reality is that crime has been in steady decrease since 1994. [Gallup Poll].

Why do we think that crime is worse?  Because we remember the crime on the news last night easily, but have a hard time remembering the news from a year ago. What we see is all there is.  This is how Daniel Kahneman describes many cognitive biases in Thinking Fast and Slow. When we analyze situations, we only consider the relevant facts that come to memory.  We don’t consider information we can’t remember or that doesn’t come to mind.  What we see or what we remember, is all there is.

This is at the heart of our errors in analyzing the world around us. We want to think rationally about the situations that happen to us, but we can’t bring all of the right facts that we need to mind; so we make mistakes.  When we are trying to answer very hard questions and recognize that we probably don’t have all of the data we need or can’t remember all the data we need, that is the time to remember the errors caused by WYSIATI thinking.

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2 responses to “What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI)”

  1. David Delp Avatar

    Well, there is an evolutionary explanation for a bias toward negative emotions. Apparently fear based reactions are better for survival. That is, if you believe in that stuff. 😉

    Now, even with crime rates decreasing, I still wonder about rebuilding the fence in my back yard.

    Good Neighbors Make Good Fences

  2. Matthew Avatar

    Apparently, I’m going to have to post on the narrative fallacy at some point. I’ll restate my tweet from several months ago:

    “Why do so many behavioral economists feel compelled to commit the narrative fallacy by making up some story about us as cavemen.”

    Those who know about the narrative fallacy [making up a causal story without causal evidence simply to make us feel better] shouldn’t be so quick to commit it. 🙂

    I think you shouldn’t build a fence unless you have a reason to do so. Vulnerability breeds trust. I wrote a related post a couple of years ago:


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