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Tuesday, 24 April 2018

The speed-accuracy trade-off

“Alles wat goed is, komt snel” is a less familiar Dutch saying (eg, AD, Proz, SO). In general, "all what is good, comes quickly" usually refers to new (sports) talent. It could also be about decisions on emotional affairs, like a new friendship or love at first sight. There's no similar English proverb.

There is, however, an English proverb that suggests the exact opposite: "All [good] things come to those who wait". The Dutch version is: “alle goede dingen komen langzaam” (DBNL). I used the word suggest as the underlying meanings are not the same. The 2nd proverb relates more to tangible items while the 1st relates to emotions and/or talents, which are intangible.

The 1st proverb also has an inverse: if something (eg, a decision) doesn’t come quickly then our mind isn’t sure whether it feels good. There’s a conflict between ratio (conscious) and emotion (subconscious). Our common solution is delaying, indecision, postponing, and procrastinating.

Both proverbs relate to the psychological phenomenon of the "speed-accuracy trade-off" (eg, Wiki-1Wiki-2Wiki-3Wiki-4). For an explanation, please read the 2014 Aeon article by Stephen Fleming, Principal Research Associate at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London: "Forget being boldly decisive, let your brain take its time".

In this speed-accuracy trade-off, emotional decisions (eg, friendship, love, talent) are taken in milliseconds, while decisions on buying expensive items may take days (eg, car) or months (eg, house). Hence, both proverbs do not contradict each other.

The mind must make very many decisions on a daily basis. The volume of decisions requires efficiency and effectivity (ie, speed). The impact of any decision requires that the mind must minimise negative consequences, like regret (ie, accuracy). The trade-off is the mathematical function between speed and accuracy (eg, curve, graph, line).

In this day and age, the speed-accuracy trade-off is under pressure. Aeon-2014: “Whether lingering too long over the menu at a restaurant, or abrupt U-turns by politicians, flip-flopping does not have a good reputation. By contrast, quick, decisive responses are associated with competency: they command respect. Acting on gut feelings without agonising over alternative courses of action has been given scientific credibility by popular books []”.

Aeon-2014: “Crucially, however, this neural flip-flopping is not something to be avoided. Instead, flip-flopping is an overt behavioural sign of the brain’s weighing of evidence for and against a decision. [] The speed-accuracy trade-off indicates that there can be negative consequences from being too decisive. Quicker decisions are often associated with more errors and greater potential for regret further down the line.”

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.” A quote by William James (1842-1910), American philosopher and psychologist.

Your Decision (2009) by Alice in Chains - artists, lyrics, video, Wiki-1, Wiki-2


Note: all markings (bold, italic, underlining) by LO unless stated otherwise