Car Superstitions: I KNOW They Can't Be True . . .

My aqua car: I swore I'd
never seen that color on a car
before--until I bought it
and starting seeing that
car color everywhere!
Every time I step out my door, get in my car, and drive, I swear the experience takes on a specific character.

One day will be Truck Day. There are trucks all over the road, cutting in front of me, slowing up traffic, trying to make bad turns.

The next day is Crazy Pedestrian Day. Suddenly, sidewalk strollers are darting out into traffic, not obeying cross-walk signals, strolling down the meridian.

And then it will be Out-of-Town Driver Day which, in Maine, usually means Massachusetts drivers trying to back all the way up (one-way) State Street, just to find a parking space.

I KNOW that the pattern is simply the result of perception--like when you buy a new car and suddenly, EVERYONE has that color car. But that doesn't stop me from determining, "Crap. Today is People-Making-Inconvenient-Left-Turns Day."

Our brains are wired to sort and select information. As an example, students of the brain often refer to the invisible gorilla experiment. The best-known version is a gorilla walking across the floor at a basketball game; when asked, "Did you see the gorilla?" about 1/2 the attendees said, "No."

Apparently, this tunnel-vision works the other way as well--to see only gorillas--which makes sense from a survival standpoint. Our brains are wired to perceive patterns, especially patterns that might save our lives.

However, this wiring often results in confidence about non-statistically viable conclusions. In response to the myth, "Your first answer is usually the right one!" Ken Jennings (in his book Because I Said So! The Truth Behind Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids), states the following:
One review found that, out of thirty-three studies, not a single one showed that changing answers hurt test-takers . . . [but] students are more likely to remember the times that an answer change worked out badly, because they'll feel cheated by the last-minute switch that cost them the question. Those memories tend to overshadow the (actually much more common) memories of an answer switch that went from incorrect to correct. It's similar . . . to the conviction that all changes of grocery store checkout lanes result in slower progress. It's not always true, but we're so outraged by the times when it is true that we forget the times when it's not.
Likewise, there are probably just as many trucks and pedestrians and out-of-state drivers on the road (at least in the summer) per day as any other day. But on any given day, my brain will start to sort and store a particular type of road annoyance more than any other.

This doesn't stop me from thinking, "Holy cow, this is Crazy Construction Day!" And I'll swear (no matter how irrational it is) that knowing, "Today is Stupid Blinker Day" helps me prepare against possible accidents.

I just wish someone would send out a memo beforehand!

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