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The Under-Appreciated Drive for Sense-Making

Economics, Psychology, cognition

Abstract

This paper draws attention to a powerful human motive that has not yet been incorporated into economics: the desire to make sense of our immediate experience, our life, and our world. We propose that evolution has produced a ‘drive for sense-making’ which motivates people to gather, attend to, and process information in a fashion that augments, and complements, autonomous sense-making. A large fraction of autonomous cognitive processes are devoted to making sense of the information we acquire: and they do this by seeking simple descriptions of the world. In some situations, however, autonomous information processing alone is inadequate to transform disparate information into simple representations, in which case, we argue, the drive for sense-making directs our attention and can lead us to seek out additional information. We propose a theoretical model of sense-making and of how it is traded off against other goals. We show that the drive for sense-making can help to make sense of a wide range of disparate phenomena, including curiosity, boredom, ‘flow’, confirmation bias and information avoidance, aesthetics (both in art and in science), why we care about others’ beliefs, the importance of narrative and the role of ‘the good life’ in human decision making.

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