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Paradox of Solomon: our wisdom is relative

Paradox of Solomon: our wisdom is relative

October 4, 2022

King Solomon is famous for judging from the pragmatism and the wisdom . In fact, there is a biblical episode that tells how the good king managed to know the truth in a case in which two mothers dispute a child, attributing each one of them the motherhood of the same. However, the Jewish king proved not to be so skilled in administering the Law of Yahweh to preserve his kingdom.

Solomon ended up letting his own motivations and greed for great luxuries degrade the kingdom of Israel, which ended up dividing under the reign of his son. This stage blurred the form of the kingdom, but also served to show the negative influence that subjective impulses can have on problems that require more rational analysis. It is from this dialectic between objectivity and subjectivity that a cognitive bias called Paradox of Solomon .


Let's see what it consists of.

Solomon is not alone in this

It is difficult to ridicule Solomon for his lack of judgment. It is also normal for us to have the feeling that we are much better at giving advice than making good decisions whose outcome affects us. It is as if, at the moment in which a problem happens to affect us, we lose any ability to deal with it rationally. This phenomenon has nothing to do with the karma, and we do not have to look for esoteric explanations either.

It is only an indication that, for our brain, the resolution of problems in which something is at stake follows a logic different from that we apply to problems that we perceive as alien ... although this makes us make worse decisions. This bias of recent discovery is called Solomon's Paradox, or Paradox of Solomon, in reference to the (in spite of everything) wise Jewish king.


Science investigates the Paradox of Solomon

Igor Grossman Y Ethan Kross , from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan respectively, have been commissioned to bring to light the Paradox of Solomon. These researchers have subjected to experimentation the process by which people are more rational when it comes to advising other people that when deciding for us what to do in the problems that occur to us. For this purpose, a series sample of volunteers with a stable partner was used and asked them to imagine one of two possible scenarios.

Some people had to imagine that their partner was unfaithful, while in the case of the other group the person who was unfaithful was the partner of their best friend. Then, both groups had to reflect on that situation and answer a series of questions related to the situation of the couple affected by the infidelity case.


It is easier to think rationally about what does not concern us

These questions were designed to measure to what extent the way of thinking of the person being consulted was being pragmatic and focused on resolving the conflict in the best possible way. From these results it was possible to verify how the people belonging to the group that had to imagine an infidelity on the part of their own partner obtained significantly lower scores than the other group. In short, these people were less able to predict possible outcomes, take into account the point of view of the unfaithful person, recognize the limits of their own knowledge and assess the needs of the other. In the same way, it was confirmed that participants were better able to think pragmatically when they were not directly involved in the situation.

In addition, the Paradox of Solomon was present to the same extent in both young adults (from 20 to 40 years old) as in elderly adults (from 60 to 80 years old), which means that it is a very persistent bias and that it is not corrected with age.

However, Grossmann and Kross thought of a way to correct this bias. What if the people consulted tried to distance themselves psychologically from the problem? Was it possible to think of one's infidelity as if it were lived by a third person? The truth is that yes, at least in an experimental context. The people who imagined the infidelity of their partner from the perspective of another person were able to provide better answers in the question time. This conclusion is what most interests us in our day to day: to make wisest decisions, it is only necessary to put ourselves in the shoes of a relatively neutral "opinionator" .

The external observer

In short, Grossmann and Kross have experimentally demonstrated that our beliefs about the importance of the "neutral observer" are grounded in something that exists: a predisposition to act less rationally before social problems that touch us closely . Like King Solomon, we are capable of making the best judgments from a role characterized by their distancing, but when it is our turn to play our cards it is easy for us to lose that righteousness.

Bibliographic references:

  • Grossmann, I. and Kross, E. (2014). Exploring Solomon's Paradox: Self-Distancing Eliminates the Self-Other Asymmetry in Wise Reasoning About Close Relationships in Younger and Older Adults.Psychological Science, 25 (8), pp. 1571 - 1580.

8. Recognizing Relatives (October 2022).


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