Monday, October 10, 2016

Rash Promises - Why Do We Make Bargains That Are Hard To Keep?

One of the central themes of my book THE MOONLIGHT MARKET, has to do with the consequences of a bargain. Sanderson Beets makes a deal with the magical Weaver of Dreams in order to go to college and escape the carnival performance circuit and his nosy family. In fairy tales and medieval literature this is called a “rash promise”. And humans make them all the time – because we’re cognitively biased to do so.

Sanderson believes that the Weaver of Dreams has his best interests at heart because he knows she helped his sister during her difficult pregnancy. This is called “motivated cognition” or more commonly, “wishful thinking”. He is aware of the heavy price his sister paid for the help, but he makes a deal with the Weaver anyway, believing that his future will be brighter and his time at college will be worth any payment the Weaver demands.

After all, once he goes to college and finds a steady career, his family will be well-provided for and his parents’ won’t be forced to work during their retirement. Despite evidence to the contrary, Sanderson is sure his outcome will be good after making the fateful deal.

Another cognitive bias that Sanderson exhibits is “loss aversion”. In other words, even after he knows that the Weaver is dangerous, Sanderson is still willing to give into her strange request to bring her a lost soul. Sanderson is unwilling to give up the year of college he has already experienced and the possible two years to come. In order to keep those risky gains, he is willing to betray his friend Cory to the Weaver.

And the way Sanderson steels himself to hand over Cory to the Weaver also employs a cognitive bias. He remembers every interaction with Cory and confirms to himself that the romantic connection he felt was false, that Cory didn’t care about him, would never care about him. This is a “confirmation bias”, the mis-remembering of events that reinforce a point of view that you already hold. Sanderson needed this cognitive bias in order to fullfil his debt to the Weaver. Because if Cory didn’t care about him, then Sanderson wouldn’t be obliged to care what the Weaver of Dreams would do to Cory.

This demonstrates very easily the pitfalls my character finds when he overthinks his problems and his relationships. So, in case you’re wondering, how does a character beset by the inevitability of a cognitive bias get out of his rash promise to a dangerous woman of dark magic?

Well, this is a romance, so the obvious answer is…he listens instead to his heart.



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