Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I hope you intuitively understand these examples:

  1. A person who starts with a small credit card debt believing he can keep the consequences down to a few months; but within a few months faces unmanagable credit card debt, without being too aware
  2. A software project where the spec-writers pile on too many features and otherwise make it too ambitious; that its many times more complex and costly than if they had designed it properly, minimally and with checked ambitions. But the spec-writers cannot forsee the consequences of their unchecked ambitions.
  3. A person who believes a white lie can make him escape a small situation, but unforseen to him, he has to manage a snowball of lies to many individuals
  4. A country decides to arm mercenaries to quickly fix a temporary strategy, but decades later the mercenaries evolve into terror outfits, drug cartels and warlords, making a costly war necessary

In all examples, the person takes an action (take on debt, add gratuitous features) that seemed innocent enough, but soon proved to be extremely costly to him.


Please suggest phrases for:

  1. an action that seduces you as being innocent and quick, but later causes serious harm
  2. future costs so abstract (credit card debt in future, development time and mistakes for clumsy specs) that the person cannot reason about them and the harm they present to him
  3. blindness to such costs and ability to wisely avoid such actions
share|improve this question

2 Answers 2

These are all related to cognitive framing

Decisions are made by individuals based on how that decision is framed i.e., the light in which a question is posed and the information either presented or recalled can influence the decision that is made.

This article Psychology Of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things says:

One small example [is] the way a decision is framed. "The way that a decision is presented to me," says Tenbrunsel, "very much changes the way in which I view that decision, and then eventually, the decision it is that I reach."

Essentially, Tenbrunsel argues, certain cognitive frames make us blind to the fact that we are confronting an ethical problem at all.

And in Full Spectrum Analysis: A New Way of Thinking for a New World Adrian Wolfberg says:

This essay proposes a new cognitive frame of reference for the intelligence community to use in thinking about the world. Such mental frameworks can be double-edged swords. We cannot think without them, but if they create an inadequate paradigm for useful thought, or if we use them uncritically or without appropriate adjustment to square with the prevailing realities of current circumstances, they hedge us into thinking in limiting ways that result in faulty conclusions.

There may well be some nice short words to answer your questions, but absent those I would describe these in terms of cognitive frames as follows:

  1. A quick, innocent action that later causes serious harm: a decision made from the wrong cognitive frame of reference. In layman's terms: An unwitting decision
  2. costs so abstract that they cannot be reasoned about effectively: The proper cognitive frame necessary is beyond the comprehension of the decision maker. In layman's terms: mindboggling or incomprehensible
  3. blindness to such costs: From the Psychology of Fraud article: bounded ethicality: "the notion that cognitively, our ability to behave ethically is seriously limited, because we don't always see the ethical big picture." And in general bounded cognitive frame: A condition in which the cognitive frame used in decision making does not encompass a large enough 'world-view' resulting in a faulty conclusion. In layman's terms: narrow-minded or close-minded or oblivious
share|improve this answer
    
Hmm, this seems hard to digest at 1:30 AM; but I was hoping for answers in layman's English. But you introduced an interesting subject. –  aitchnyu Sep 22 '12 at 20:11

There are numerous phrases that relate to the scenarios you describe. Many of them are metaphoric, such as

spiraling out of control (an aviation reference)

falling for a line

falling/jumping off a cliff

getting sucker punched (a boxing reference)

swallowing [something] hook, line and sinker (a fishing reference)

buying a pig in a poke (a husbandry reference)

going in with his eyes closed

buying the Brooklyn Bridge (reference to a scam, probably apochryphal)

getting in over his head (a swimming reference)

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.