Context-free Guessing

I blogged previously about the coolest movies and TV shows that have a testing allegory, but sometimes it’s a TV show that has nothing to do with testing that inspires thoughts about testing.

This one was a great reminder that our thoughts change as new context emerges.

It came from the show “Ten Years Younger” – a makeover show where they grab a person off the street and try various makeover techniques in 24 hours to make them look 10 years younger.

But before they measure their success, they establish a baseline. Before the makeover, they put the person into a glass booth in the middle of a public square.

As people walk by, the host asks them to guess the age of the booth “victim.”

The interesting testing allegory is, that despite whatever heuristics the person is using to guess the victim’s age (wrinkles, gray hair, eye line, etc.), there is no feedback while they do this.

The victim in the glass booth does not hear (so cannot react to) what they are saying. That means there is no extra context for the guesser — like whether the victim cringes when they listen to others guess how old she is.

If they were to hear, does the victim’s cringe mean they’re depressed to hear how old people think they are, and would that kind of feedback result in a lower guess by the guesser?

The other interesting corollary to this is the onlookers who can hear the guesser. They, too, will have their turn to guess.

When it’s their turn to be asked “how old do you think the victim is?” they answer. But how do they answer? Based on how she looks or how the victim has reacted to the others’ guesses?

So when someone asks what are you thinking about x, know that this is your answer at this time, sometimes in this second – when, if you were asked again a few seconds later after you were to overhear some context, you might give a different answer.

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