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Descriptive vs. Prescriptive

image loading... by Bo Bennett, PhD, Social Scientist, Business Consutlant
posted Friday May 24, 2013 12:00 AM

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Social Scientist, Business Consutlant

About Bo Bennett, PhD

You can read my full bio at http://www.BoBennett.com.

My wife shared an entertaining column with me from the April 1 issue of TIME magazine. In short, it is about how the columnist pitted his marriage against the algorithms of the online dating site, eHarmony. In taking the eHarmony compatibility test, the columnist and his wife received a "0" in one category because they are both atheists—and according to the eHarmony algorithm, atheists are not as happy in marriage. The validity of that "fact" aside, algorithms and statistics are descriptive, meaning they describe data obtained from current samples, they are NOT prescriptive, meaning they do not alter the chances of any individual relationship succeeding. This might seem like a minor detail, but the psychological implications are significant. Specifically, since beliefs can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.

When you see studies and statistics that appear to tell you how likely you are to fail or get some horrible disease, remember that these studies and statistics are describing averages and likelihoods based on sample data—they are NOT describing YOU, and certainly not offering a prescription to your future. Acknowledge the risks, be mindful of the statistics, and take action toward the future you desire, not the one described to you based on sample data.


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