Start making sense! Why humans love Sudoku and stamp collecting

Researchers say the desire to make sense of the world drives many decisions and behaviours.

Behavioural economists have created what they call "a theoretical model of sense-making" which can help explain a range of phenomena including the importance of narrative, information avoidance and confirmation bias.

The researchers argue that the drive to make sense of the world, and our experiences, is similar to other drives such as hunger.  Their theory explores how and why people seek information and why they analyse what they do find in certain ways.

Key features of sense-making

  • Sense-making can be pleasurable – ("Pleasure from sense captures, for example, both the satisfaction of being able to tell a coherent story about our life, but also the satisfaction of gaining new information that leads to a refinement of that story")
  • But not all sense-making is equally pleasurable – e.g. it can depend on how important the sense making seems.  Simply put, it can be more pleasurable to find out whodunnit after being immersed for weeks than discovering the culprit at the end of a short story.
  • The pleasures - or not – of sense-making depend on our expectations (receiving information that challenges the sense one has made of the world, but then having that information discredited, leaves one worse off)

What the drive for sense-making teaches us

  • Curiosity – a state of seeking information without anticipating a payoff – might explain why so many people click on Upworthy headlines.
  • Complete absorption in a task (‘flow’) can give the appearance of meaning.  There is pleasure in an organised environment – one which we can make sense of. This explains the popularity of Sudoku and Angry Birds.
  • Bias and information avoidance – may be explained by people fearing the potential disturbance of existing sense-making models

The article is available via ScienceDirect.