A box of chocolates, ANTs, and Bayes Theorem

Can an otherwise rational person be convinced of the consequences of their Automatic Negative Though (ANT) pattern?

So I sent my mom a box of chocolates. I believe it got to her because the delivery service sent me a notice. I called my mom and asked her to check. In the 45 seconds from her getting up, walking to the door, unlocking it, and opening the door, she kvetched with 5 reasons it wasn’t there. Actually, it was there. But it occurred to me that she habitually exhibits automatic negative thoughts and in chronically doing so, probably creates negative emotions/cortisol spike, that feeds back into more negative thoughts (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=55BQVEjCqhU).

And then it occurred to me that she might just be making a cognitive error in mixing up the probability that the package was delivered with the conditional probably that the package was delivered given that she made certain assumptions, errantly justifying this negative thinking. And actually, I have made this exact same kind of mistake (hey, it gets conditioned into you), but upon noticing it, have been able to modify my thinking and am less inclined to have ANTs now.

So lets say probability of getting a package delivered is 75% (so not delivered is 25%). Now lets say than animals can get to the package 25% of the time and in our case 1/2 of those 25% cause the package to be destroyed and 1/2 of those 25% the package shows sign of chewing, but otherwise the contents are fine, so that counts as delivered.

If I asked, what is the chance that the package is there and good, I would say 75%. Easy peasy.

But where I think people with ANTs are going wrong is that they presume something and then ask the question, what is the chance that the package is delivered given that “I know the animals got to it”. So what is P(good package delivered | animal got to it). When I use Bayes or Venn diagram it, I get 50% (hopefully I didn’t screw that up).

And so they have pessimistically reduced what should have been good chance (75%) down to a 50% chance because they have reflexively started with a negative assumption.

I don’t know where Im going here, but it just seemed like an interesting intersection between personal psychology and probability and might help guide an otherwise rational person to understand the downside of their thinking patterns (or I could have her just try to watch the YouTube video…)

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Does getting a furball help fight ANTs?

Maybe, but would probably have to name him “Sir Thomas” or so, in honor.

Not sure any rational person is thinking in the moment about probability when they are tired of, angered by past, repeated events that are stressful (destroyed packages). But could it be true or inspiring to those who like math to think of it this way? If your mom doesn’t love math and probability–and especially if she’s not reaching out with a desire to change her own behavior, I’d suggest enticing her with a result she does want (that will enable her to want to change her behavior).

Let’s say your mom is single and you asked her if she’d have had the same thoughts opening the door to look for the package if she thought the single postman to be handsome, eligible and available? Probably her thoughts might be, I’d love to get to the door to see if the postman is still there. Or perhaps he’s thought of this problem for me and fixed the issue (put the package where animals are less likely to get it). If you led with this conversation (a positive if she’s truly not partnered in my example) she might see what she could get out of it. Otherwise the message is negative itself: you have negative thoughts and you are negative.

But I do like the probability exercise. In the end, I think the summation of negative life events (not just destroyed packages) that are unresolved have to be factored in. Of course, self-improvement can come from anywhere.

Thanks for the thoughts and feedback. Ill consider that.

If you have low tolerance for disappointment, as some people do, it can make sense to reduce the potential for disappointment by assuming the worst. The obvious downside is that you’ll miss out a lot.

Before you send your mom tutorials on Bayesian inference, maybe try to get advice from a mental health professional?

Well, I have to admit that I kind of worked the probability such that P(good package delivered | animal got to it) was not as good as P(good package delivered) and I could have made assumptions such that P(good package delivered | animal got to it) was actually > P(good package delivered), invalidating my own initial argument.

There is no way my mom could grok Bayes (heck, I cant even derive it myself after all these years) given how difficult it is to get her to simply google something on her iPad (press the safari icon. no, swipe to the next screen. its not there, swipe again. press it to bring up browser. oh forget about it, let me do it…).

Im honestly not sure what I would ask a mental health professional. To me, its a clear case of someone having a pessimistic explanatory style that presumes negative outcomes, which has likely been conditioned into her from a lifetime of experiences. I guess I could ask how to go about changing her disposition, but my gut feeling is that the neural nets in our brains are very deeply engrained and would take a lot to reprogram them.

If that wasn’t so, mental health would be an easy problem :grimacing:

I’m assuming your mom sees no need for “reprogramming”, but you might be able to get some advice on what behaviors on your part are helpful, and which are counterproductive.

“If that wasn’t so, mental health would be an easy problem”

That itself would make a good QS project. I wonder if anyone has tried to look into that topic itself, what does it take, how long, how durable to reprogram your mind to change yourself? For instance, on the optimistic/pessimistic scale?

My gut feeling is that you have to come up with a scale associated with a personality trait, give it some range, lets say 1 to 10 (if you are a CS person, 0 to 9 :slight_smile: figure out how to rank yourself in that range, and then look into modalities that could move the needle. I suspect that movements to the left or right by one are actually very easy/fast and as you look for further excursions it is harder, takes more time, more likely to revert. So the bang for the buck is moving the needle by just one or two notches. I have found that CBT has done that easily for myself, just based on ideas that I picked up from watching YouTube videos, however will have to see how durable this is - honestly, I find it easy to fall back into previous thought patterns and its a struggle to continually try to self talk to counteract them.