Far Mode Overly Praised

Roughly speaking, in near mode we focus practically on acting in our local situation, while in far mode we talk about how people in general should act in more ideal socially approved ways. So while we should expect near mode to usually be the best mode for practical purposes, we should also expect social discussions of near-far to celebrate far mode. For example, an article on Psychological Distance: 10 Fascinating Effects of a Simple Mind Hack gives nine advantages of being in far mode:

1. Make challenging tasks seem easier 2. Generate self-insight 3. Become more persuasive 4. Gain emotional self-control … 6. Be true to yourself 7. Become more polite 8. Fire your creativity 9. Improve your self-control 10. Trigger wise thoughts

And only one disadvantage:

5. Beware the illusion of explanatory depth!

A similar idealistic distortion is found is this article that suggests we let our minds wander because wandering minds are more creative:

In one study, volunteers had to read extracts of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. … People’s minds wandered from the words for more than 20 per cent of the time. … A recent study asking people to report their state of mind at random intervals during the day – via a smartphone app – showed that their attention was wandering from the task at hand a whopping 47 per cent of the time. …

For a long time, … the ability to filter out distractions and focus on a task – dubbed executive control – was considered to lie behind smart thinking. … A host of studies have shown that people who can focus well tend to ace analytical problems: they are whizzes at arithmetic and verbal reasoning tasks, and often have a higher IQ. … Yet … while people with a high level of working memory are good at analytical problems, they tend to struggle on tasks that require flashes of inspiration. …. Various studies show that people with high working-memory capacity, and therefore good executive control, can find it more difficult to solve these problems than people who are more easily distracted. …

All participants were asked to take another crack at the [creativity] task. … Those whose minds had been wandering came up with, on average, 40 per cent more answers. … [Researchers] studied people who had written a published novel, patented an invention or had art shown at a gallery. In computer tests that required participants to screen out irrelevant information – latent inhibition tests – she found these high-achievers were less likely to disregard inconsequential details and focus on the task, compared with an average person. In other words, their minds more frequently wandered from the task at hand. …

Instead of forcing yourself to concentrate, the best approach when a deadline looms may be to loosen your grip and take a quick break. … People in a relaxed mood were more likely to find creative solutions to word puzzles. … Even listening to jokes helps. … you might want to flex your creativity when you feel most groggy. Early birds, for instance, find more original solutions late at night, while night owls do better early in the morning. … If all else fails, a stiff drink can lubricate the mind’s cogs. … By the same token, you should avoid coffee – since caffeine focuses your concentration. (more)

Gee, then why do schools tend to drill creativity out of their students, and why don’t employers like groggy drunk joking employees with wandering minds? Yes, there are some jobs where creativity increases productivity, but for most jobs an ability to focus, concentrate, and analyze helps more. Which is why caffeine is a lot more popular than alcohol on most jobs.

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