Wow, seems mean, right?
A little jarring?
Don’t worry, I was kidding. I can however, tell you why the person YOU are voting for is better than the person I am voting for.
JK again friends! Turns out you and I are voting for the same person!
Whew! Now it feels low conflict and all is good. Thank goodness we agree. We should always agree, you and I.
Turns out there is a cool reason why we want to agree, or at least to be right. We already think we are right. Because of a little thing called One-Shot Learning. It’s a thing our brain does to bolster our confidence and screw up communication in case of a disagreement.
I know what you’re thinking … can we talk about Fire Trucks now? Well in the words of my eventual presidential run’s campaign slogan: Yaaaas we can!
What color is a fire truck?
Think carefully. No opinion? Or an easy answer of: Red?
There is an old joke about a man calling 911 to report a fire in his neighborhood. He vaguely told the dispatcher that the fire was on “my street.”
“Sir,” the dispatcher asked. “How do the firemen get to your street?”
“Duh,” the man responded, exasperated. “Use the big red truck.”
(I’d really appreciate if you’d imagine a rimshot sound effect there)
Fire trucks are always red, except of course for when they aren’t. Did you know that the color of a fire truck is the source of a very specific controversy?
Traditionally fire trucks have been painted red. There are a lot of origin stories as to why this is, some saying that this was the cheapest paint available in the days of unfunded fire departments, and some claiming it was because towns competed for the best looking trucks, and red was the most expensive paint at the time. Another theory states that due to most early cars being black, red was a color most thought to stand out in traffic.
Whatever the reason, the traditional red color may seem straightforward and simple. Of course you should agree that if it isn’t broke, you don’t need to fix it. Why burn any calories towards the question of what color a fire engine should be?
A big important reason, actually. See, it turns out that red, which stands out quite well in broad daylight amongst a sea of jet black Model-T Fords, is the first color that your eyes struggle to see once the light begins to fade. It has to do with the way that certain cells in your eye, called cones, distinguish color. As light fades color becomes harder to distinguish, with different colors remaining visible longer than others. Red has long been considered by experts to be the first color that we lose the ability to see in fading light, (for most eyeballs) and therefore the riskiest color to brand something with at night. Yellow is usually considered the quickest and easiest color detected by the typical human eye. This is the reason why most highlighters are yellow, many constructions signs are yellow with black lettering, and may even be why gentlemen prefer blondes.
Due to this exciting eye science, many fire departments over the years have shifted their color schemes. The American Psychological Association has even concluded that yellow or lime-green fire trucks are less likely to be involved in accidents than red engines.
So it’s a no brainer, right? Let’s make emergency vehicles yellow. Or lime green. Or lemon-lime. Or Limen, and get Sprite to pay for it. Sponsorship synergy folks.
Not so fast, sparky (that’s fire humor). Turns out there is yet another side to this …
Many fire departments have argued that while yellow & green may be easier for the eye to detect, years of tradition have associated the color red with emergency. People learn by experience, and some safety experts argue that generations of red emergency engines leaves us open to automatically ignoring the Lemons and the Limens amongst the Cherry-Poppin’ Daddies. Another consideration is that yellow is often a color that, due to it being so easy to see, can also fatigue the eyes with prolonged exposure or brightness.
Are you frustrated yet? Have you picked a side on this issue? Are you cursing the wacky pop-neuroscience progressives who want to Limen up the emergency squad? Or fist-shaking like mad towards the stodgy traditionalists who doggedly refuse to move into the future?
Or perhaps you are gently screaming into your device: Just what the hell is the point of all of this? Did you just want to write about yellow and red fire trucks, due to some undiagnosed mental sickness on your part to share your slightest whims with a few thousand strangers? Or is there (please please PLEASE) some deeper metaphor at work here?
Those that know me will not be surprised to learn that the answer is a resounding YES to both options.
This is where One-Shot Learning comes into play. One shot learning is what Psychologists call our tendency to jump to conclusions. It is why after a brief storm of links and boiled-down information you can decide where you stand on the fire truck that you never had a lick of emotion attached too. Except those of you Firemen out there reading this. Thank you for your service.
One-Shot Learning is the tendency to jump to a conclusion based upon incomplete data. Our brain is tasked with making sense of this crazy old world, both to satisfy our needs and to stay alive. It seeks to do so efficiently and with minimal output of energy, like me when I mow the lawn.
The culprit for this is the Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex, a part of our brain responsible for integrating emotional and motivational information while we decide things. This tends to become activated when we are under pressure to come to a conclusion. It then turns on the Hippocampus, a little portion of the brain that works with memory. Once you pair memory with motivation and emotion, you can have a conclusion that the brain will doggedly hang onto, even if it is ridiculous.
This allows us to make a judgement and a decision without analyzing reality. On the useful side, we can use this ability to act fast in a crisis. On the down side, we aren’t in crisis all that often. This learning approach within the brain is thought to a chief cause for superstition and bias.
It’s a scary little fact that our brain is MORE likely to make a snap decision the LESS information it has!
This is why I am so stupid for voting for that person, and the reason why you demand that all the fire trucks in your town are not only yellow, but constructed of marshmallow peeps. It seems so naturally important that we assume we are correct. And we are willing to fight for it.
There is no preventative cure for this effect, our brain just does it for us. It’s probably left over from some tribal need we had waaaaaaay back when, when we needed a quick “no,” or “yaaas” to situations. You can, however, adjust for it.
All it takes is the insertion of a few curative words when we talk. Try these on for size:
“I believe that fire trucks should be red, because…..”
“In my opinion, yellow is a good color for emergency vehicles.”
“Who really knows these things, but my experience has led me to consider a wide array of colors to be acceptable for these situations.”
These softening statements can help talk to someone you disagree with, even over a subject as divisive as emergency vehicle coloration. Try to avoid phrases like:
“As an eye-color sensitivity expert….” Just stop there, don’t begin sentences that way.
“Ugghhhh! Here we go again with the EC thought-police, shoving their yellow-truck lifestyle down our throats!” (EC of course stands for Eye-Color in that example.)
We all jump to conclusions, we all One-Shot Learn. But what we do next can make all the difference.
Hey, let’s hashtag the fire truck thing. #firetruckcolor #redtrucks, #canyouseethatfiretruck, #ican’tseeititsred #icouldseeayellowonebetter.
Photo: Getty Images