The Friendly Face Fallacy

Mike is a friendly, good looking middle-aged man who lives in Manhattan. He is having drinks with his friend Brent, a sharp thinking interlocutor.

Mike: Yesterday, a woman approached me asking for directions, which I happily provided. This is not the first time this has happened to me. People ask me for directions all the time! I must have one of those faces.

Brent: Mike, you fool. Don’t you see your illogical reasoning?

Mike: No. Please, explain.

Brent: How many lost people have looked at your face and decided not to ask you for directions?

Mike: How could I possibly know the answer to that question?

Brent: You cannot, which is my point.

Mike: I don’t follow.

Brent: True, people have asked you for directions. But it’s nearly impossible to know if  you “have one of those friendly faces” without first knowing how many people have looked at your face and turned the other way. Your judgment only considers success stories. It’s like trying to measure how good David Ortiz is at hitting home runs when your evidence is a highlight reel of every single one of his home runs. You need to account for how many times he didn’t hit a home run — all the strikeouts, ground outs, fly outs, singles, double, triple, etc.

Mike: I think I see what you are saying. But I still think I am at least above average.

Brent: Possibly, but unlikely. For that you would have to know what the average is in the first place. And I assume you don’t have data on how many times the average Manhattanite is approached for directions. Your intuition is not a good guide to determine that number.

Mike: So I am just an typical Manhattanite who is approached for directions as much as everyone else?

Brent: Most likely – but you’re an above average friend.

Mike: Thanks, Brent.

Brent: You’re welcome.


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