79 of 80 people found the following review helpful
on 25 April 2012
This book is a very enjoyable and interesting read - but I have now read Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow.
Here's the quick comparison:
- Ariely's book is pure pop science. Short, entertaining, 1st person, occasionally irritating anecdotal style, but you quickly get the message. However, if you're reading it now (2012), you may have already heard the same thing elsewhere.
Personal view: I found it too anecdotal, and too lightweight.
- Kahneman's book is the real deal. This is the bible of behavioural economics. Everything you need to know, written with clarity and detail, but also enough stories, short exercises and counterintuitive conclusions to keep you turning the pages.
Personal view: Long and challenging, but very rich and rewarding.
118 of 124 people found the following review helpful
This is really a popular psychology book about how we behave and how, as the subtitle puts it, hidden forces influence our everyday decisions. So don't be put off by quotes from businessmen and economists in the blurb. I almost was. But I'm glad I wasn't. This is a neat little book with plenty of nuggets of information and insights that you can put to use immediately. You learn things about yourself and other people that seem so obvious you wonder how you'd never noticed them before and you learn why hunches you've had in the past really are right. Each chapter of this book consists of some simple experiments that are designed to probe a different aspect of our decision-making process e.g. how our expectations affect how we experience things and why too many choices can be unhelpful, to mention just two. The experiments are simple and elegant.
They usually consist of asking two or more differently informed groups of students questions about something. Actually, sometimes the author is a bit vague about the exact experimental conditions, how bias was eliminated from the experiment (particularly with respect to how questions were framed [what language was used] and how the participants were chosen [a few samples were decidedly small]) and how the many variables were isolated and controlled. So in that sense we must take Ariely's word for it. Also, he often vaguely summarises the results of these experiments with words such as "more than" and "most" instead of giving figures. If he were giving a lecture I would have asked him to clarify quite a few points. But all in all I think that this was an interesting book albeit a short one. It is a slim volume and the typeface is quite large. I'm a slow reader and I read it comfortably over two days.
61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2008
I bought this having seen Dan Ariely speak at LSE recently. He was an engaging speaker and his research sounded interesting.
Having read the book I was left a bit underwhelmed, because I found that I was already familar with both some of the research and a number of the concepts, and was tempted to give it 3 stars. However on reflection that's probably a bit unfair. This is actually a good book for people interested in learning about the field of behavioural economics. It's nicely written with a chatty style, and some of Ariely's research is very interesting.
Just a few snapshots to give you an idea of what this book covers. He looked at subscription packages for The Economist and found that and obviously bad deal led people to choose an option that was like it but obviously better (because it gave them a way to measure the options). In contrast when there were two options that were different but hard to compare they tended to just go for the cheap option.
In a maths test where subjects were given a cash reward based on the number of problems solved and were given an opportunity to cheat, he found that asking them to recall the Ten Commandments ahead of the test appeared to make them less likely to be dishonest.
And in taste tests people prefer Pepsi to Coke when tasting blind, but prefer Coke to Pepsi when they know in advance when they know what they are going to drink. This suggests that we prime ourselves to enjoy something we expect to enjoy.
If this all sounds 'obvious' to you, to some extent you are right (although there are many examples in this field that are counterintuitive). But people like Ariely make the point that although in a 'common sense' way we know that we are easily influenced and 'irrational', policy is often still made with the assumption in mind that we behave as rational self-maximising economic agents.
One point that can be, and often is, made in return is that although behavioural economics is good at describing seemingly irrational behaviour, it is yet to prove itself as a useful resource for designing better policy (although opt-out, rather than opt-in, approaches to both pension saving and organ donation are arguably influenced by behavioural insights). And in fact Ariely's book is at its weakest when he tries to suggest ways that his research findings might inform policy (I'm not surprised that the bank didn't call him back about his credit card idea!).
So for someone such as me interested in policy the book is enjoyable, but a bit limited in value. However if you are new to this field and interested in finding out more this is a good starting place, and you may well find yourself surprised by some of the findings.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2011
Although Dan Ariely is a professor of Behavioural Economics and Psychology, his writing style makes Predictably Irrational a pleasure to read, and the book covers a wide range of human behaviours seen through the lens of an experimentalist and his research team's results.
And the results are indeed startling in some cases; I particularly liked his analysis of how price has a real and measurable effect on the placebo effect (until we know the truth about the placebo we've taken!), and his openness to include a reflective discussion into the merits associated with placebo treatments.
Prof. Ariely isn't afraid of tackling the ethical and moral implications of his findings however, and I found myself nodding in agreement, and sometime frowning with stormy thoughts as I tried to grapple with the knock-on effect of what he has so eruditely explained in the book.
He covers a wide range of topics and findings, and I'm already re-reading parts of the book more carefully having gone through once at speed.
This is a great introduction to behavioural psychology, and it fits nicely alongside Chialdini's "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion".
124 of 135 people found the following review helpful
The field of behavioural economics is a fascinating one, which has already brought us the wonderful 'Freakonomics'. By comparison to that book this one suffers somewhat, because:
(1) There is an unremitting US-centricity here. All the examples and experiments are about typically US topics, all the conclusions are spelled out in a US context.
(2) The findings are often used as a launching point for some thoroughly unscientific moralising about how society ought to act differently.
(3) The experiments all seem rather narrow in scope. None is repeated and all seem to run on a rather small scale. It seems that as soon as one experiment throws light on a curious behaviour, it is time to move on to the next. I suspect the writers of 'Freakonomics' might have found more data to explore more fully aspects of the behaviour each time.
I was also annoyed by several chapters containing an appendix which appears right after the chapter, rather than all residing at the end.
On the plus side, Ariely writes engagingly and describes the experiments with a fair amount of humour. I paricularly enjoyed his descriptions of the experiment testing the effect of arousal on judgment.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2008
I wanted this book to be so much better than it actually is. I've been waiting for this book (or at least *a* book about the irrational foibles of human behaviour) to be written for years now, and having finally been given one, it's turned out to be a bit disappointing.
Oh, don't get me wrong, it's an interesting book and well worth the read. It contains plenty of inventive experiments into human behaviour, described thorough and entertaining ways, and if that's what you're after, look no further. If you want a series of case studies into demonstrating the irrationality of human behaviour, this is exactly the book you're looking for.
If you're not presently of the belief that human beings are locked in a tragic cycle of making the same errors of judgment time and time again, you might walk away from this book feeling enlightened. If you're already quite comfortable with this notion, this book is just more ammunition for a gun you already own.
It also suffers a little for its written style. It feels more like a collection of blog entries than a cohesive book, and while an effort has been made to group the content into sensibly-categorised chapters, that's exactly what they feel like: collections of content rather than running themes. In spite of this, if you like the subject matter it will probably maintain your interest.
I may be being a little harsh on it, since most of my complaints amount to "this isn't the book I wanted it to be", but I can't help but feel that the book itself isn't the book it wants to be either.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2014
This book is based on the assumption that people think they behave absolutely rationally. This is an extraordinarily strange assumption. I doubt that any significant number of people believe this outside the narrow field of professional economists. Popular authors have been writing books for decades explaining how the professional economist's belief in perfect rationality is as wrong as it obviously sounds. For example, David Dreman wrote his popular book Psychology and the Stock Market more than 30 years ago. Given that the premise of the book is so obviously flawed, the remainder of the book simply confirms what has been described again and again by others.
The other problem with the book is that the author is spectacularly self-indulgent, and almost every topic is dealy with through a personal anecdote. Some more facts and fewer anecdotes would have made the book a lot better.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I came across this book because I went to a "compliance training" in my bank where I was expecting to hang myself from boredom and was instead treated to a video featuring the author. I was unconvinced by the video, but the guy was funny enough ("son, I'm so disappointed in you. How could you steal a pen from school? After all, you know that anytime you need a pen all you have to do is ask me and I can get you all the pens you want from work") that after the training I walked to the bookstore and picked up a copy of the author's original best seller.
I was not disappointed. This awesome little book lists a baker's dozen ways we humans can be counted on to do the wrong thing:
* Among two offerings, a merchant can reliably make us pick the one he prefers by sliding a "decoy" bad choice that is more similar to the choice he wants to steer us to
* The first price we see for anything is the one we remember forever. Get that high "anchor" in and you can sell anything at a high price (and vice versa)
* We are suckers for ambience/context. We won't just pay up for a product if a setting looks upmarket or is sold in an upmarket setting, we'll enjoy it more too. If something's presented as expensive, basically, we are drawn to it almost automatically, with a very notable exception:
* We're drawn to stuff even more if it's FREE! FREE! (with an exclamation mark, like Yahoo!) is a law unto itself
* We can't deal well with mixing social norms and market norms. We'll do things for free that you could not possibly pay us to do. Conversely, if a price is put on something that has previously been rationed but free, the magic is gone and we can't go back to looking at it through the prism of social norms
* We can do some very stupid things when the "animal" inside us comes to the surface
* We simply don't have it in us to delay gratification. We're not wired like that. We have to find ways to trick ourselves to save for a rainy day, to get medical checks etc.
* We value stuff we own higher by dint of owning it. Our house, our stereo, theatre tickets, the lot. It all goes up in our estimation because it's ours
* We place immense value on keeping options open and waste disproportionate resources on keeping our options open relative to the potential benefit of exercising them
* When we think something will be good, we end up liking it and when we think medicine will work it will end up working better!
* In the same vein, a 50-Cent Aspirin can do things a 1-Cent Aspirin cannot
* When nobody's looking, we all cheat, but we don't cheat too much, lest we end up feeling bad about ourselves
* The more removed we are from actual cash, the less inhibited we are in our cheating
"What little book," I hear you say, this is a 347 page book, after all! Funny thing is, it's light enough reading that I polished it off in 15 trips between Earl's Court and Liverpool St. tube stations. It ain't exactly "Thinking Fast and Slow," it's a list of 20 anecdotes (sorry, experiments) that leave you with no doubt that we humans not only are irrational, but that guys like Dan Ariely can predict exactly how we'll get it all wrong.
From there, the author moves on to heavier stuff, like how economics ought to find a middle way between "rational expectations" orthodoxy and "behavioural economics," but if I'm honest I could not care less.
Also, I read the "revised and expanded" version which attempts to explain in 8 steps how irrationality is what led us to the recent financial crisis. I loved all the points made, I almost believed them, except of course humans were just as irrational for the 70 years that preceded the crisis and the crisis happened in 2008, not in the 70 years before.
Still, this was immense fun. Not a masterpiece like Kahneman's, but a fun and instructive book that spares you the thinking.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Many decisions that we make in our daily lives seem quite irrational when analyzed dispassionately and coolly in terms of whether those decisions make any economic sense or are they beneficial to us in some other way. And yet, those irrational decisions are not completely random, but there is some reason to their madness. The part of psychology that deals with this "irrationality" in marketplace is referred to as behavioral economics, and this research field has had a great impact on our understanding of how markets work and has been the major intellectual and empirical driving force away from the idealized rational agents of classical economic theory.
Behavioral economics is also the main subject of this eminently readable and entertaining book. In it the author, Dan Ariely, takes the reader on a tour of various ingenious and insightful psychological experiments that shed some light on the way we make economic decisions. The sorts of experiments described - from drinking various beers at restaurant, selling and buying tickets for a favorite sports team, to cheating in various situations when money or products are at stake - are all very relevant to everyday life. Ariely is also a very engaging writer and the book has a very strong personal feel. However, this overly personal approach can get to be a bit distracting at times. It would have been helpful if the author used examples from other researchers in the field or at least tried to show how his own research fits within some larger picture or framework. As it is, the reader almost gets the impression that Ariely has single-handedly come up with the ideas and concepts that are presented in this book.
Another problem that I have with this book is that it doesn't seem to have a well defined focus, other than the "irrationality" itself. Too many concepts from psychology (priming, placebo, peer pressure, etc.) are conflated and made to seem to be just manifestations of single overarching "irrational" behavior. I would have also liked if the author tried to provide more explanation for why we do act in this seemingly irrational way. A brief description of evolutionary forces that shaped our thinking would have been useful. Many of these "irrational" behaviors certainly must have had some purpose; otherwise we would have become extinct long time ago.
Overall, this is a very well written and entertaining introduction to behavioral economics. It will make you look at your everyday microeconomic decisions in a whole new light.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Any book that seems to predict your behaviour is both intriguing and, let's face it, a bit scary. I started this book with a measure of cynicism - everyone seems to be cashing in on the self-help style book these days. Well, I don't mind eating some humble pie - I was wrong.
To start, this isn't a self-help book. It's a study of human nature. But that's not to say it doesn't offer some advice on how we can combat these 'hidden forces'. Each chapter covers an area of our 'predictable irrationality' and Ariely uses straightforward experiments to support his theories. For example, let me tell you one part of the book that applied to me.
I used to pick up a coffee on the way to work two or three times a week for about £1.20. It was decent enough coffee and a nice treat. One day I passed by my local Cafe Nero. I bought a cup for £2.15. It's a bigger cup, much nicer coffee. Next time I pass I'm buy it again. Soon I'm buying it five days a week because that's become normal. I don't even think about it - it's as habitual as my three meals a day.
Then I read this book and to tell the truth I felt slightly sick when I read the part of the book where Ariely describes exactly this type of scenario. I sat back and thought, "I've gone from spending £2.40 a week to £10.75". I went cold turkey and stopped my daily coffee!
It's a bit of a waffly point I know but what I'm trying to highlight is that Ariely's book holds up a mirror. Think you're above irrationality? Think again. I have a friend who has now bought the book and half way through she admits to being as freaked out as me.
It's well written, not too wordy, not condescending, funny in parts and I should imagine most people would be able to identify with some parts. The downside? Ariely offers some ways to rise above this 'predictable irrationality' but by the end of the book I almost felt like there was a sort of resigned 'well, we can try but we are who we are' feel. However, let's be fair, Ariely is one man and one man can only do so much.
An excellent book and one I would certainly recommend but don't be surprised if it makes you look a little harder at yourself. But you never know - it might save you the £8 a week it's now saving me, so it's got to be worth it!