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299 of 306 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still the best popular book on this topic
This is a wonderful achievement of science popularisation. Sutherland had a gift for succinctly and non-technically summarising psychology experiments. In this book he surveys more than one hundred and sixty different studies that expose failings of human reasoning and judgement. Overconfidence, conformity, biased assessment of evidence and inconsistency are among the...
Published on 5 Jan 2008 by Dr. M. L. Poulter

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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read.
A very good book examining the irrational decisions people make. It also provides methods on how best to make a rational decision and not fall into the common traps. Learning statistics and probability theory are a start.

I did find it a little boring to read at times. The writing style is a little bland and technical in nature. Also, one thing the book only...
Published on 25 Jun 2009 by Ryopinion


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299 of 306 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still the best popular book on this topic, 5 Jan 2008
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
This is a wonderful achievement of science popularisation. Sutherland had a gift for succinctly and non-technically summarising psychology experiments. In this book he surveys more than one hundred and sixty different studies that expose failings of human reasoning and judgement. Overconfidence, conformity, biased assessment of evidence and inconsistency are among the follies given their own chapters. One chapter deals with organizational (bureaucratic) irrationality.

The point is not the banal one that there are stupid people about. It is that we all make systematic errors and biases that can lead to disaster in predictable ways. The example applications include reasoning about medical tests, military disasters, the paranormal, the Rorschach test, gambling and daft purchasing decisions.

If society took the recommendations in this book, we would give up job interviews, stop awarding school prizes, totally reform the procedures for criminal trials and change many of the incentive structures we use to motivate people. Each chapter ends with a set of personal lessons for minimising the damage of one's inevitable human irrationality.

This is a potentially very depressing book, but its humiliating lesson is one that, for a better public life and personal life, we need to learn. You can either learn it from a huge corpus of technical psychology literature or from this little paperback.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and informative, 22 Feb 2009
By 
T. S. Prince - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
Irrationality pulls in information from a vast array of experiments and psychological studies, presenting them in an interesting and easy to understand way. Bullet-point summaries at the end of each chapter provide a useful and sometimes amusing recap of detailed explorations of human fallibility. Sutherland establishes some of the most common causes of irrational behaviour in the first few chapters, allowing them to be referred to throughout.

Towards the latter half of the book he does occasionally drift into territory most would describe as "incorrect" rather than "irrational": I did feel at times that he had lost sight of his original remit, particularly when he was defending his classification of some human errors as irrational. However, for the most part he keeps a good pace and straight course through the subject matter.

Some of the evidence cited is a little thin (very small sample sizes, unpublished papers), but in a pop-science book which covers so much ground a bit of license can arguably be allowed.

Overall a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Vulcan bible and the big decision-maker's best friend, 28 July 2008
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Ole Perch Jensen (Denmark) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
We all act on impulse and make quick decisions every day. That may be irrational but if we had to think long and hard about every decision we made then our lives would never get anywhere.

Fortunately, most of our decisions have very limited consequences if they turn out to be wrong, but sometimes a bad decision can cost a lot of money, even human lives. Then it is best to be sure that the decision was the best possible based on all the facts. Even when buying a new home or a new car, one could well save oneself some grief and perhaps a lot of money if the deal was approached in a rational manner.

As this book points out, many lives and lots of money have been lost and many projects have failed because of bad decisions due to pride, prejudice, by misinterpreting facts in ones own favor, by fear of non-conformity and many other irrational reasons.

This book is an excellent tour through a lot of topics, all of which are aspects of irrational behavior. Through many (painfully :-/ ) clear examples the author illustrates the various types of irrational behavior and how they can lead to bad or wrong decisions. For example, the "availability error" where too much emphasis is put on whatever comes first to mind, or the "halo effect" where too much emphasis is put on first impressions. These traps catch us every day and are among the advertisers' best weapons.

If you want to improve you own decision making - in you personal life as well as you professional life - or you just want to know why other people often make such bad decisions this book can give you a lot of insight into how easily people can make flawed decisions and thus what to be wary of the next time you face an important decision.

English is not my first language but I use English a lot. With this background I found the book fairly easy to read, although it is my impression that you do need to be quite proficient in the English language to get the full benefit of the book.

For those seeking more information about the topics and examples presented by the author, the book has a comprehensive list of the background material, with reference to the page where it is used, as well as a list of supplemental literature for the curious reader.

I warmly recommend this book to any Vulcan wannabe as well as to any person with the responsibility to make decisions that can affect other people's lives, jobs, careers, health etc.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Literate, Popular Account, 14 April 2009
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
Stuart Sutherland's book examines the body of evidence for human irrationality amassed during close to half a century psychology research. Although first published in 1992 , Irrationality still provides a wide (if by no means comprehensive) account of relevant research.

The book covers, roughly, two groups of interrelated phenomena: perception and reasoning biases and mechanisms of social influence: authority, social conformity, group identification and influence, self-serving biases, stereotyping, all kinds of mental shortcuts; struggles to use logical and statistical reasoning,

I have to admit to being a psychologist by education, so the vast majority (but not all) of the content of Irrationality was not new to me, but Sutherland did a good job of presenting the most significant phenomena in one lucid, concise and well written volume accessible to non-specialists but substantiated by descriptions of actual experiments (and not just their conclusions) and well referenced too.

His language is elegant and understated. It's not a book delivered in a modern street-smart colloquial but in a highly literate, cultured voice: lucid, rational and sophisticated. He doesn't use specialist jargon, though, and the book should be accessible to any educated lay reader, although descriptions of some experimental setups were (necessarily) rather convoluted.

The parts of the book in which Sutherland engages in philosophical speculation and moral musings are infused with a constant undercurrent of wry humour and often delightful exasperation.

The weakest chapter is undoubtedly the one dealing with irrationalities in organisations: too much of what Sutherland quotes is subject to political interpretation. By assuming that using a purely economic calculus of costs and profits is the only rational way to run an organisation, he undermines his original assertion that there is no way to define a rational goal.

In fact, the use of a similar abstractly economical assumptions is the source of perhaps the most obvious controversies as to which of the described behaviours are truly irrational. Sutherland quotes an instance of a theatre goer who loses a £20 ticket and decides not to buy a replacement: this is supposedly an irrational behaviour, because it leads to a pure and unmitigated loss of the cost of the ticket. He proceeds to ask whether the same person would not buy a ticket if they lost a £20 note? I suspect many would not: after all only few of us have unlimited spending money and for many the new ticket would mean spending well above the budget for the particular night out. Similarly, the insistence by a particular sub-group of workers on a wage that is lower in absolute terms but higher than a wage of their colleagues is only irrational if we assume that all that matters is the actual amount of money in the pocket: but it's been shown that the relative prosperity and poverty matter as much as absolute ones.

In those instances Irrationality reveals itself as very much a book of its time, when the neo-classical economics with its idea that money is an adequate (and the only needed) measure of everything was at its peak.

But these are just fairly minor niggles. Most of the material in Irrationality is truly riveting and most non-specialist readers will find a lot of fascinating and clearly presented material in Prof. Sutherland's book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and eyes-opening book!, 15 Jun 2009
By 
George Spiros (Athens, Greece) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
A fascinating book!

Full with psychological experiments that keep your interest high throughout the book, this book offers a new perspection to the way you evaluate people's actions and reactions.

This book is succesful at conveying the thoughts of the writer, you could argue it is quite scientific in the sense that sometimes offers a deep analysis of the ideas, but not to the point that becomes tiring or too specialized. On the contrary, i think it achieves the perfect balance between enjoyable reading and a non-epidermic approach.

It is by no chance related to BAD SCIENCE, in fact some experiments are mentioned in both the books, though these books are a complementary to each other and in no way just same books in different version.

It analyses a lot of everyday actions, and how these actions have nothing to do with logic (rationallity). Why people become stubborn, why some people when presented with contrary to their beliefs arquments instead of changing their views become even more convinced for their believes etc, this book explores a variety of topics, that I personally found all to be extremely interesting.

In one word, i would say it teaches you how to filter what goes on around you, and become more "objective" with your surroundings.
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123 of 129 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading - Changes your way of thinking, 24 Mar 2008
By 
Jack Percival (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
On reading this book you are a presented with everyday problems and the simply irrational way we make decisions- from leaving the cinema to international travel. This non-technical tale provokes thinking in a way that does not confuse the reader, but keeps them enthralled throughout- always wanting to read the next section.

To give you an idea- here is one of the simple irrationalities presented to us- You've paid to go and see a film, but don't like it- do you leave early? Whilst most people would say no, this book tempts us to say yes and shows us that this the logical way to do things. Essentially do we waste our time and money (and stay in the cinema) or just our money? Surely we should cut our losses and leave, but irrationality shows that in fact we don't we stick around in a way that shows our poor decision making.

Overall, irrationality presents solid arguments in a way thats easy to understand. A fantastic book.
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109 of 115 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading, 19 Mar 2007
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
`Irrationality - the Enemy Within' is essential reading for anyone who is interested in developing their thinking skills by becoming more aware of the numerous traps into which we can all so easily fall. The book presents many conundrums about which readers are invited to reach decisions, and time and again, in my own case at least, the correct, rational solution is surprising and enlightening. The twenty-three chapters comprise topics such as `Ignoring the evidence', `Mistaken connections in medicine', `The paranormal'. Each chapter ends with a brief coda headed `Moral' which summarises, often with wit, the main points we need to learn.

This book is scholarly, educational, extremely well written and continually entertaining. I am sure it will be appreciated by anyone who has enjoyed Dick Taverne's `The March of Unreason' - and vice versa.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good., 15 Aug 2009
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
This book covers a wide spectrum of human irrationality. This is the way the human mind makes decisions and forms beliefs that when critically analysed seem categorically unreasoned. The author, Stuart Sutherland details quite a broad range of illogical mishaps. Here's just a sample:

- People conform to peer groups without really thinking about a decision
- People are more likely to exaggerate an opinions about a specific issue if they are surrounded by people who have similar opinion about that issue.
- People are less likely to change an opinion if they have made that opinion publically known
- Behaviour and decision making can be influenced by what one is wearing

What differentiates this book from something that your granny might just tell you is the author doesn't just make these claims but actually substantiates them all usually by referencing clinical pyschological experiments which are on the hole very interesting. For example, the claim that people are much more likely to prefer something if they chose it themselves than if the same thing was just forced on them may sound obvious but how do we proof it in an objective manner? Well to evaluate this hypothesis, Sutherland describes a simple but clever experiment where two groups of people were given lotto tickets. Group A picked their own numbers, Group B had their numbers picked randomly and given to them. Both groups were then asked how much they would sell their tickets back for. Group A quoted much larger prices than Group B even though they had no better probability of success!

That's the style throughout the book. Each chapter focuses on a different facet of human irrationality and then it's tested and examined by a clinical experiment many of which involved "stooges" (people who play a pre-determined roles in the experiment that everyone else in the experiment doesn't know about). Some erudite discussion then follows and then each chapter closes with succint bullet points summarising the conclusions of the chapter. This includes a witty assertion from the author about the irrationality just discussed.

Like all pop pyschology books, there's plenty of funky buzzwords:
"Availability error" - Making a judgement by the first thing that comes into our mind.
"Boomerand effect" - when people's beliefs are challenged they may become more convinced they are right.
"Bystander effect" - people are less likely to help someone the more people there are available to help.

There's also some well reasoned arguments why humans are just so bad at rational thinking. To be good at critical thinking doesn't just require the emotional fortitude to concede we may be wrong but an acumne of things like probability and logic.

Overall, this is a very interesting book. If you are fascinated by why humans do what they do - read it. It may also help you realise that some irrational behaviour (that you may find extremly funny or downright annoying) is very much hard wired in all of our heads!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Quirky, Fun and Idiosyncratic Book, 27 July 2008
By 
William Cohen (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
The actuarial method has proved successful in predicting happiness in marriage, if you subtract the average number of times a couple makes love a week from the number of rows they have a week. This is just one of dozens of quirky insights from Stuart Sutherland, who will turn lots of your thinking on its head.

This is not a systematic book, it's just a stroll through some fascinating subjects, with the odd valuable lesson thrown in. Sutherland is not afraid to be prejudiced. He writes off psychoanalysis in a few paragraphs, he demolishes any pride you might have in your intuition, or any secret belief you may have in the paranormal.

I have a business, and I remember when I started applying for loans. The bank manager told me they did it all by computer now. I was horrified. Sutherland explains why they do it. It put me off applying for one - but actually, in retrospect, if they examined my credit record, it was immaculate. I just assumed a computer would be bureaucratic. Which might not be the case at all.

Also, I have had many very disappointing experiences in interviews. Sutherland describes exactly why interviews often don't result in the best candidate being selected.

I've often felt marginalised and disdained for not being a malleable member of committees and groups, so Sutherland's work is really comforting. I'd like to use some of his stories and examples in the speeches I write for CEOs, though I fear they may be just a bit too subversive.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes..., 13 Sep 2009
By 
R. Mayne (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Irrationality (Paperback)
Sometimes you read a book and it just makes you hungry for more books. Rather than just a pleasant reading experience it opens your mind a little and makes you want to know more about the world around you....this is such a book.

I short insight into it's topics below:

availability error.
People tend to make conclusions based on what is more available in their mind. If you read a list of 20 mens names and 20 womens names, but include famous names among the women (Pamela Anderson, Hillary Clinton) and ask people to decide whether there were more men's names or women's names, they will choose women, because the female names are more available to them. People believed (in 1 study) they are twice as likely to die from an accident than from a stroke, whereas actually people are 40 times more likely to die from a stroke. Accidents are more prevelantly reported in the media though and are thus more available.

primacy error.
people are likely to regard information they get first as being more important than information the get later, regardless of whether or not it is. If you say John is "Mean, stubborn, critical, selfish, intelligent and hardworking" people will give him a lower rating than if you tell them that he is "intelligent, hardworking, mean, stubborn, critical, selfish."

Halo effect
People tend to believe the advice of experts even when the advice is well outside of the experts area of expertise. A football player talking about razor blades or hair cream for example. Another example is good looking people may be considered to have other good features (intellgience, kindness etc)

in-group/ out-group
People who identify themselves with an certain group tend to judge the action of people in that group leniently and conversly judge the same actions of people in out-groups much more harshly. (see Rebulicans and underage pregnancy)

stereotyping

Some points about stereotpying
1. We notice things that fit our imagined pattern. (we noticed the sneaky underhand foreigners, but not the ones who aren't)
2. We notice things that are more conspicious, i.e minority groups.
3. they can be self fulfilling.
4. basis in reality -(however this is no reason for applying it to unknown quantites)
5. attaching a label to any object increases supposed differences in people's minds.
6. halo effect. Because X group looks different it is assumed they must also be different in certain ways.

misplaced consistency
the more time, money and effort placed into making a decision the more someone will defend said decision. In order not to feel regret or foolishness about decisions people will insulate themselves by highly praising whatever object they bought or decision they made. look at PS3 Vs. xbox users or refusing to walk out of a terrible movie you have paid for. The battle of verdum and the somme.
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Irrationality: the enemy within by Stuart Sutherland
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