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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.
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on 24 February 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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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.
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VINE VOICEon 1 March 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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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.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Dan Ariely really seems to have sussed things out: his rational thinking when most of us would get over excited about a deal is refreshing, and interesting. I like the way he dissects things for you, yet leaves you time to think about the deals as well. He lets you make your mind up about what you'd do, then he usually runs an experiment - then you see how you faired with other people.

Great read for anyone into marketing, psychology, human sociology and behaviours in the world. Also a good read for those of you who can be sucked in by marketing, targeted adverts and other forms of selling.
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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".
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on 28 August 2014
Absolutely mind blowing. I can't say this for many non-fiction books but the insights revealed here, together with the wonderful way in which it is written made this unputdownable!
Essential reading for all consumers (which is all of us), but particularly those involved in selling and marketing whether it be products or services.
One of the best books I've read in a long time - and I've read loads.
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VINE VOICEon 12 March 2008
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I came to this book having previously read, and enjoyed, Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics applies econmoic theory to social and political situations and arrives at unconventional, but compelling, conclusions.
I had hoped for more of the same from Predictably Irrational, but was disappointed. To be fair, it's very different in its approach to applying similar theories to aspects of our lives. Each chapter analyses a particular form of our behviour and attempts to illustrate our irrationality via an experiment. I found the experiments to be very simplistic and they all too conveniently supported the author's theories. Each time I tried to apply this logic to my own behaviour, but mostly concluded that I simply don't act in the overly simplified way that was presented. I'm afraid I didn't learn very much at all.
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VINE VOICEon 18 March 2008
As others have mentioned, this book does suffer in comparison somewhat to Dubner and Levitt's wonderful Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. For me at least the foremost reason is that this is one of those books that would benefit from having a European edition. Much of the cultural context and the examples are highly US-centric. Indeed, I suspect some of the behavioural experiments performed might elicit different results in Europe, but this doesn't seem to have pervaded this work. and this is odd, considering the author is not a native of the US [Note: any European behavioural economists or research students might care to reflect on this for a moment and wonder if there is any research mileage here].

Many of the experiments are interesting in a limited way, but manage to have rather localised results extrapolated to reach some questionable conclusions. And he does sometimes have a tendency to be rather unsubtle and repetitious in hammering home a point, as if he's writing for a particularly dim first-year undergraduate: the first chapter is a case in point.

If all this sounds like a litany of whinges, please don't let it put you off, because this is actually a very interesting book. Ariely generally writes in an engaging, crisp and sometimes witty style. His explanations are concise and mostly work pretty well in a non-academic context.

While you may not agree with everything you read here (in fact, some of it I vehemently disagreed with) you might at least begin to ask yourself questions that you may not have stopped to consider. You may even start to notice some of the things Ariely talks about a little more closely. That can't be a bad thing.

[I wanted to give this 3 and a half stars, but have rounded up to four because 3 sounds rather harsher than it deserves]
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