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Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions Paperback – 1 Jun 2009
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'For anyone interested in marketing - either as a practioner or victim - this is unmissable reading. If only more researchers could write like this, the world would be a better place.' Financial Times
‘A marvelous book that is both thought provoking and highly entertaining, ranging from the power of placebos to the pleasures of Pepsi. Ariely unmasks the subtle but powerful tricks that our minds play on us, and shows us how we can prevent being fooled.’ Jerome Groopman, New York Times bestselling author of How Doctors Think
‘PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL is wildly original. It shows why―much more often than we usually care to admit―humans make foolish, and sometimes disastrous, mistakes. Ariely not only gives us a great read; he also makes us much wiser.’ George Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 2001 Koshland Professor of Economics, University of California at Berkeley
Why do smart people make irrational decisions every day? The answers will surprise you. Predictably Irrational is an intriguing, witty and utterly original look at why we all make illogical decisions. Why can a 50p aspirin do what a 5p aspirin can't? If an item is "free" it must be a bargain, right? Why is everything relative, even when it shouldn't be? How do our expectations influence our actual opinions and decisions? In this astounding book, behavioural economist Dan Ariely cuts to the heart of our strange behaviour, demonstrating how irrationality often supplants rational thought and that the reason for this is embedded in the very structure of our minds. Predicatably Irrational brilliantly blends everyday experiences with a series of illuminating and often surprising experiments, that will change your understanding of human behaviour. And, by recognising these patterns, Ariely shows that we can make better decisions in business, in matters of collective welfare, and in our everyday lives from drinking coffee to losing weight, buying a car to choosing a romantic partner.See all Product description
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In one of the amazing studies in the book he shows for instance that the way we ‘frame’ something (p. 41) often determines how others are going to take it (remember Tom Sawyer and how he got his friends to paint that wall? For classroom management purposes, this is crucial; if we introduce activities saying ‘Now, this may hurt a little...’ chances are students are going to feel the pain!)
This leads to the hugely important subject – expectations: quick Q: would you like a beer with a drop of balsamic vinegar in it? (p. 159) A: It depends on whether you know it in advance or not! If you do, chances are you are going to dislike it. Expectations colour perceptions. How many times has this prejudiced us against certain students?
Ariely’s interests range from beverages to education. Here is another Q for you: which students have better results: those who are free to choose their own deadlines, or those where the professor ‘democratically’ decides for everyone? Incredibly, it is the latter! (p. 115) This finding may go against our cherished beliefs, but in fact it ties in very smoothly with notions of ‘ego depletion’ (Baumeister). The very process of deciding exhausts us, with the result that we are both more stressed and produce poorer-quality work.
Ariely writes in the simple, effortless and straightforward style that you find among people with a real command of their subject. Rather than bombarding the reader with studies and facts, he goes through each experiment in detail, ensuring that the reader manages to grasp the key concept in all its fine details. He then goes on to consider the possible applications of the findings in various fields of life – not just work. Yet what I like best about this book is that he also uses examples from his own life – sometimes funny, sometimes poignant.
OK – now here is one last idea from the book: a little ‘conjuring trick’ for shamelessly manipulating students (pp 9 – 10): You give them a choice for homework: they can read a long article or they can write a short essay. But you really want them to write that essay. Piece of cake – you give them a third option; writing an even longer text! Now, nobody is going to choose that, right? Yes, but because the short essay is better than the long one, students also assume it’s preferable to the article too! Brilliant!! :-)
Although people aren’t rational, they aren’t randomly irrational, either. Instead, they are predictably irrational, in a way that can be studied and measured, and be built into a more realistic economic theory: behavioural economics.
Dan Ariely, psychologist and behavioural economist, engagingly describes a range of experiments he and his colleagues has performed (mostly on undergraduate students, in the time-honoured experimental psychology manner) to unpick a wide range patterns of irrationality. He looks at the over-strong lure of free items, how we overvalue our possessions, how keeping options open can be a mistake, why shops will often display an expensive option they don’t expect to sell, why we are happy to do things for free we wouldn’t do if paid for, how more expensive items are more effective than identical cheaper ones, how dishonesty varies when cash is involved, how some people choose second best, and more.
I found the chapter on free work versus paid work interesting, the difference being between social norms and market norms. The world is moving us towards the latter, seemingly to the detriment of enjoyment. Similarly the chapter on honesty highlights how people are more honest when cash is involved: while taking a pencil from work is barely noticed, taking the equivalent value in cash would be beyond the pale. Yet we are moving towards a cashless world, maybe to the detriment of honesty?
This is a good read, with the experiments clearly described, and the context and consequences well explained. I am not entirely convinced that the experimental situations, with their small values and low consequences, can be safely extrapolated to larger scale cases, but they are very illuminating. Several of the examples will be useful to help avoid faulty reasoning in certain cases. (Although I already order what I want from the menu, whether or not someone else in the party has previously ordered the same.)
NOTE: Please do not remove your head and look inside for comparative purposes.
In all seriousness, this book blew me away, by demonstrating aspects of human behaviour which is hard-wired into us. You will be shocked - I was - by just how easy we can be manipulated, and you'll be nodding along as you recognise all the times when you've fallen foul of these precise conditions. Even wondered why it takes you an hour to decide between brands of painkillers, when one is cheaper but the other is on special...? If you have, then man up and stick a plaster on it. But also, read this book, because it will tell you exactly why you find it so damn difficult to make that choice. It won't help you the next time you've got a pounding headache and Nurofen is half-off but still twice the price of ADSA's own bran paracetamol, but at least then you'll understand. And if your head explodes, and covers passers-by in pinky, drippy bits, try and have a look before you expire - I reckon it'll look just like this cover.