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Predictably Irrational

So you believe you’re a rational decision maker? So did I. Think again.

Dan Ariely arranged some interesting experiments to determine how rational or irrational we really are. His findings?

  • We’d rather help move a friend for free than get paid for it.
  • We overvalue what we already own.
  • Too many options deter us from making any decision.
  • We “feel” more pain relief from expensive drugs than cheaper ones.
  • We’re more likely to change our food order if our friends order something different first.
  • We cheat when we have a chance to, but not as much as we could.
  • We trade in long-term goals for immediate gratification through procrastinating.
Predictably Irrational is well-written and stays on track throughout. It entertains while it educates. It should make you question why you make the choices you do.

Written from a secular perspective, it still contains moral principles that we all understand. A few sections on sexual decision-making aren’t read-aloud material for children’s bedtime stories, but the gist of the info could be passed along for informed decision-making in those areas as well.

About honesty:
The cans of Coke quickly disappeared [from a commons-area refrigerator of a college dormitory] but the plates of dollar bills [also inside the fridge] remained untouched. ...Cheating is a lot easier when it’s a step removed from money. ...They didn’t see how fast we can rationalize our dishonesty when it is one step away from cash.
...Moreover, once they begin thinking about honesty—whether by recalling the 10 Commandments or by signing a simple statement—they stop cheating completely. In other words, when we are removed from any benchmarks of ethical thought, we tend to stray into dishonesty. But if we are reminded of morality at the moment we are tempted, then we are much more likely to be honest.
Ariely summarizes:
We are all far less rational in our decision making than standard economic theory assumes. Our irrational behaviors are neither random nor senseless—they are systematic and predictable.

...If I were to distill one main lesson from the research described in this book, it is that we are pawns in a game whose forces we largely fail to comprehend. We usually think of ourselves as sitting in the driver’s seat, with ultimate control over the decisions we make and the direction our life takes; but, alas, this perception has more to do with our desires—with how he want to view ourselves—than with reality.
Being unaware of our irrationality is obviously not very rational.


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