Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on August 10, 2009

Predictably Irrational
The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
By Dan Ariely
predictably-irrationalIt’s not certain it was Mr. Ariely’s intent, but nearly every page of Predictably Irrational takes the concept of free will and bites it on the temporal cortex. He presents example after fascinating example of supposedly rational beings (us) making–and making consistently–very irrational decisions.

Like this one: The author sets up a table on a college campus. There’s a bowl of high quality Lindt chocolate truffles with a sign that prices each truffle at fifteen cents. Next to it is bowl of Hershey Kisses for a penny each. Over time, he finds about seventy-three percent of students choose the Lindt chocolates. Next, he lowers the price of each product by a single penny; the truffles are now fourteen cents and the Kisses free. In that scenario, even with the truffles now offered for less money, their sales decreased to only thirty-one percent.

Or this one: An Israeli daycare center found that when began to impose fines on parents for being late to pick up their children, the incidence of lateness increased.

Remember the Pepsi Challenge? Neuroscientists using fMRI machines have determined that Coke wins, but only if the recipients are told beforehand the brand they are about to drink. In other words, the logo makes the cola taste better.

Many of us (especially Baby Boomers) sport arthroscopic surgery scars on our knees. Although the practice of blind-testing surgeries is rarely done, an intrepid Houston doctor did such a test back in the early Nineties. The result? The procedure, on which by that time over one billion dollars had been spent, had no discernable advantage over a placebo (in which incisions were made, but no actual surgery done). The same result came from a study of a heart surgery procedure common in the Fifties.

Another medical fact: expensive pills work better at pain relief than cheap ones. Even when they’re the exact same pill.

People are much more likely to steal objects than cash.

There are zillions of examples in this book, each subtly undermining our sense of self-awareness and self-direction. It’s fascinating stuff, but you find yourself shaking your head a lot.

Ariely mostly presents the just information, but there are, placed here and there, statements that suggest how one might act on the information, in order to change or even capitalize on our behavioral quirks. The savvy marketer or advertiser, for example, might alter their pricing, packaging or brand message to resonate with our admittedly irrational but nonetheless real decision making. To individuals, it alerts us to possible foibles and how we might avoid them, through awareness, anticipation and choosing a more rational path.

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