Jamie's Reviews > Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
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's review
Aug 01, 2008

it was amazing
Read in May, 2008

It's only about the middle of the year, but I think Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational is a shoe-in for my favorite non-fiction book of 2008. When I was studying psychology one of my favorite topics was judgment and decision-making, which dealt in large part with the kinks in the human mind that could lead us to irrational behavior and decisions. Why are you likely to pay more for something if you are shown a large number completely unrelated to the price? Why do people who read words like "elderly," "decrepit," or "senior" tend to walk more slowly when they get up and leave the room? Why does losing a dollar cause us more pain than gaining a dollar gives us pleasure? Why are we more likely to buy a product we're not even shopping for or don't even need if we're given a free sample? And, perhaps most importantly, how do people in the know --people like advertisers, politicians, and psychology graduate students-- use these ideosycracities to subtly manipulate us?

These are the kinds of questions that Ariely, a professor at MIT, discusses under the rubric of "behavioral economics." Each chapter is dedicated to a particular concept, like the anchoring effect, priming, social norms, supply and demand, procrastination, loss avoidance, the effects of price on perception, and the like. Ariely usually chats you up a bit about the concept, then walks you through a scenario or hypothetical situation that invites you to make predictions about human behavior, then comes at you with some findings from scientific research (often experiments that he's done himself) that turns your assumptions on their little figurative ears.

Ariely's style is great --conversational, to the point, made relevant to some part of your life, and easy to follow despite navigating some tricky twists of the human psyche. And it's not just dry recitations of clinical psychology experiments --everything talked about here is ensconced in everyday life. For example, this book should win some award for describing some fascinating research on the effects of sexual arousal on decision making. Let's just say that it involved naughty pictures, experimenter issued laptops covered in protective Seran Wrap, and answering some very odd questions while in the throes of ...well, you know. I'm now more disappointed than ever that all of my extra credit in college psychology classes was never earned from anything so interesting. I just had to look at ink blots and fill out the MMPI over and over again.

Really, anyone with even an ounce of curiosity about how the human mind works --or fails to work-- within the context of every day life should find a lot of fascinating material in this book. You should definitely pick it up. And then, preferably, read it.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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David You might want to read "Nudge", by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein before giving that 2008 non-fiction award to Dan Ariely. It might seem that they are covering the exact same ground - and there is a lot of overlap - but their book also makes an important contribution to the discussion. And it is superbly well written, a joy to read.

Jamie I've seen that book before and thought about picking it up. Thanks for the recommendation!

Jamie Shoe. I think. Right?

message 4: by Richard (new)

Richard I might read it if the author offers me a free copy. :P

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