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

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
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's review
Sep 28, 2008

it was ok
Read in September, 2008

This book was somewhat entertaining, but I can't really recommend it. The author does experiments with college students and beer, and extrapolates this into a world view. Most of his applications are anecdotal.
Here's an example on p. 215: "Iran is another example of a nation stricken by distrust. An Iranian student at MIT told me that business there lacks a platform of trust. Because of this, no one pays in advance, no one offers credit, and no one is willing to take risks. People must hire within their families, where some level of trust exists. Would you like to live in such a world?" Excuse me, but I prefer to base my world view on more than just the impressions of 1 college student, but this is an example of how he doesn't use logic to come to his conclusions. Here's another tidbit on p. 218 "...drug companies cheat by sending doctors and their wives off on posh vacations." Using Ariely's logic, this means that all doctors are male, or the women doctors are all lesbians with wives. His experiments on cheating have flaws. Since the "cheating" group scored more than the "non-cheating" group, the cheating group MUST have cheated; but they were allowed to destroy their answer sheets. There is no proof that this group cheated; they could have just come from a higher level class, or had more coffee.
Did you notice how he leads you to the conclusions he wants you to reach? Would an objective researcher characterize one of his subjects as "a clever master's student with a charming Indian accent?" Wouldn't you be more likely to agree with the conclusion than if the participant was a "clever hunchback with an aversion to bathing?" He ascribes all kinds of emotions to his subjects throughout the book. It's not that it isn't worth a read - just realize he's working on your predictability to lead you to his conclusions.
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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Kartik sorry but cheating experiment was done on 2100 students (in total )n he repeated his experiment in different collages n got the same result


Mary Kartik wrote: "sorry but cheating experiment was done on 2100 students (in total )n he repeated his experiment in different collages n got the same result"

Too bad he didn't do the experiments at different colleges. Were you one of the students? Did you make a collage?


Emily I'm with you on this Mary. Poorly done experiments in my opinion. Correlational at best. NTM, ALL done with college students. Do you still behave and believe as you did in college? I sure don't. Perhaps these academics might think about expanding their research into the adult population. I also thought that the "cheating" allegation was pretty slim. Again, his experiments (as described) controlled very, very poorly for confounding variables. His conclusions are correlational at best. And a very, very weak correlation at that.


Mary I knew you were brilliant!


Jennifer Heise Interesting point, Mary-- it drove me to examine some of his scholarly publications -searching by his name, not using his own citations-- to see if he always used college students as subjects, but that does not seem to be true. (Though he often uses college students, i.e. research assistants, to help run the experiments/collect data). His experimental methods seem pretty solid and he's working with pretty large sets of data, as well as cross-checking for other factors. So, I'm not willing to see his use of anecdotes in a general audience book as discounting what he says there about his research. I assume that when you looked up the scholarly publications you had a different impression?


Mary So are you saying he shouldn't bother to provide verification in a book for a more general audience? Many articles by him are co-authored with others. I would like to see an article that is not co-authored by him, that does not use his data to support another author's own conclusion, yet objectively verifies the same data using the same tests, not anecdotes. As a librarian, certainly you can provide links to non-subjective peer-reviewed work that provides such documentation?


Jennifer Heise Mary wrote: "So are you saying he shouldn't bother to provide verification in a book for a more general audience? Many articles by him are co-authored with others. I would like to see an article that is not co..."

I'm really confused by your issues with co-authors here. Do you automatically discount any article with more than one author, even though it's customary in the social sciences (and sciences) for multiple researchers to work on projects?

Nevertheless, here's an example of an article with a non-college-student group (automobile insurance customers):

"Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end"
http://www.pnas.org.ezproxy.drew.edu/...

However, searching PsycInfo on this led me to an interesting article he's listed on that seems relevant to your comment:

Maciejovsky B, Budescu D, Ariely D. The researcher as a consumer of scientific publications: How do name-ordering conventions affect inferences about contribution credits?. Marketing Science [serial online]. May 2009;28(3):589-598.

I think I'll go ill it and see if their research makes your argument make sense.


Jennifer Heise Oh, and I think this is the peer reviewed article that describes the original experiment you are talking about:

Mazar N, Amir O, Ariely D. The Dishonesty of Honest People: A Theory of Self-Concept Maintenance. Journal Of Marketing Research (JMR) [serial online]. December 2008;45(6):633-644.


Mary I have no problem with co-authors; I'm looking for someone who doesn't have a stake in the outcome. Dan Ariely isn't an objective reviewer for a study that Dan Ariely conducted, therefore articles co-authored by him about his own work are suspect in a way that articles reviewed by those to whom he has no connection are not. Also, any valid experiment should be able to be duplicated by others and achieve the same result, all other variables being equal.
I cannot access the link you provided, as it goes directly to a login that is not available to those outside your school. Can you provide the citation?


Jennifer Heise Sorry about the url problem: here is the de-localized url for the abstract:
http://www.pnas.org/content/109/38/15...

And the citation

"Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end" by Lisa L. Shu, Nina Mazar, Francesca Gino, Dan Ariely, and Max H. Bazerman. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 109 no. 38, 15197–15200

Again I think we're talking at cross-purposes. An article in a peer-reviewed journal has already gone through a process of 'review' by a panel of volunteer editors who are experts in that subject. I was looking for a primary research article by Ariely, not a 'review' though it goes through the peer review process. I wanted a report of their experiments and the results.

Are you looking for a critical response to Ariely's work, or for the original, peer-reviewed research publication of the experiments done by his group? Or just for a review of "Predictably Irrational" by a peer-reviewed journal?

Here are a few journal reviews, from journals that SerialsSolutions believes to be peer-reviewed:
Wunder, Timothy A. "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions." Journal of Economic Issues 43.1 (2009): 278-80.

Karelaia N. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. Academy Of Management Perspectives [serial online]. February 2009;23(1):86-88.

Etzioni, Amitai. "Adaptation Or Paradigm Shift?" Contemporary Sociology 38.1 (2009): 5-8. ProQuest. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.


Melinda Thanks for writing what I don't have time to write myself. I also found it difficult to understand why the study participants would cheat on anything - even a little experiment math quiz - for 10 cents (or even $10). I understand the researchers can't give away huge cash prizes, but this seemed totally irrational to me, and not predictably so. Perhaps in college I would've lied for 50 cents? I doubt it. And I don't claim to be exceptionally honest as compared to other people.

Anyway, there are many better books of this nature out there to try. This is kind of entertaining and there are a few good tidbits, but I wouldn't recommend it.


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