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

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
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's review
Apr 22, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: adult, nonfiction, not-graphic

Each of the chapters in this book describes a force (emotions, relativity, social norms, etc.) that influences our behavior. And while these influences exert a lot of power over our behavior, our natural tendency is to vastly underestimate or completely ignore this power. These influences have an effect on us not because we lack knowledge, lack practice, or are weak-minded. On the contrary, they repeatedly affect experts as well as novices in systematic and predictable ways. The resulting mistakes are simply how we go about our lives, how we “do business.” They are a part of us.

I’m an INTJ. According to The Compleat Idiot's Guide to the INTJ: We don’t do feelings. We use critical thinking, reason, and logic. We have a tough time with people who make decisions based on emotions, and we can often come across as blunt and cold because we ignore the feelings of others. But on the plus side, we take criticism well since we have no feelings to hurt. Other INTJ description are less blunt, but it’s pretty much an accurate description of my type and I represent the type pretty well. For instance, I took the GRE when it still had the Analytical Ability section and scored 800; I also keep my emotions buried so deep I usually have trouble figuring out what I’m feeling even when I want to.

Knowing all of this, you might conclude I aspire to be a purely logical Vulcan like Spock, but in fact the opposite is true. I decided a long time ago that humans are mostly emotional, instinctive, conditioned, and reactionary, and logic has only a minor impact on things. I don’t say this misanthropically, because I include myself in this description. It’s just the way we are and I do my best to embrace it and work with it.

So does Dan Ariely in the book Predictably Irrational. There’s really not much here that hasn’t been figured out by salespeople and observers of human nature throughout history, it’s just that Ariely articulates it and uses scientific methods to validate it. He’s a behavioral economist, so he comes at this from the angle of economic decision making. He doesn’t just make the point that we are stupidly irrational, but that we are predictably so--we are irrational in the same ways over and over again, so then we actually can use logic and reasoning in creating structures, contexts, and limits in response to these irrational behaviors.

Each chapter considers an aspect of the issue. Ariely uses real-world anecdotes and circumstances to illustrate his main point (and how that point contradicts traditional rational economic assumptions), shares numerous experiments he and his colleagues have conducted to prove the point, and considers implications and strategies for dealing with that reality.

Wouldn’t economics make a lot more sense if it were based on how people actually behave, instead of how they should behave? As I said in the Introduction, that simple idea is the basis of behavioral economics . . .

Although irrationality is commonplace, it does not necessarily mean that we are helpless. Once we understand when and where we may make erroneous decisions, we can try to be more vigilant, force ourselves to think differently about these decisions, or use technology to overcome our inherent shortcomings. This is also where business and policy makers could revise their thinking and consider how to design their policies and products so as to provide free lunches.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Susan (new)

Susan Sounds interesting. I'm always fascinated by human behavior, particularly when it seems really, really stupid, and has been done before, and before that and before that. I tend to blame it on a lack of "the right sorts of books" as C.S. Lewis wrote in "The Magicians Nephew." (Eustace enters the dragons lair and sleeps in the pile of treasure, dreaming of riches. Now Lucy or Edmund would have known right away what they had stumbled across, having read the right sorts of books. But Eustace, as we remember from the indroduction, liked only books with "pictures of grain elevators and of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools.")

I am an INFP, so I suspect my F&P would continually frustrate your T&J. However, both being introverts, neither of us would talk about it. (:

I had no idea there was an Idiots Guide, must look that up!


Chris I think that particular Idiot's Guide is something unique created by INTJs, but there's lots of Myers-Briggs information available (basic descriptions, in a work setting, in a relationship, in Star Trek terms, etc).

The biggest revelation I had with this book is not that people are irrational, but that they're predictably so. It was interesting.


message 3: by Mary (new)

Mary chris - I liked this book review and I think it's really interesting even thought I may possible have a diametrically opposite personality from you. I'm one of those emotional people who your guy tries to make predictions about. have you read the new Barbara Ehrenreich book called Bright Sided, How Positive Thinking has Undermined America? similar kind of "trying to figure out why people do what they do" sort of thing, with a little more of "how they use it to manipulate others" thrown in.


Chris I'll have to look into that--I like Ehrenreich. Thanks.


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