Andrew's Reviews > The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home

The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely
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Jan 22, 11

Read in January, 2011

The Upside of Irrationality is a follow-up book to Predictably Irrational by behavioral psychologist/economist Dan Ariely. This book covers the topics of job bonuses, the meaning of labor, the IKEA effect (overvaluaing what we make), loss aversion, adaptation, online dating, empathy/emotion, and the long-term effects of negative feelings.

These are the things I learned/found interesting.
- There are upsides to less than rational behavior: passions that individuals have for their careers, a mother's love, monogamy, recovery from catastrophes.
- In commenting on how scientists are also prone to irrational biases, Ariely writes, "In the scientific world, the Not-Invented-Here bias is fondly called the "toothbrush theory." The idea is that everyone wants a toothbrush, everyone needs one, everyone has one, but no one wants to use anyone else's." A great illustration of this is Thomas Edison's antagonism towards AC, rather than, DC current scheme.
- Individuals need to feel ownership of solutions, rather than prescriptions from others. Even superficial/artificial ownership derived from unscrambling a solution that others have given makes the individual more likely to support a solution to a given problem.
- Humans are amazing at adapting. Severely injured people have a much higher pain threshold and pain tolerance than more mildly injured individuals or chronically ill individuals. Ariely attributes this to the psychological association made between pain and betterment during recovery from traumatic injury.
- The now famous study by Philip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman found that 1 year after the fact, paraplegics, lottery winners, and normal people came back to the same level of life satisfaction.
- The key to prolonging happiness is to take breaks during the process to prevent hedonic adaptation. The key to minimizing the duration of duress is to not take breaks to allow maximal adaptation.
- In dating, an aesthetically limited individual adapts to finding a mate by reconsidering the rank of attributes (ie. I don't like bald men, but I look at other things.), rather than altering perception of aesthetics (I like bald men.) or not adapting (I'll never like bald men. I won't adapt to my position in the dating hierarchy.).
- In the realm of online dating, men are less selective than women (men were 240% more likely to initiate contact). Also, men care more about the hotness of women than vice versa. Men are also more likely to be more hopeful than women (ie. more likely to aim for women out of their league).
- "I think the market for single people is one of the most egregious market failures in Western society."
- More on online dating. People spent an average of 5.2 hrs per week searching profiles and 6.7 hours per week emailing potential partners for a total of nearly 12hrs/week at the screening stage. They spent a mere 1.8 hrs a week actually meeting prospective partners in the real world. This 6:1 inefficiency speaks for itself. And it is not that individuals derived pleasure from the 12hrs/week screening.


Ariely adds a nice touch by weaving in his own personal experience with traumatic pain and in choosing a life partner. The book is insightful and leaves the reader with a confidence in human resolve. The substance of the book are real psychology experiments (many if not all done by Dan Ariely in collaboration with others). The book is well-written and flows well and a good read for the general audience.
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