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

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
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's review
Jun 13, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction

I love behavioral economics. I remember that all I could think in my high school Intro to Macroeconomics class was that it was a nice set of ideas that never took into account actual human behavior. So I was excited to read this, because, hey, it's a popular science book that has the potential to answer all those lingering doubts I still have from my (very limited) exposure to economics.

But it turns out this book is heavy on the popular and awfully light on the science. Almost all of the experiments done were done in small numbers with a volunteer group of college students - usually from Ivy League or otherwise highly selective, expensive colleges. Okay, that's fine. But then he would extrapolate his results to apply to the general public or Americans as a whole. It's not that I think his conclusions are wrong (most of them are probably right or close to it), but his sample population is ridiculously specific - very bright or very rich kids in their late teens and early twenties. For the arousal study he based it off an experiment with heterosexual college-age males. Huh? You can't do a study based on a very small minority of the population and then say that it represents the behavior of all humans. My guess is that Ariely knows of a lot of studies that corroborate his (rather casual and somewhat unscientific) experiments, but he didn't include them in this book, so as much as I generally agreed with his ideas, I wasn't convinced by his evidence.

It's an interesting read, and it does a good job of dispelling The Market as this mythical all-knowing source of Truth and Goodness in favor of a more realistic idea of markets as at least somewhat flawed and irrational, just like the humans who create them. It's an easy and quick read, and I'm not sorry that I read it. But in terms of the actual science, I was very underwhelmed.

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