Our rational irrationality

We’ve all seen it happen.  Whether it’s dirty dishes, bad table manners, or invasive, personal questions, there are triggers for each of us that touch off knee-jerk responses.  These triggers may vary from day to day, but the response probably follows a similar pattern each time.  We each recognize our own patterns in these reactions too.  When I’m nervous, I talk a lot and make bad jokes.  When I’m angry, my voice gets higher and louder and I say mean things I usually don’t mean, or at least don’t mean to say.  When I’m hurt or upset, I purse my mouth and curl up and freeze.  These are the patterns I know about myself, whether I like them or can change them or not.

Professor Dan Ariely, in his new book, Predictably Irrational: A New Book on How We Make Decisions, takes this concept a little further, applying it to economics, motivation and morals, and education.  If we know are irrational behaviors are predictable in some way, how can we build that into the structure of how we teach?  Why not build it into the things we sell or the advertising we use?  Are they not also applicable to the way a company is run, the way we encourage good investment decisions, or even the way we build or design space?  It’s an interesting idea, though I’m not sure how to carry it out.  More study into irrational behaviors?  Public policy shaped according tot eh results of these studies?  The follow-through is a little iffy, but I remain intrigued by the possibilities.

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1 Comment

  1. Alex said,

    May 22, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    I haven’t read it yet so I don’t know how similar they are, but there’s a book called Nudge by Thaler and someone whose name I can’t remember right now about how you can change the options people have to help them make better decisions if you know the biases and influences involved. I’m looking forward to getting into it.


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