Learning to outsmart ourselves
Book Review by Crysal Andvik
Irrational behavior is a part of human nature, but Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, has discovered in his 20 years of research that people tend to behave irrationally in a predictable fashion. Ariely explores why people make foolish economic choices. Why we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate.
At the age of eighteen, Ariely suffered third-degree burns on seventy percent of his body from a large explosion. He spent the next three years wrapped in bandages rarely going out in public. During this time Ariely set himself apart from family and friends observing daily activities he once took part in. He began to examine human behavior- curious why we think the way we do, what motivates us and causes us to behave in certain ways.
Once out of recovery and rehabilitation, Ariely went on to further his education. He often created new study designs to test theories of various human behaviors. One study he describes in detail was based on his painful experience in the burn unit where he spent hours undergoing daily bandage changing- a procedure that involves soaking the bandages in a disinfectant solution, removal of bandages then scraping off the dead particles of skin. Ariely wanted to know if removing the bandages with a quick tug, causing a short spike of pain, was preferred over a slow pull which might not cause high intense pain but prolong the treatment of removal, with more pain overall. His investigation proved the later more preferable to patients, even though medical personnel at the burn unit felt the first was best and continued to do so.
Ariely continued his research on human behavior by conducting experiments on college students from MIT, Duke, Yale and others. His findings reveal surprising notions why humans think and act the way they do when making choices. Ariely’s examples and observations allow for us to begin understanding the fine line between impulse and thought, feeling and logic, emotion and rationale. He explains with plausible evidence why a $2.50 pill gives people more relief than the same pill priced at 10 cents, why the word ‘free’ has massive marketing sway contrary to people’s interests or desires and why next time you go to a party hoping to meet a date, you should bring along someone slightly uglier than yourself to boost your chance of success.
When we make decisions we think we are in control, but are we really? Ariely entertains his audience as he unmasks the subtle but powerful tricks that our minds play on us.
Review published: February 2010
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