If you ask most people around you if they are rational beings, I’m fairly sure most will answer that yes, they are rational. But if you look at the way some people behave (for example, waiting in lines for days to get the latest gadget), it’s clear that rationality has left the building.
And this irrational behavior is what Dan Ariely describes in his excellent book, Predictably Irrational. A well-written and eye-opening book, that is a must-read for… well anyone :-).
It begins with the problem, that “humans rarely choose things in absolute terms… we focus on the relative value of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly”. This happens to us almost every day. But sadly, “Thinking is difficult, and sometimes unpleasant”. I couldn’t have said this better. For example, when buying a generic product in the supermarket (where the brand does not make a major difference), I compare the price of of the items and take the cheapest one. But companies know this and trick me, bu changing the size of the packages to contain a bit less that the competitor. So I now have to check price, size, expiration date, and who knows what other variable… So I just take the first one and leave it at that.
The book then describes with enough (but not too much) detail a series of experiments, surveys, and observations that show how irrational we tend to be, and how this
can is be used to manipulate our decisions.
And ends with a lesson: “we are pawns in a game whose forces we largely fail to comprehend. We usually think of ourselves as sitting in the driver’s seat… but, alas, this perception has more to do with our desires than with reality”. “Our visual and decision environments are filtered to us courtesy of our eyes, our ears, our senses of smell and touch, and the master of it all, our brain. By the time we comprehend and digest information, it is not necessarily a true reflection of reality. Instead, it is our representation of reality, and this is the input we base our decisions on”.
Really cool stuff.