Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

by Dan Ariely

Visit the Amazon page for details and reviews: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Rating: 9 / 10

Read: February 2018


If you don’t want to question every decision you’ve ever made, don’t read this book. It can turn your world upside down.

We think we are rational creatures. We think we’re in complete control of all our thoughts, decisions, and actions. But we’re not. We’re just good at fooling ourselves.

Predictably Irrational highlights dozens of experiments proving that humans are not only not rational, but we continue making the same irrational decisions — even when we know we’re being irrational!

Quick Thoughts

This is a great primer for the larger topics of human psychology and behavioral economics. But don’t let those words scare you. The book is easy to read, and the author does a good job of explaining everything using real-world studies and examples. It will leave you with a good, basic understanding of why we do many of the things we do.

Highlights and Notes

…we are always looking at the things around us in relation to others. We can’t help it. This holds true not only for physical things—toasters, bicycles, puppies, restaurant entrées, and spouses—but for experiences such as vacations and educational options, and for ephemeral things as well: emotions, attitudes, and points of view.

Also known as, “Keeping up with the Joneses.” And we can thank Facebook for making this even easier (or harder?).

We constantly compare our situations with other peoples’. This influences which house we buy, what car we drive, where we send our kids to school, and pretty much anything else we can name. And then we convince ourselves we made these decisions based only on our own logic and reasoning.

With everything you do, in fact, you should train yourself to question your repeated behaviors.

Repeated behaviors are habits—some are good and some are bad. “Bad” doesn’t necessarily mean just things like smoking or drinking. They include things that negatively impact our mood or relationships: road rage, arguing with our spouse, feeding our Amazon Prime addiction, etc.

The only way to change our behavior is to take a step back and ask ourselves why we’re doing them.

Most transactions have an upside and a downside, but when something is FREE! we forget the downside. FREE! gives us such an emotional charge that we perceive what is being offered as immensely more valuable than it really is.

This is the reason we grab every free koozie we’re offered. Then they end up in a drawer with 197 other koozies we’ll never use.

…when price is not a part of the exchange, we become less selfish maximizers and start caring more about the welfare of others.

If our mother asks us to come move a couch for her, we gladly do it. But if she says she’ll pay us $5 to come move her couch, we run a cost-benefit analysis. Weird.

Even the most brilliant and rational person, in the heat of passion, seems to be absolutely and completely divorced from the person he thought he was.

Don’t discuss politics with friends and family. Keep it anonymous on the internet.

Resisting temptation and instilling self-control are general human goals, and repeatedly failing to achieve them is a source of much of our misery.

I  blame Ben and Jerry’s “Half Baked.”

Ownership is not limited to material things. It can also apply to points of view. Once we take ownership of an idea—whether it’s about politics or sports—what do we do? We love it perhaps more than we should. We prize it more than it is worth. And most frequently, we have trouble letting go of it because we can’t stand the idea of its loss. What are we left with then? An ideology—rigid and unyielding.

What happens when someone questions our beliefs or presents new facts that contradict our opinions?

We double down. We do whatever we can to rationalize our existing beliefs and discount everything (and everyone) else.

We are continually reminded that we can do anything and be anything we want to be. The problem is in living up to this dream. We must develop ourselves in every way possible; must taste every aspect of life; must make sure that of the 1,000 things to see before dying, we have not stopped at number 999. But then comes a problem—are we spreading ourselves too thin?

There’s a great section in Predictably Irrational where the author talks about our urge to “open every door.” We’re always curious what kind of opportunity, improvement, or benefit awaits behind the other doors we come across. So we leave the room we’re in—the room where we may be pretty happy—for the chance at just a little more happiness behind another door.

Of course, then we compare our happiness in this new room to the last room. If it’s less, then we regret our decision. If it’s more, we wonder if there’s even more happiness behind another door. So we bounce around from room to room trying to experience everything.

Meanwhile, we spend no meaningful time on any one thing. We overcommit and spread ourselves too thin in the pursuit of happiness.

…if you tell people up front that something might be distasteful, the odds are good that they will end up agreeing with you—not because their experience tells them so but because of their expectations.

We should take note any time we read or hear words like: delicious, lavish, exotic, premium, fabulous, incredible—or the opposites (awful, horrible, etc.).

Descriptive language like this sets our expectations before we even experience the thing that’s being described. And these expectations prime us and influence our experience.

When we all cooperate, trust is high and the total value to society is maximal. But distrust is infectious. When we see people defect by lying in their advertisements, proposing scams, etc., we start acting similarly; trust deteriorates, and everybody loses, including the individuals who initially gained from their selfish acts.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Our irrational behaviors are neither random nor senseless—they are systematic and predictable. We all make the same types of mistakes over and over, because of the basic wiring of our brains.

This could either be our “get out of jail free” card or our queue to reflect on why we do the things we do.

If I were to distill one main lesson from the research described in this book, it is that 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, with ultimate control over the decisions we make and the direction our life takes; but, alas, this perception has more to do with our desires—with how we want to view ourselves—than with reality.

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