Predictably Irrational: A Book Review

Why do our headaches persist after taking a one-cent aspirin but disappear when we take a 50-cent aspirin?

Why does recalling the Ten Commandments reduce our tendency to lie, even when we couldn’t possibly be caught?
Why do we splurge on a lavish meal but cut coupons to save twenty-five cents on a can of soup?

Why do we go back for second helpings at the unlimited buffet, even when our stomachs are already full?

And how did we ever start spending $4.15 on a cup of coffee when, just a few years ago, we used to pay less than a dollar?

When it comes to making decisions in our lives, we think we’re in control. We think we’re making smart, rational choices. But are we?

Book: Predictably Irrational
Author: Dan Ariely

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

First non-fiction book I’m reviewing, so bear with me here.

I’ve always had an almost perverse fascination with decision-making. Not just my own decision making but others too (maybe that’s why I like psychology so much).
So when this book promised to analyse why we make stupidly illogical, irrational decisions- I was tempted (maybe even irrationally tempted). Of course, when friends and family added their voices to the mix, assuring me the book was great and I would love it (and learn a lot from it)- I went ahead and took the plunge.

Other Part of blurb:

(The other part is at the top of the review)

In a series of illuminating, often surprising experiments, MIT behavioral economist Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. Blending everyday experience with groundbreaking research, Ariely explains how expectations, emotions, social norms, and other invisible, seemingly illogical forces skew our reasoning abilities.

Not only do we make astonishingly simple mistakes every day, but we make the same “types” of mistakes, Ariely discovers. We consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. We fail to understand the profound effects of our emotions on what we want, and we overvalue what we already own. Yet these misguided behaviors are neither random nor senseless. They’re systematic and predictable–making us “predictably” irrational.

From drinking coffee to losing weight, from buying a car to choosing a romantic partner, Ariely explains how to break through these systematic patterns of thought to make better decisions. “Predictably Irrational” will change the way we interact with the world–one small decision at a time.

My Thoughts:

Do I regret it? Not exactly.
In my experience, non-fiction is either as dry as a text-book or full of filler fluff which pompously hammers home the same point in a million different ways (each less clear than the previous one). Predictably Irrational wasn’t like that. It had intriguing experiments (I feel so weird saying that since I haven’t exactly designed any experiments but still…) and the narrative voice was very easy-going and anecdotal.  (However, after a few chapters the ‘You are never gonna guess what happened’ thing got annoying because it was kind of obvious where things were going).

But I wouldn’t exactly recommend this book. So where did it go wrong?
I think I felt cheated. The stuff in Predictably Irrational has been referred to so much, over-hyped and repeated that none of it felt new anymore. The discoveries mentioned in the book were awesomely radical. The problem is other authors and writers think so too. I didn’t learn much. And that really leached the joy out of this book.

Essentially, this is what Dan Ariely tells us in his book. If you’re already familiar with these concepts you might want to give this book a miss.

  1. The value of an object is always comparative to other similar objects; not an absolute value in itself.
  2. First shock always hurts the most. After that, each shock is more bearable than the last.
    i.e. When buying a large item, we’re not too likely to care if the price is a couple of dollars here or there because we’ve already become numb to the ‘pain’ of spending that much money.
  3. Placebos work. Expensive placebos work better.
  4. Humans unconsciously define themselves by stereotypes.
  5. Humans dislike bringing money into social relationships because these relationships are considered ‘priceless’
  6. Humans like to believe they’re moral. So most people, if given the chance, will cheat only a little (riiight because cheating a little is a whole lot better than cheating a lot)
  7. Under pressure, humans will make different decisions than the ones they would have made if they were more objective.
  8. People love the concept of free. Even when it’s not good for them.
  9. Procrastination= bad
  10. Humans like having options. They hate seeing options disappear.
  11. We want other people to think we’re special, unique, non-conformitive.  And we’ll go out of our way to conform to that.
  12. Ultimately, humans makes irrational, emotional and biased decisions.

It was a good read. I’m not saying it wasn’t. I’m just saying I didn’t learn much from it and unfortunately, I hold non-fiction books to that unfairly high standard of being both informational and interesting.

Overall Rating: 2/5

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