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Book Review: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions — Revised and Expanded Edition by Dan Ariely

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Predictably Irrational is a fascinating book which delves into the world of psychology and how it can affect our day to day living. For example, why is purchasing a higher priced aspirin more important than a cheaper version when one has a pain in the head? It has to do with the placebo effect. The medicine is the same, but paying more makes one feel as though one is getting a stronger concentration. Therefore, the decision making gets the pricier version grabbed up.

Author Dan Ariely has a bit of an advantage in material for this book. With one doctorate in cognitive psychology (i.e. behavior) and another in business administration, he understands how to measure the effects when conducting experiments.

Performing experiments at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology helps. Those who agree to participate are not the typical college students. Think about it — they study things like engineering and astrophysics, which go over plenty of people’s heads.

Some of those who actually perform the experiments are also college students, which is a wise move. It’s easier to participate in something where everyone is on the same level, or at least assumed so.

Imagine being asked to do no more than poke away at a keyboard. This is easy for a college student who spends more than a bit of time typing up papers. A group of three doors is available to go through. For each click, a monetary reward is given. The payout is small, so many more clicks are needed to get a decent-sized worth-your-while amount. Some subjects will stay on the same door each time. Others go back and forth between doors. Add in the possibility of a door closing down after being ignored for a certain amount of clicks, and a few cannot leave the possibility of a door shutting down for good as an option.

The chapters about honesty are compelling. Imagine taking a test and then telling someone else how many corrects answers you get. Yes, you are given the answer key to check things over. But — you do not hand either paper to the one in charge of paying you. Do you stick to only the true score you have or raise the number a bit higher? Remember, nobody sees your worksheet.

Ariely is smart enough to use real world examples in each experiment in order to demonstrate his constructs. This helps both those who get what he is trying to test as well as those not completely understanding until they see a working model.

This is not a book which should be finished in one setting. It’s quite long for one thing, which means some parts need to be absorbed before heading to the next ones. Certain tests build on top of another, so recognizing what goes where is not a bad idea. However, this is also a book which is hard to put down once started. The trick is one slow step at a time.

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