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Customer Review

284 of 299 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book which provides valuable insights, May 20, 2009
This review is from: Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (Hardcover)
This book and Dan Ariely have recieved a lot of media attention, so I approached the book with some skepticism, thinking that it might be overhyped. I'm pleased to report that my skepticism turned out to be unwarranted.

The book has many strengths, the main one being that it convincingly presents many ways people are wired and/or conditioned to be irrational, usually without even being aware of it. This eye-opening revelation can be a bit disheartening, but the good news is that we can fix at least some of this irrationality by being aware of how it can arise and then making a steady effort to override it or compensate for it. That's not an easy task, but it can be done. As a simple example, I've programmed a realistic exercise schedule into my PDA, and I've been very consistent with my exercise because of that. The PDA imposes a discipline on me which I couldn't otherwise impose on myself (as I know from experience).

The book is also well written, and I would even say enjoyable to read. The many experiments described in the book are presented in a lively way which elicits interest, and Ariely goes into just the right amount of detail -- enough to convey the basic experimental designs, results, and plausible interpretations, without boring the reader by getting into esoteric points which are more appropriate for journal papers.

The one criticism I have of the book, which applies to most of Western pscyhology, is that most of the described experiments used US college students as subjects. That raises a serious question regarding the extent to which the results can be generalized to people of the same age who aren't college students, people of other ages, and people outside the US. Study of cultural psychology reveals that differences due to these factors can be profound, and Ariely himself notes a Korean study where such differences were observed, but he doesn't really elaborate on the point.

Despite this one criticism, I think this is an excellent and authoritative book, and among the better ones in the "why smart people do dumb things" genre, so I highly recommend it. The insights revealed are both fascinating and practical, if you can muster the discipline to apply them.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 7, 2010 5:06:27 AM PST
I'm halfway finished with the book. I agree with your comments about using students as examples and was thinking the same thing as i was just reading the chapter on procrastination.

Posted on Jul 19, 2012 5:42:45 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 19, 2012 5:43:46 AM PDT
I'm outside of college at the moment and this whole book applies to me. I am 26 btw. I never went to school. It applied all throughout my teenage years and 20s. From the moment I had a disposable income. It's so bad that I just deferred to have my money withheld from me by someone i can trust until I can spend it on something more expensive and lasting

Posted on Jan 18, 2014 11:13:03 PM PST
Jordan says:
While this book was intriguing, the main problem is that Ariely makes sweeping generalizations that far overreach the results of the experiments. He condemns the entire free market on the basis of odd anchoring experiments that leave out the most important aspects of the free market: competition and transparency. His solution is predicable: government intervention. Ariely even concedes that he routinely acts irrational as well, so his next logical step is that government should take pricing decisions away from individuals (who have skin in the game and aligned incentives) and put them in the hands of a government bureau. Surely a government bureau is best able to determine the value of an item in relation to tens of thousands of other items and capture new supply-demand realities, especially when hundreds of millions around the globe possess their own private values of these items which change quite frequently. It worked out so well in the Soviet Union after all, given that their own economists estimated they were using twice the inputs to create half of the outputs of the United States. Truly a marvelous system.

Reality is far too complex for any human to completely understand, thus we develop coping mechanisms as humans to make good decisions more times than not. Ariely preys upon this by waving his hands furiously around a few obscure examples that have nothing to do with supply-demand and classical economics, and hopes you buy his sweeping conclusions without having to actually support them with any real evidence. While the vast majority of transactions occuring in an economy come from sellers (who make quite ordinary returns) posting take-it-or-leave-it prices, Ariely hopes you think the prices generated are really coming from some manipulative wizard. If sellers really did possess such abusive power, why do we have all of the empirical evidence that supports the ideas around asset classes and industry betas and extraordinary returns routinely getting competed down to ordinary returns?

No system for rationing resources is perfect, nor can it be given our imperfections as humans and the limitations of the human mind. It is presumptuous for Ariely to suggest that elites in government do possess such knowledge. After all, history has shown time and time again -- in any era and any geography -- that his methods fail. While people are imperfect, free people making their own decisions has proven to be a far more successful system at lifting countries out of poverty and fairly and efficiently allocating resources.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 13, 2014 7:12:59 PM PDT
Stephanie says:
I suggest you read Jarrod Diamond's take on the supposed differences between various societies that are modern state societies. Compared to the small groups of non-state societies on this planet - the bush peoples of the Kalahari or the clans of inland New Guinea, the rest of the state organized world is remarkably homogenous in its structure and behaviors. And Having lived in the US, and various places in Europe and in Japan and Korea, I also saw more similarities than differences.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 26, 2016 3:02:06 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Apr 26, 2016 3:02:35 PM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on May 14, 2016 12:21:57 PM PDT
Jordan's post indicates that Ariely wants govt. elites to allocate resources. I, assuming Jordan is truthful, am not going to waste my time reading this book.
Physics Prof. Dr. Bonham
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