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The Upside of Irrationality 1st (first) edition Text Only Hardcover – 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
The first half of the book covers motivation and incentives at work. Description of experiments is vivid, often presented from the perspective of the subjects in the experiments (ie rats and humans). The findings indeed provide useful lessons for employers, supervisors, as well as government. It is also a joy to read.
The second half covers the author's personal reflection and observation, as well as experiments to look into a mishmash of issues, such as revenge, online dating, adaptation to change, etc. The discussion is still interesting and enlightening. However, there is a tendency to be too brief on the statistical outcome of experiments. For example, instead of stating the proportion of subjects who responded in a certain manner, the author strays into using 'most' or 'many' in describing such proportions. I suspect that some of the experiments were performed some time ago, and it may be too cumbersome for the author to look up the actual data of these dated experiments. As such, his discussion appears rather less convincing.
In all, the book provides important lessons on the psychology of decisions. It also gives a reflective account of the personal pain that the author has suffered since sustaining horrific injuries as a teenager. A touching and instructive book.
Behavioral Economics is a fascinating subject to me. Why do humans act the way they do, and why do they act in ways that often seem counter-intuitive or just plain wrong? I find the design of experiments to show these foibles to be fascinating and enjoyable reading.
But not this book. For starters, the writing style seemed bit long-winded and overly complicated. It always seemed like it took far more words to explain things than was actually needed.
My biggest complaint, though, was the stretch made in applying the results of the experiments. I am not a trained statistician or economist, but every time I read the results of one of the experiments and the conclusions generated, there seemed to be an obvious flaw.
For example, in one experiment, the author attempts to quantify the effects of large financial bonuses (the kinds paid to investment bankers) on their performance. As a substitute, he uses relatively poor paid workers (low wage earners in India), and offers them "bonuses" equal to several month's pay. He does this because several month's pay for these individuals is a relatively small amount of money (less that $100), so his research budget can afford it.
The problem is that while the relative sizes of the bonus might be similar, the effects they have on the wage earner can hardly be the same. If the investment banker misses his bonus, the net result might be a two day Disneyland vacation instead of two weeks in Europe--different, but hardly life changing. However, a few month's salary to an Indian wage earner, making subsistence wages, might be the difference between medical treatment versus no medical treatment for a sick child.
Obviously the motivations and consequences of these will be different. And yet the author makes no attempts to explain or control for these conditions while drawing conclusions about high wage earners based on subsistence wage earners.
A second example is a study quantifying the effects of employee motivation by an experiment performed on "workers" hired to assemble Lego toys for a dollar or so. But the type of person who signs up for an experiment to assemble Lego toys for an afternoon and a person holding a 9-5 job for years may be quite different. Again, no attempt to explain or control. But again, the author makes conclusions about the second group based on the first.
Every one of the studies I read seemed to have some flaw which was either not explained or not controlled for. After a while I stopped reading and just skimmed the last half of the book.
Very disappointed, and I would say skip this book.
But my enjoyment if them still eventually wears thin and I have to find some new music. Now I know what that's called - hedonic adaptation. It's why we stop loving that new car as soon as the new car smell is gone, and why we get used to new jobs, relationships and whatnot. It also works in reverse - you can get used to negative experiences like incarceration (from my experience, I can tell you that it's nightmarish at first, but eventually you get used to it; it becomes bearable).
I once heard that a miserable person who wins the lottery will still be miserable a year later, and a happy person who becomes a paraplegic will still be happy a year later. In "The Upside of Irrationality" by Dan Ariely, I read that someone actually did perform a study on hedonic adaptation using lottery winners and paraplegics.
They found that both groups were close to normal levels of life satisfaction a year later, and that such life-altering events do have a huge impact on happiness at first, but the effect usually wears off over time.
So what do we do? Do we spend our lives on the "hedonic treadmill" chasing illusions of happiness? Do we even know what will truly make us happy? Is it a new car, a new house, a new job, a new lover? A new song?
Review Written by David Allan Reeves
Author of "Running Away From Me"