We like to think that every choice we make is based off of intelligent thought processes and beyond a doubt well chosen.  Yet we may not be so aware of the irrational decisions we make quite freely.

Dan Ariely is a Behavior Economist professor at Duke University.  He found this idea of why we make irrational decisions fascinating and took it a step further by researching several examples of where human nature causes us to make decisions that logically would baffle us.

Optical Illusions

irrational behavior

When you look at this image you immediately notice the table on the left looks longer, but because you know this is an illusion you tell yourself that they are the same length.  If you looked at this from the perspective of a child seeing it for the first time, you would have no doubt that the table on the right is shorter.

When you draw two lines then line them up, you then discover they indeed are the same length.  Using a purely visual approach we would easily make an irrational choice on which table was longer.

Another great example is this cube.  If I were to ask you which color was darker out of the two pointed out, your eyes would all pick the top one.  Again, you know this is not supposed to be the case but your eyes won’t show it differently.

irrational behavior

If I cover up the rest of the cube it becomes immediately clear that they are the same.  Again, showing how we can make an irrational choice if the surroundings present themselves appropriately.

Why Are Norwegians Stubborn to Donate Organs?

irrational behavior

Ariely pulled up an interesting chart showing organ donation rates in Europe.  You immediately notice there are two groups.  One that slightly donates and one that donates the majority of the time.  So why do countries that seem fairly similar have such radical differences in donation rates?

It’s in the form they fill out at the DMV.

irrational behavior

Countries that had lower numbers of organ donors had a form that asked them to opt-in if they wanted to be a donor.

Countries that had high numbers of donors made them check a box if they wanted to refrain from being a donor.

I’m confident that Denmark and Germany have thousands of people who would gladly be a donor, but when asking you to make the additional effort for a decision that has no effect while you are alive, will tend to go unfulfilled.

How to Make People Spend More Money On the Same Product

irrational behavior

The Economist had an interesting advertisement for their magazine.  Option one provided for an online only subscription.  Option two provided for a print only subscription.  Option three provided for a print and web subscription, but for the same price as the print only.

When he showed it to his students and asked which option they would pick the results were as follows.

Using sound logic, if we removed the option that no one wanted, shouldn’t the results stay the same?

irrational behavior

Not so much.  When we took out the option that no one wanted originally, the results shifted substantially. The second place option took %52 percentage points away from the previous winner to become the new first place option.

I think you and I often consider what is the best deal when making a purchase decision.  We may not need all the bells and whistles, but if we are getting a good deal on it, something drives us to that option.

Irrational Dating

The last experiment Ariely demonstrated was very inspiring.  You probably already know that in the dating world we make decisions that aren’t always the most intelligent, but could anyone prove this illogical pattern?

Take a look at these too gentleman Tom and Jerry.  Who would you find the most attractive?

Now suppose we inserted ugly versions of the two male samples.  Would their disgusting counter parts help their normal counterpart get the pick?

irrational behavior

Indeed it did.  When ugly Jerry was around, respondents picked Jerry.  When ugly Tom was around respondents picked Tom.

Again, we start to see the same effect as before.  Even in our dating lives we are looking for the better deal.

How Do We Understand Our Own Behavior?

This blog focused a great deal on the irrational behavior we sometimes exhibit, but how do we really understand and see the true behavior we use? After all, understanding our natural behavior would help us to avoid making irrational decisions when they could hurt us.

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image courtesy of jk5854

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6 thoughts on “Irrational Behavior We Bet You Do

  1. Bryce,
    that’s one very interesting post , i congratulate you on taking your time to collect this info and put in a post
    great job!!

  2. Bryce,

    I am amazed by the amount of content and context that you put into this post. This one will have to be bookmarked to review in the future because I am sure I didn’t get in all on my first read through. Thanks for sharing this info. Great Job!

  3. Bryce Christiansen

    Thanks Farouk,

    It was an interesting look at something we do quite openly and have no idea we’re behaving this way. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Bryce Christiansen

    Thanks Frank,

    It was really interesting and engaging for me to put this here. Hope you have the chance later to read through the rest.

  5. This was really interesting. Particularly the bit about organ donors in Europe. Oddly enough, I must have already known this principle, because I recently changed my comment box to have the part about subscribing ticked in by default. Since then, comments on my posts have soared.

    Pretty nifty. I wonder how one could apply the info about magazine subscriptions.

  6. Bryce Christiansen

    That’s really interesting. What a great way to apply that concept.

    That’s a good question about magazines. I figure they might get more complaints when someone pays automatically for something they might have just glanced over.

Comments are closed.