Review of <Predictably irrational> written by Dan Airely

Raymond Ho, Oxford Psychology 2016 -
15 Nov 2017

Everything is relative. No, this is not Einstein. It’s actually the first chapter of Ariely’s take on behavioural economics, where he describes to us how we naturally compare between various objects or beings. Let’s consider a thought experiment: Of Emma Watson and Keria Knightley, who would look more attractive? Tough choice. Shall we assume there is a 50:50 ratio? What if you got to choose between Emma Watson, Photoshopped Emma Watson with wrinkles (Emma 2) and Keria Knightley? In these cases, Ariely would convince you that a greater proportion of people would choose Emma Watson, because of a easier comparison between Emma Watson and Emma 2, you know if you pick Emma Watson, it will be a safer choice than Keria Knightley.

Airely would go on to give an example of how this principle is used in real life for marketing purposes. The Economist once ran an ad for versions that are just hardcopy, just electronic copy and hardcopy with electronic copy. Normal, right? The only trick is that hardcopies and hardcopy with electronic copies are sold for the same price! Hence this would influence buyers to get both hardcopies and electronic copies because it is a better deal. This is about the style of Ariely’s chapters within this book, and I promise you- every chapter is packed full of goodness: From introduction of an interesting concept, a hypothesis, experiments that Ariely and colleagues have conducted, applications in real life, and if you’re lucky- Ariely’s own little thought inventions, which even includes a credit-card design with net profit for both sides!

Just to keep you interested in the book, I shan’t spoil the book further, but if you’re interested in how psychology could be used to influence judgement, thoughts and decisions, look no further, because “Predictably irrational” is written by a world-leading professor with a true passion for his subjects that is reflected in his writing style. I myself have been inspired by this book, and have become more aware of the implicit biases that we may not have been aware of at the beginning. With his personal anecdotes as well as added notes at the end of the book, I’m certain that this book will keep you engaged and you will not regret reading it! Note that even though this book is classed as behavioural economics, its roots are largely based on psychology as an experimental subject, and is a beautiful illustration of how applicable psychology is to all fields in academia as well as daily life. I hope this book will keep you inspired, keep calm when realizing biases and simply love psychology!