Predictably Irrational

As regular readers have surely noticed by now, I’ve been on a bit of a behavioral psychology kick lately. Some of this reflects long-standing personal interest and my latest reading. But I also feel increasingly concerned that researchers in information seeking–especially those working on tools–have neglected the impact of cognitive bias.

For those who are unfamiliar with last few decades of research in this field, I highly recommend a recent lecture by behavioral economist Dan Ariely on predictable irrationality. Not only is he a very informative and entertaining speaker, but he chooses very concrete and credible examples, starting with his contemplating how we experience pain based on his own experience of suffering
third-degree burns over 70 percent of his body. I promise you, the lecture is an hour well spent, and the time will fly by.

A running theme of through this and my other posts on cognitive bias is that the way a information is presented to us has dramatic effects on how we interpret that information.

This is great news for anyone who wants to manipulate people. In fact, I once asked Dan about the relative importance of people’s inherent preferences vs. those induced by presentation on retail web sites, and he all but dismissed the former (i.e., you can sell ice cubes to Eskimos, if you can manipulate their cognitive biases appropriately). But it’s sobering news for those of us who want to empower user to evaluate information objectively to support decision making.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

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