Looking for a quick and interesting read, I picked up Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, by Ori and Rom Brafman. In the vein of Freakonomics, The Tipping Point and others (don’t know what that genre’s called). The book proved thoroughly interesting.
The basic premise is that we are swayed to act irrationally by various external forces. By learning and being aware of them we can learn to make more rational decisions, though the reality is we our often affected so sub-consciously by these forces that they are hard to avoid.
Rather then summarizing the different Sways myself, I found an excellent summary over at JollyBlog‘s book review:
Loss aversion – this is a form of playing not to lose, making decisions in order to cut our losses, or avoid further losses.
Commitment – this is our tendency to hold fast to our course of action in the face of accumulating losses.
Value attribution – we attribute value to people or things based on quick impressions. In other words, if the right people like something we attribute greater value to that thing than if the wrong people like it.
Diagnosis bias – once we diagnose a situation we see the world through the lens of that diagnosis and all of reality conforms to our bias.
Fairness perception – we’ll often act against our own best interests if we feel that we are being treated unfairly. There is a cool experiment he talks about involving two subjects. Someone offers them a sum of money, let’s say $100. One person gets to divide it any way they want and the other person can decide to accept or reject that division. If the second accepts they both get the money per the division by the first. If the second rejects, they both get nothing. Most of the time the first person divides it 50-50, the second accepts and they walk away happy. But, when the first person makes an imbalanced division – let’s say he keeps $70 and offers the other $30 – in pretty much every case the second rejects it. In either case, whether it was a 50-50 or a 70-30 split, the second person would have come out to the good, but in the second case they rejected their own gain because of the fairness perception.
Altruism-Pleasure conflict – people will perform better for altruistic motives than for rewards. In other words, if someone does something for altruistic motives and then you come back and offer them a reward for doing the same thing, you will often find them losing motivation and/or performing worse. You gotta read that chapter to understand how it works.
Group Conformity – when in group settings, people tend to stifle their own opinions, often when their own opinions are patently correct and the groups are patently false, to go along with the group.
I’d recommend this book to anyone whose enjoyed any other books in this genre. It’s a quick and easy and interesting read. For some further insight into the subject matter here’s a video by the author about the book.
Now, some totally random tidbits that don’t necessarily give you a good overall view of the book, but might be interesting nonetheless.
Apparently LBJ was a pretty crazy guy…
“There’s a thin line between determination and intimidation and LBJ had no trouble skipping between the two. When he was elected to Congress, he’d call fellow legislators at all hours of the night, just to catch them off guard. Later, as president, during official White House meetings he’d shock and intimidate visitors by announcing a swimming break, taking off his clothes and jumping naked into the pool.” (p.33)
They did a study where a college class has a surprise substitute teacher. The students receive different descriptions of the teacher, an identical biographic paragraph except one line: “People who know him consider him to be a very warm person…” or “People who know him consider him to be a rather cold person…” After sitting through the class, hearing from the exact same professor, the students fill out a questionnaire. Those who had the “very warm” description described the teacher as such. Yet, students who’d sat through the exact same class but who’d received the “rather cold” description described the professor as “self-centered, formal, unsociable, unpopular, irritable, humorless, and ruthless.” One word difference completely changed their perception of the same person! (p.73)
The book also references studies challenging the effectiveness of SSRI’s (Prozac, Zoloft, etc)
“When it comes to SSRIs and children, only three out of the sixteen randomized control trials they had for kids showed a positive result. Only three out of sixteen. And of course there is also the risk of serious side effects.” -Dr. David Antonuccio, regarding research on SSRI’s (p. 97)