February 4, 2015

Irrational … but predictable



Seattle—home of “Book Lust” librarian Nancy Pearl—is a city of books. Here’s a recommendation from Anne Renz

"Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions"

by Dan Ariely
HarperCollins, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0061353246

“Why do headaches persist when taking a one-cent aspirin but disappear after taking a fifty-cent aspirin?” asks Dan Ariely in his bestselling book, "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions." The answer is relevant to health services researchers who are exploring how health care providers and patients make clinical decisions. Behavioral economist researcher Ariely provides numerous examples countering a common assumption that humans make rational decisions. The irrational decisions we make are not random, though; they are predictable and systematic.

Weaving together research findings and anecdotes, Ariely presents predictably irrational behaviors and decision-making habits in a variety of contexts, including purchasing, dating, procrastination, and health care. He also offers potential solutions on an individual and policy level. By understanding behavior patterns, we can structure our environments to support better decisions at a personal and societal level.

And about the aspirin question ... expectations strongly influence experience. Since people expect a fifty-cent aspirin to be more effective, they self-report more headache relief than with a one-cent aspirin. In support of more thoughtful decision making, Ariely includes suggestions on how to temper this effect.


Anne Renz, MPH, is a research project manager at Group Health Research Institute.