Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely

Films to Read Before You Die | Out October 2021

Do nice napkins make coffee taste better? Predictably Irrational examines the mysteries of human behaviour.

One chapter of Predictably Irrational sees Ariely get 25 college guys to take a survey on sexual preferences and boundaries. They do this twice, both in non-aroused and aroused states.

It turns out being aroused changes the way people answer questions. It can cause them to take more risks, or to ignore personal morals – and the law.

If this sounds invasive, there’s a reason.

Ariely’s research is all about the subtle ways peer groups, advertisers and even social environment affects our choices – all the things which make people ‘predictably irrational’.

Why do we overvalue the things we sell, but undervalue how much we’re prepared to pay others? Do fancy napkins make food seem tastier and, therefore, worth paying more more for? Why do we love free offers?

This is a book for marketers, clearly, but also statisticians, students, and anyone even vaguely interested in the forces of influence. It’s also a reasonable primer in learning to read statistics and think beyond news headlines critically.

While not quite as immersive as Freakonomics (and arguably a bit drier), it is more applicable to everyday consumers – and that means most of us.

“But there’s also another kind of herding, one that we call self-herding. This happens when we believe something is good (or bad) on the basis of our own previous behaviour. Essentially, once we become the first person in line at the restaurant, we begin to line up behind ourself in subsequent experiences. Does that make sense? Let me explain.”


Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely

Quoted edition published by Thorsons, 2009

Other books like Predictably Irrational
  • Freakonomics, by Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (statistics, everyday economics, consumerism)
  • Factfulness, by Hans Rosling (critical thinking, reasoning, understanding influences)
  • How to be Right, by James O’Brien (critical thinking, reasoning)

Picture credit: Patrick Fore