Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Sway - The irresistible pull of irrational behaviour

I recently read this excellent little book by Ori & Rom Brafman - ( with thanks to Michael who recommended it and lent me a copy )

Based around a series of engaging anecdotes the book explores some of the factors at play that can cause us to depart from what our experience, training and logic would lead us to and instead take seemingly rash and illogical decisions.

Influences covered included

- how the desire to avoid potential loss can lead us to illogical choices - "all-in" packages versus pay-as-you-go being one area where the risk of being charged more than the all in price causes us to accept the fixed rate even when the other option could well be cheaper.
- how the perceived cost of something affects how we value it - if it's free can it really be any good
- why as a man you should be wary of an attractive women who approaches you after you have just crossed a high rope bridge
- how the concept of "fairness" could lead people to turn down free money and studio audiences to deliberately banjax a contestant's chances of winning
- how offering a bit of money can lead to a worse result than relying purely on altruism. Altruism triggers the nucleus accumbens area of the brain whilst monetary reward triggers the posterior superior temporal sulcus - they say, and who am I to doubt them. They can't both operate at the same time so if you try and rely mainly on altruism but offer a small monetary sweetener you can end up closing down the altruism response completely.
- the value of dissent (and dissenters)

Ultimately I think the main lesson to take from the book is to be aware that as I take decisions and make judgments all sorts of hidden forces and influences are at work swaying my choices. By being more aware of what they could be, staying alert to wayward value attributions and assumptions about those around me plus taking steps, such as seeking out the dissenting voice, to counteract them, hopefully some bad choices can be avoided. I think the reality is that being "Sway"ed is here to stay so we need to accept that some of the decisions we take will be wrong and be prepared to admit it when it happens.

I hope there's a sequel sometime in the future and, like anyone else who has traveled out of Waterloo on the Weymouth train, my money's on the title being "New Milton".

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