Dan Airely on Irrational Behavior…From Micro to Macro
Dan Ariely, Duke University Professor of behavioral economics spoke at the TED Conference about the topic predictable irrationality. Ariely’s fascination with irrational behavior started as a child when he was burned badly and recovered for several years in the hospital. He states, “If you spend time in hospitals, you will see many types of irrationality.”
He began to analyze how nurses took of his burn bandages. What was the right approach? Should the nurses remove the bandages slowly or fast, with high intensity? Airely explained that nurses thought that ripping the bandage quickly was the right way. Airely would try to reason with his nurses. He asked for the removal process to be slower, perhaps two hours long rather than one hour, yielding less intensity.
The nurses explained that he should not interfere with their bandage removal process. Three years after his stay in the hospital, he realized that if you have a question, one can can examine that question thoroughly and learn about the world. This study was a microcosm of a bigger social issue. The social issues were pervasive in many areas including politics, policy, healthcare, and Wall Street. Ariely used the bandage situation as an example of a microcosm of a larger issue. He asked more people what option they would choose when removing the bandage. He found that nurses were wrong, they had good intentions. He learned that “We don’t encode duration verse intensity.” Turns out, irrationality is rampant.
What is Airely’s big lesson? “We have to test intuitions. When we test, we can do better.”