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The Best of TED: Are we in control of our own decisions?

By Brian | April 14, 2010 | Share on Facebook

Wow…has it really been two weeks since I posted anything here? Sorry about that, folks – and thanks for coming back. I’ll try to not stay away so long again…

Today, I continue with my Best of TED series, in which I share talks from the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference that have struck me over the years as particularly insightful or fascinating.

Today’s entry is by behavioral economist, Dan Ariely. In it, Dr. Ariely offers some frighteningly simple examples of how quickly and frequently we behave irrationally, even when we firmly believe we’re not. Here’s a taste:

Imagine I give you a choice. Do you want to go for a weekend to Rome? All expenses paid, hotel, transportation, food, breakfast, a continental breakfast, everything. Or a weekend in Paris? Now, a weekend in Paris, a weekend in Rome, these are different things. They have different food, different culture, different art.

Now imagine I added a choice to the set that nobody wanted. Imagine I said, “A weekend in Rome, a weekend in Paris, or having your car stolen?” It’s a funny idea. Because why would having your car stolen, in this set, influence anything? But what if the option to have your car stolen was not exactly like this. What if it was a trip to Rome, all expenses paid, transportation, breakfast. But doesn’t include coffee in the morning. If you want coffee you have to pay for it yourself. It’s two euros 50. Now in some ways, given that you can have Rome with coffee, why would you possibly want Rome without coffee? It’s like having your car stolen. It’s an inferior option.

But guess what happened? The moment you add Rome without coffee, Rome with coffee becomes more popular. And people choose it. The fact that you have Rome without coffee makes Rome with coffee look superior. And not just to Rome without coffee, even superior to Paris.

The kicker is this: having read the story, most everyone believes that they, themselves, would overcome the phenomenon. Other people may be silly enough to be swayed toward Rome simply because an inferior option is presented, but you would simply disregard that option and judge Rome vs. Paris on their merits, right? So if everyone, individually, is immune, why is it that as a group, we behave this way?

Watch the rest of the video for more:

Topics: The Best of TED | 1 Comment »

One Response to “The Best of TED: Are we in control of our own decisions?”

  1. FamilyGreenberg.Com - The Best of TED: Our mistaken expectations says at May 3rd, 2010 at 3:23 pm :
    [...] The Best of TED: Are we in control of our own decisions? [...]

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