Review: Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely

February 3, 2014 11:28 am

Book Review: Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely


Dan Ariely has a knack for making the science of human behaviour accessible to all. Whilst some books taking on a scientific subject can often be either laborious to read or patronisingly simple, Predictably Irrational cleverly avoids falling into either of those traps. Ariely’s writing style is friendly and, importantly, does not insult the reader’s intelligence. I admit that I am a total armchair scientist – I find psychology and human behaviour fascinating. Although, I can engage only with books and documentaries that maintain that fascinating air;  the first sign of technical vocabulary or a less interesting aspect of the subject, and I am easy to lose. There was not one second during reading this book that I felt lost.

The book delves into the irrational nature of the human mind and is essentially a catalogue of the extensive research projects Ariely has carried out. Why, for example, are we happy to help somebody out for free, but as soon as we are offered a minimal amount of cash, we are suddenly unwilling? We all know this subconsciously of course – you wouldn’t dream of offering your grandmother £50 for having you round to dinner, but you might buy her a £30 bottle of wine.

Dan_Ariely_-_PopTech_2010_-_Camden,_MaineIt seems counter-intuitive when you step back and think about it: surely she could get more use out of the money (she could even go out and get herself a more expensive bottle of wine), but this is not the way society works. Did you also know that cheating is vastly reduced if people are prompted to think about honesty, even if they could never be caught? I didn’t. In fact, I was completely converted after reading the book, from thinking that humans were rational animals who were prone to making sensible decisions, to almost losing my faith in humanity. However, I also felt slightly empowered. Armed with this knowledge about how people tick, surely I can now manipulate ANYBODY into doing exactly what I want! (I’m joking, of course – it won’t make you God, but it might make you think twice about your own behaviour).

If you want to find out why you become so excited when something is free; but not necessarily when it is priced at a penny, (which, let’s face it, is essentially the same), or the reason why checking your emails 100 times a day is almost irresistible; this would be the perfect book to read. The author manages to inform, educate, and entertain in one seamless motion, and so if human psychology interests you, but you are not a natural-born scientist, give this one a go!

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