The follow-up to the author’s bestselling Predictably Irrational (2008).
In his previous book, Ariely (Behavioral Economics/Duke Univ.) discussed how the human tendency toward irrational decision-making can lead to undesirable outcomes. Here he addresses similar ideas but turns them on their head. In some cases, he explains, the irrational course of action can actually be the best way to go. The book is divided into two sections addressing the ways people “defy logic” at work and at home, respectively, featuring descriptions of behavioral experiments Ariely and his colleagues have performed. Many of the results are surprising. Logic would suggest, for example, that taking breaks during a boring or unpleasant task would be beneficial. Not so, writes the author, whose experiments indicated that taking breaks actually makes it harder to adapt to a task, making it more difficult. In another experiment, he examined why people are more likely to give to charities when they feel an emotional connection to them, and found that when people think rationally about charities, they tend to give much less. Nearly all of Ariely’s experiments are convincing, and his amiable tone is often charming. He also brings a welcome personal aspect to the book, drawing on the story of a tragedy from his youth. When he was a teenager in the Israeli Defense Forces, an accidental discharge of a magnesium flare left him with severe burns on 70 percent of his body. His recovery—which also involved a contraction of hepatitis from a blood transfusion—was long and grueling, but it gave him some keen insights into human behavior. He writes perceptively about his excruciating experience to effectively back up various behavioral concepts—such as why some victims of accidents develop a heightened tolerance for pain, while terminal cancer victims do not.