More fun, Freakonomics-style stories about why people do the things they do.
In this debut, Gneezy (Behavioral Economics/Univ. of California, San Diego) and List (Economics/Univ. of Chicago) draw on 20 years of pioneering field research to explain human motivations. Conducting randomized experiments that examine people’s behavior in the real world, they have explored “the real underbelly of human motivation” behind problems in such areas as education, discrimination and gender equity. Their informative stories about the behavior of people in real-life situations discuss their fascinating discoveries: Most modern-day discrimination stems from people or companies trying to increase their profits. Women earn less because of deeply held cultural worldviews. Financial incentives help underachieving school kids get higher grades. Donors give money mainly to feel good about themselves. In sum, write the authors, “self-interest lies at the root of human motivation—not necessarily selfishness, but self-interest.” Once one understands what people value (money, relationships, praise, etc.), it should be possible to help close the achievement gap in schools, get donors to give more money, and so on, by designing incentives that work to change behavior. Gneezy and List offer illuminating discussions on many topics, from the differences between animus-based and economic discrimination to how women can grow up to be more competitive and close the gender gap in the labor market. Their book brims with stories of the Chicago public schools, the matrilineal society of the Khasi tribal people, and the thinking behind charitable appeals to help children with cleft palates, among others.
Weak title aside, this book will interest general readers as well as individuals and companies seeking to influence behaviors.