Sway and Predictably Irrational

If you’re looking for some fairly light reading on the subject of human behavior (especially as it relates to choice patterns), then Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior and Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions should fit the bill.Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman is a breezy account of the various irrational choice patterns – the authors call them “sways” – that influence and often undermine our otherwise healthy decision-making processes. They address issues like loss aversion (staying attached to something despite copious evidence that it’s unhealthy, non-functional, or unproductive), diagnosis bias (maintaining a first impression despite copious evidence disproving that first impression), and the chameleon effect (the tendency to alter your choices based on the situation in which you find yourself – they even break this category into two sub-categories based on whether the influence is focused on positive or negative attributes: the Pygmalion effect and the golem effect). Here is a pair of quotes from the book that I can’t get out of my head. “Unlike, say, the parts of our brain that control movement and speech, the pleasure center and the altruism center cannot both function at the same time.” and “It’s as if we have two ‘engines’ running in our brains that can’t operate simultaneously. We can approach a task either altruistically or from a self-interested perspective. The two different engines run on different fuels and also need different amounts of those fuels to fire up. It doesn’t take much to fuel the altruism center: all you need is the sense that you’re helping someone or making a positive impact. But the pleasure center seems to need a lot more.” Very, very interesting.While Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely does tangentially address the effects of our irrational tendencies on our personal lives it focuses more on how those irrational tendencies affect our economic choices. This isn’t surprising given Ariely’s background as a behavioral economist. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on honesty (even though he frames his argument in economic terms). And he makes an excellent point early in the book about the difference between using an economic frame or a social frame when we’re trying to make rational decisions. I found that very applicable to the library field, especially during these economically challenging times. Who would ever think that the social value of a thing could be as important as its economic value? :)It seems to me that, especially in libraries, the levels of our customer service and marketing excellence can be beneficially influenced by the type of information in these books. I recommend them both.(Oddly enough, authors of both books are regular contributors to the Psychology Today blogs that I’ve mentioned before. Cool!)

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