Three questions for Dan Ariely

I’m interrupting my self-imposed one-week exile from blogging to pose three questions to Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and “behavioral economics” at Duke University (You see, we finally got around to reading the revised and expanded edition of his 2008 book “Predictably irrational: the hidden forces that shape our decisions.”) Stated bluntly, Professor Ariely’s smug and self-refuting thesis is that people are not only stupid; we are stupid in predictable ways, so here are our three questions:

1. What is the “optimal level” of stupidity? Why isn’t it not zero? Sorry for the double negative, but economists of all stripes will understand the spirit of my first question. When we are making choices in real time, we don’t have infinite amounts of time and cognitive resources to measure all the potential pros and cons of our choices. Simply put, we don’t live an ideal world, a world with zero transaction costs, so some level of stupidity might, in fact, be optimal!

2. What are the sample sizes of each of your experiments? (And what is the average age of the participants?) For example, on page 92 of your book you mention in passing that one of your social science experiments had only 25 participants. Need I say more …?

3. Why don’t you address any of Steve Levitt and John List’s criticisms of your methods, especially their point about the paltry financial stakes of most of your experiments? Although you mention in passing Levitt and List’s powerful critique of social science lab experiments at the beginning of your book, at no point do you actually respond to their specific and well-reasoned criticisms. Why not? (Your caricature of and fictional dialogue with your “Mr. Logic” straw man doesn’t count!)

Image result for strawman

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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2 Responses to Three questions for Dan Ariely

  1. Kathy H says:

    I think you are being way too harsh in your criticism. I spent a delightful week listening to Dan Ariely’s lectures at Chautauqua a few years ago and did not find him smug or condescending. He makes many good points about human behavior. The term stupidity is undefinable. What is stupid to you may not be stupid to me. Climbing up Mt. Everest may seem stupid to me, but it is not to the crowd trying to climb it. His observations may be anecdotal, but how many people cling to anecdotal evidence as a source when making a decision. There are so many factors when making a decision, and not all of decision made by people are rational, not all fit the economic model of self-interest.

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