Thursday, June 13, 2013

Irrationality is Human

I think it would be foolish not to take irrationality seriously.What's worse is how we rationalize irrationality. I grew up thinking that rationality is noble virtue to be acquired because my environment was largely filled with people who gave more importance to emotions over rational approach. Years passed with me yet to acquire the elusive virtue.

Finally the moment arrived. True realization in serendipity. I realized the difference between rationality and rationalizing irrationality and much to surprise I realized that we as human beings have the uncanny ability to do it with ease even without realizing it.

My FMOT ( First Moment of Truth) was when i was trying buy a Television.. Like most men from Mars, I did trucks loads of research ( PMPO, inches, cost, offers) and narrowed down on one option.With great expectations, I walked into the store with  data in hand and all set to make the rational decision of buying Option A. The unexpected happened...The sensory experiences( great visuals and sound effects) took over  the rational approach.Much to my amazement I chose something that was different from the choice that I logically deduced as an option. At the moment, I rationalized my purchase decision for reasons that did not feature in my evaluation criteria.

That moment was the starting point of my search of the power of irrationality. I pondered to get some answers for my behavior. The revelation was possible through some insights that very stated by renowned cognitive psychologists in their books as well as my own self analysis - detaching myself from the decision and analyzing. The possible explanations that I could give to my decision making journey includes:

  1. Our cognitive capabilities are based different sensory based learning styles on one or more senses. In my case, I am more visual (dominant) and Kinesthetic based learner.. The visuals on Television and the ambiance did have an on my decision making process. Imagine a large 56 inch TV with gorgeous visuals... Why would you not be tempted?
  2. When faced with plenty of choices we rely on heuristics. In my case, the heuristics was that a good brand with  good ambiance and a good English speaking sales appearing to be knowledgeable can't get me to make  wrong decision. As Daniel Kahneman quotes in his book"Thinking Fast, Slow"- "The essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution". I might have substituted a convincing salesman for rational benefits.
Even in human relationships, it is important to accept irrationality in human behavior. The acceptance that irrationality is an integral part of human nature has helped me look at each event or stimuli with much more openness.  When I look at the following events, I am able to understand and appreciate human irrationality:
  1. In a restaurant when sitting in the same table, no two people will order the same food.
  2. Why we prefer some brands over the other
  3. How we decide candidate fitment in a 10 min interview?
  4. How judgmental we are about our colleagues or friends
  5. The way we associate intelligence to qualification, nationality, color.
  6. Our belief that our cognitive capabilities and memory functions are infinite.
As Dan Ariely says, we are predictably irrational.