Dan Ariely Dan Ariely is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT. His work has been featured in leading scholarly journals as well as a variety of popular media ...
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Dan Ariely is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT. His work has been featured in leading scholarly journals as well as a variety of popular media outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Business 2.0, Scientific American, and Science. He has also been featured on CNN and National Public Radio. Dan publishes widely in the leading scholarly journals in economics, psychology, and business. His work has been featured in a variety of media including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Business 2.0, Scientific American, Science and CNN. He splits his time between Princeton, NJ, and Cambridge, MA (Dan’s Amazon Page)
Dan takes an experimental scientific approach to the belief that human beings can be entirely rational. This supposed rationality is the bedrock of economics and is the idea that we can rationally perform a cost-benefit analysis on services or goods.
His research covers a wide range of areas where our minds betray us and lead us to worse decision making.
For educators, the effects of ‘anchoring’ herding and false coherence were interesting but less useful for an educational context. Educators do, however, need to understand some of the concepts contained in the book.
Social and Moral markets
Dan argues that we live in two paradigms. Cost-benefit analysis drives the market paradigm whilst Social norms, morals and values drive social markets.
In his experiments, Dan was able to show that bringing market norms into the sphere will drive out social norms.
A charity asked lawyers to provide support for pensioners and offered £30 per hour they overwhelmingly said “no”. Yet when offered no money, they primarily said “yes”.
In the first incidence, they applied market norms and considered the pay unattractive. In the second, they used social norms and were happy to help.
Even thinking about money had an impact. Group A descramble sentences about salary etc. before completing a test. They were then less likely to ask for help and less likely to help others.
One of the reasons I am wary about the impact of financial rewards or even rewards attached to a specific value (e.g. Vivo where children are awarded points to buy prizes). Gifts without a particular price did not have a negative effect.
- Getting students to think of social good, e.g. justice or changing the world, has a much more positive affect than talking about salary etc
- Staff are also likely to be dis-incentivised by token overtime payments
Influence of arousal
Dan conducted experiments on decision making with students in a state of sexual arousal. He discovered that their decision making was adversely affected compared to what decision they thought they would make under arousal.
(The questions were around safe sex etc.)
Students were much more moral and safety-driven when not aroused. Dan argues that this would hold true for any arousal, including fear and anger.
We need to work with children about how to make a decision prior to them getting in an aroused state, for example taking condoms with them. We also need to talk to them about how to stop before getting into a state where they will make bad decisions.
Exit cards where students can leave a situation before making poor decisions is an excellent example of this.
Procrastination and self-control
We know what we should do, but we don’t do it! Dan experimented on students looking at deadlines.
Group 1 – Were told the assignments for the semester and were told they required to pick their deadlines. These deadlines were then compulsory with penalties for missing them. (They could choose the last day of the year for all assignments.)
Group 2- Total freedom, they could hand in assignments at any time up to the last day.
Group 3 – Told precisely when to hand papers in and these dates were spread evenly across the semester.
Group 3 got the best results, closely followed by 1 (it was dragged down by some students who chose the latest date for all papers). Group 2 did significantly worse.
Anecdotally I have noticed that students tend to fail coursework and longer assignments unless given component deadlines. It seems to me that working with students to set deadlines would be the best way to work with older students.
Our Mind gets what it expects.
Dan’s research showed that previous impressions and knowledge have a significant impact on decisions and perceptions. He experimented with beer choices. Customers received free samples of beer either Budweiser or the MIT special (a Budweiser laced with balsamic vinegar).
When told about the vinegar before tasting, they mostly disliked the laced beer
When not told they preferred the laced beer
When told after tasting about the vinegar, they continued to like the laced beer
In other words, their prior knowledge and conceptions changed their taste.
The concept of priming is fascinating and scary. It is the influence of getting someone to engage with a particular idea or thought prior to making a decision or completing a task.
Dan selected a group of Asian women. Half answered questions about race the rest about gender.
Those asked about race did significantly better at a maths test than those asked about gender. (Asians are stereotyped as being good at maths, women are stereotyped at being bad at maths)
I have heard elsewhere about a similar impact on black students.
In another experiment, students had to unscramble sentences about being polite, nicer etc. The other group had to unscramble sentences about being rude. They then had to collect something from a reception.
The students with the ‘rude’ sentences waited significantly less time than those who had polite sentences.
Focusing on positives, e.g. black high performers and positives ways to behave is likely to have a much more substantial impact than measures that focus around negatives
I would highly recommend this book as it is an excellent insight into how we are manipulated and irrational in all sorts of circumstances. It also suggests some simple changes that would benefit schools.