Rationality isn’t always rational …

I came across Dan Ariely’s blog.  He’s the author of “Predictably Irrational” and the new “The Upside of Irrationality”, which all talk, at least in part, about irrational things that humans do.

The blog is http://danariely.com/ .

I’ll keep my eye on the blog, because some of the things he talks about are interesting.  But in a way it disappoints me, because at least the blog posts tend to avoid what I think are the really interesting questions with those sorts of studies and the like: what was the reasoning process involved in making those “irrational” decisions, and are they really irrational?  Even when he posits reasons, he tends to posit that they are mistakes, but sometimes that isn’t the case.  I’ve found that some of the time — at least for me personally — it’s just a different reasoning process from what is expected.

Some examples:

1) Recently, a nearby gas station redid their car wash and once it came back online offered a deal: get a Luxury Car Wash for the same price as a Basic.  So, at one point I went there and wanted a car wash.  I was told about the deal, but insisted that I only wanted a Basic car wash.  The attendent looked at me like I was nuts, and even pointed out that getting the Luxury was the better deal, because I got more for the same money.  So, I was being irrational, right?

Not so fast.  The reason I insisted on the Basic was because I absolutely didn’t want those extras.  The Luxury wash includes a waxing, and I don’t want to do that to my vehicles.  If I want them waxed, I’ll do it myself.  Also, it included an undercarriage wash, which I do infrequently so that I won’t cause problems with the undercoating.  Now, I’ll admit to being a little particular about these things and that doing it once wouldn’t cause any issues … but, then again, I generally didn’t want them done.  If I did, I’d have taken the deal.  But since I didn’t want them done, paying the same amount to get only what I wanted done and leaving out the things I didn’t want done is actually fairly rational … despite the fact that, on paper, it looks like I was getting a raw deal.  It’d only be a raw deal if I, at some level, wanted the extras that I would be getting for free.  Since I didnt want them, I made a perfectly rational decision.

2) Combo meals.  Generally, when I go to a fast food restaurant, I never order combos and always order, say, a hamburger and fries separately.  This is despite the fact that the price for the combo and for the separate items are usually pretty close, if not identical.  Same sort of situation, right?  I’m giving up getting extra — the drink — even though it wouldn’t cost me more.  Irrational?

Again, no, not really.  The problem is that, in general, I don’t want a drink with the meal.  I usually only get these things take-out, which means that I’m going someplace where I have access to plain water or my own beverages.  But you could still claim that I’d get more — or be able to save my own beverages — if I went with the combo.  But that’s exactly the problem: there’s more in one soft drink than I’d normally drink with a meal.  And getting water or something else is annoying, since I have to deal with the bottle or container and drinking something that I don’t really want to drink (I tend to only drink water or milk with meals).  So, adding on the drink tends to annoy me … an annoyance I can avoid if I just pay separately.  So, again, even though I’m missing out on the great deal, I’m actually being rational about it; the price difference isn’t worth — to me — the issues that come along with getting it.

And this, to me, is what interests me about examples like Ariely’s: if these peopel are reasoning it out, what reasoning is convincing them?  More studies of the reasons and less speculation would be of great interest to me.

(Note that I’m not saying that he doesn’t do that in his books or in his more in-depth papers; he may well do that, at which point I’d be very interested in reading them.)

3 Responses to “Rationality isn’t always rational …”

  1. Examining Reason « The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] So, reason has been a topic of discussion lately. Obviously, the so-called Reason Rally has opened up a lot of discussion on when someone or something counts as rational, and also about what it would mean to support and use reason. In addition, in the comments on this thread I’ve been engaged in a lot of discussions over what it means to be rational. In the past, I’ve talked about Dan Ariely’s work and challenged our presumptions about what it means … […]

  2. A new criticism of compatiblism by Jerry Coyne … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] and follow the instructions of authority figures. The right sort of contextual factors might be the sorts of things that Dan Ariely talks about, but even in those case those seem to be influences and less determining factors; it biases us […]

  3. Psychology: Looking Into the Subconscious and Ignoring the Conscious | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] ended up browsing on Dan Ariely’s blog. I’ve talked about his views before, but in general he’s trying to use behavioural economics and psychology to show how we […]

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