I just finished reading the book “The irresistible pull of irrational behaviour by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman”. And I recommend everyone to buy and read this book. This book wonderfully explains with several real-life examples how modern educated people who are otherwise well-mannered, adjusted to society norms and leading exemplary life suddenly start behaving irrationally. Indeed, the book is a case study that can help shake our own internal notion that “we always act rationally”. The book goes to prove that not even doctors and scientists are not immune to the act of behaving irrationally sometimes.

Rational thinking refers to ability of a person to use logical thought process to arrive at a decision rather than basing the decision on emotions. Yet time and again often we err as the book examples also depicts. Humans are emotional creatures and emotions affect our decision-making ability and we end up taking irrational decisions due to various hidden currents and forces that act on us.

The Brafman Brothers have identified the following key psychological factors as detrimental to us losing our ability to being rational viz:

  1. Loss aversion
  2. Commitment
  3. Value Attribution
  4. Diagnostic bias
  5. Fairness sway
  6. Negligible or no influence from any dissenter.

I will not explain all of the above elements, however explaining a couple “toh banta hai!” (Read: Should happen). This is my way of giving a glimpse into the book so that everyone’s interest towards an insightful book read is piqued.

Loss Aversion

Ever dabbled in stock market and especially the secondary derivative market? If yes, this element will find agreement quickly. As a trader, one sets to conduct his business of buying and selling stocks based on certain rules for eg: buy when price reaches this level, sell in-case we make x percent profit or x percent /x amount loss (stoploss), hold for not more than x period etc..  

While rules are set in our head, when the price starts moving either very fast or very slowly, we are emotionally driven to take decisions. 2 emotions rule the stock market, “Greed and fear”. Loss aversion is fear in action. When stock refuses to move in our planned direction for long while and then starts slowly inching upward, our loss aversion and fear makes us quit position early with smaller profit instead of planned larger profit. Similarly, in-case stock moves very fast but in opposite direction giving us a loss and touches our stoploss point quickly, this very loss aversion makes us bury our head in sand with thoughts that it will start upward movement again anytime soon. We refuse to quit position hoping to recover from the stoploss. Familiar??

Let us take another simpler and small example. How about our choice in taking an internet package for home? Personally, I may be aware that I use internet for specific reasons and I am also aware that my family members also use it for very specific purpose. Adding all this up makes me rationally arrive at a figure that I know can handle the monthly need even when few guests arrive asking for WIFI. Even after knowing this, I still opt for “unlimited internet” package. Reason is now simple – “Loss aversion”. We mentally experience a dread of increased usage and misappropriate penalty rates for that month and would rather avoid it by paying a flat monthly rate for “unlimited” data usage.

The same logic works for us when we choose an ola or uber (wherever possible) as against a hailed meter taxi since we are assailed by dread of being swindled by the taxi driver who in our mind may take us through a longer route and charge heftier amount than an ola or uber. Such decisions feel simple, innocent and logical but the rational behind is based on loss aversion rather than true rational thinking. Any kind of insurance business thrives often due to this human tendency for loss aversion.

Value Attribution

I have seen a video where our beloved Swamiji mentions that he is often subject to unusual treatment due to the medicant robes that he chooses to wear. He sees this especially when he walks into a laptop store searching for a good laptop in India. This is nothing but “value attribution” in action. Shopkeepers especially in India look at clothes and attribute the capacity of a customer to pay or buy a product or capacity to even use or understand a product based on the clothes the person is wearing.  The Brafman Brothers in the book provide example of a very talented musician (who is so reputed in own music world that his show’s tickets gets always booked in advance) subject to this value attribution. Instead of the usual performance in a closed auditorium, he chooses to perform freely in a busy railway station wearing mediocre clothing and onlookers instead of stopping to listen and appreciating the music just move on assuming that it is a street performer trying to earn a quick buck. Humans often refuse to see a treasure unless it is boldly labelled as treasure. Brafman brothers have provided another real world example, this time from scientific community where well documented entries of a unknown or non-traditional discoverer are scorned and a discovery that was true refused to get recognition due to value attribution of the scientific community. It takes another member from the scientific community to prove and validate after almost a decade that indeed the theory was correct and valuable.

Value attribution refers to a mental shortcut within a human thinking structure to determine what is worthy of our attention. It is an internal process that happens unconsciously or subconsciously without our awareness. We do that to ourselves. Humans often turn down a pitch or idea presented by the Wrong” person or on the other extreme blindly follow the advise of someone who is highly regarded. WOW! Now do you understand why Swamiji keeps advocating mindfulness ? He has first-hand experience of value attribution by a human mind. And we keep walking thinking that we always make rational decisions in our life.

This was a small glimpse into the book’s central theme. Do read this whole book and you will be amazed by the way humans automatically tend towards irrationality. Our human brain is wired to look for shortcuts so that it can process information quickly. And we are now living in the era of information overload. When too much information needs processing, the mind searches for shortcuts and this in-turn causes irrational behaviour that is either ignored or not seen. Reading this book can help us recognize the hidden forces and currents that act on us. Hopefully it can urge and push us even more towards mediation and mindfulness as necessary tools to overcome the internal psychological warps and be a better version of ourselves.

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Satish R

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