What Is Irrationality?

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Pages: 6

For the banker, irrationality implies bubbles (and their inevitable bursts). For the politician, that same word might imply the opposite party, and for the love-stricken student, an unreasonable crush. In today’s information economy, society often treats irrationality as anathema, and Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow exemplifies just how frequently we engage in “irrational” behavior. Still, individuals and institutions alike can leverage “irrational” behavior to induce positive actions, such as the reduction of credit card debt.

In his examination of irrational behavior, Kahneman divides the brain into two parts: System 1, which makes quick, intuitive assessments, and System 2, which deals with more involved decisions. System 1, for example,
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In Solomon Asch’s classic study, after all, participants making split-second decisions greatly preferred people deemed intelligent-industrious-envious over those deemed envious-industrious-intelligent (page 82). Paradoxically, both groups of adjectives list the same word – just in different orders. Yet what defines irrational behavior? Calling irrationality the opposite of rationality is a start, but hardly delineates the term. Formal definitions of rationality (especially in utility theory) exist, but less technical definitions suffice here. Simply put, irrational behavior occurs when framing similar problems in different ways leads to different decisions. For flexibility, this definition intentionally leaves ambiguity in the word “framing” – both having someone spend more time on a problem and rewording the problem itself can change its …show more content…
Psychologists and economists alike have long understood humanity’s typically risk-averse nature. In other words, given two outcomes with the same expected value, people will overwhelmingly choose the more certain outcome. Yet even risk-averseness has its limits – given the choice between a potential devastating loss and a guaranteed not-so-devastating loss, people actually turn into risk seekers. Our tendency to become risk-averse when dealing with gains and our tendency to become risk seeking when dealing with “unacceptable” losses may not appear particularly surprising upon reflection. Yet the two tendencies can lead people to give very different answers when faced with the same question framed in different