Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Upside Of Irrationality: Chapter 5

Through a series of experiments, Dan Ariely documents the many ways in which humans behave irrationally. By understanding these human tendencies, we can both learn to behave more rationally when it is to our benefit, and better understand why those around us are behaving in the way they are.

Revenge seems irrational on the surface. We are willing to go to great lengths, far out of our way, and sometimes even hurting ourselves, in order to punish someone who has wronged us. But it also acts as a deterrent. If someone believes we will go out of our way to harm them, they may be less likely to wrong us in the first place.

Ariely notes that brain scans suggest we actually experience pleasure while doling out a punishment to someone who we believe deserves it. In a series of experiments, he also drills down to see how revenge works.

For one thing, when we are wronged we don't seem to distinguish too much between a principal and an agent. For example, if we feel wronged by a waiter (the agent), we seem to have no problem exacting our revenge on the restaurant owner (the principal who may not have been involved in the "wrong").

Ariely's experiments also show that apologies do attenuate the desire for revenge, however. The passage of time also appears to reduce our need for revenge. Ariely also uses the chapter to vent about some of his own bad customer experiences, exacting revenge in this way.

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