Behavioral economist Ariely to introduce week on ‘Irrationality’



Fueled by caffeine and energized by enthusiasm, “Irrationality” mastermind Dan Ariely has already been ensconced at Chautauqua Institution for eight days honing his plans.

Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, is a social scientist who designs and conducts simple experiments to study how people genuinely act within and occasionally outside the marketplace.

Working at the nexus of psychology and economics, he has observed, recorded and analyzed how people actually behave.

At 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, Ariely will address why people regularly act in ways that defy their interests and how they justify their own dishonesty. All through this week, he will also lead special afternoon sessions of expanded discussion on the week’s theme. The times and locations vary by day — today’s session is at 3:30 p.m. in the Hall of Philosophy.

He said he would like Chautauquans to think about the role the environment plays in their decisions and leave with a different sense of what they do wrong and do right in their personal life and what they can do about it.

Dishonesty is a central and continuing area of research for Ariely, and it is the focus of his third book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone — Especially Ourselves.

During the 2012 season, Ariely kicked off a week dedicated to “The Ethics of Cheating” and wrote a guest column on plagiarism and essay mills for The Chautauquan Daily. The following summer he taught a three-day special seminar on lying.

This morning, Ariely will provide Chautauquans with ideas on how to better immerse themselves in the expanding field of irrationality during the week ahead.

It is a week that he has helped bring to fruition, too. Ariely has worked with staff in the Institution’s Department of Education since early 2014 to assist in shaping the narrative and choosing the week’s other speakers.

“They are all friends who are doing interesting research, give good talks and have the agility to do things fast in the afternoon sessions,” he said.

Through the years, Ariely has shared his research findings through a range of forums in the U.S. and abroad, including graduate and undergraduate courses, peer-reviewed academic journals, a Wall Street Journal column titled “Ask Ariely,” TED Talks, executive seminars and New York Times best-selling books, among others.

In addition to The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Ariely wrote Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic, and most recently, Irrationally Yours: On Missing Socks, Pickup Lines, and Other Existential Puzzles, based on his Wall Street Journal column.

“I’m not happy with people thinking versus doing,” he said. “I don’t care so much where theories come from. It’s whatever works. When we do studies, we don’t like to use focus groups. We prefer to get what we think about as real data about behavior. I want to see outcome measures. I want to see people making changes.”

While Ariely holds appointments at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Kenan Institute for Ethics Business, School of Medicine and Department of Economics, he is also a co-founder of Duke’s Center for Advanced Hindsight.

This center is conducting basic research on the psychology of money, motivation and dishonesty, and it uses applied research to foster interventions that will help poor communities within the U.S. and Africa.

“At the end of 2007, enthusiasm for behavioral economics really started,” Ariely said. “The financial crisis may have helped my field. I kept thinking that it would stop soon, but I have this feeling that people are behaving in positive ways as a result.

“People are reading my books and trying things. It’s wonderful to get the sense that even though the world of policy is slow, people are doing things. Kids are even doing projects for science classes. Reactions have been fantastic, and there are lots of requests from companies to help them think about ethics.”