Dan Ariely’s new book

It’s called “The Upside of Irrationality” and it is a faithful sequel which will appeal to the many fans of his “Predictably Irrational” – I am one of them. As before, it contains many entertaining write-ups of Dan’s experiments.

Dan Ariely was vey badly burned in an accident as a young man and although he described his long and agonising convalescence in “Predictably Irrational”, here he writes much more about how that experience made him feel – for example, about pain, dating, and sex. The writing is dispassionate – neither heartbreaking nor cloying. There is also more of Dan’s advice here, and it’s superior to the odd policy prescriptions he was dishing out in the first book.

Ariely is a hugely likeable writer and a relentlessly inventive experimenter. One fascinating study was spurred by discovering that both Ariely and Hanan Frenk (a double-amputee after driving over a landmine) refused painkillers for dental work (why bother?). Frenk and Ariely studied whether people who had suffered traumatic injuries had a higher tolerance for pain. They do. And the terminally ill, it seems (this is more speculative) have a low tolerance for pain.

That said, I have my usual objection about over-interpreting laboratory work. An example: Ariely advises us to take breaks during enjoyable experiences and to get unpleasant experiences done in one sitting. (The thinking is that we adapt to both experiences, and we adapt less if the experience is interrupted.) That’s fine, until he reveals the experimental work behind this recommendation – which involved playing subjects annoying noises for 40 seconds, with or without breaks. That’s suggestive but a 40-second experiment may not tell us how we react to interrupting experiences that last an hour, a week, or a year.

If you’d like to see me and Dan argue, here’s our debate for Amazon (start at the bottom). Here’s Dan’s website; he’s about to start a book tour in the US. This book is strongly recommended, especially if you enjoyed “Predictably Irrational”.

Tim Harford’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.