Predictably Irrational and Totally Improbable

On October 3, 2008, in behavior, economics, by Karen Grepin

The annual Ig Nobel Awards were handed out last evening in Cambridge. Some fine research was celebrated, including a 1985 paper which showed that Coke was in fact an effective contraceptive, but that Diet Coke is even more effective (note: this study was likely conducted before the introduction of new coke, so don’t try this at home without some additional validation of these results). I thought about blogging about how we could help to get contraceptives into some of the poorest places in Africa by using education campaigns for Coke (which we know is available just about everywhere in the world) but decided to leave that one out of it.

However, the authors of one of my favorite articles to ever to grace the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association were honored for their important scientific contribution. Simply put, Dan Ariely and colleagues conducted an experiment which showed that more expensive placebos work a lot better than less expensive placebos. Say what? Yeah, fake medicines work better when they cost more.

At first this may seem to be totally ridiculous research, but behavioral scientist do these kinds of experiments all of the time. Behavior economics is slowing breaking down and invalidating much of our models of human behavior. Behavioral economics are starting to creep into health and public health research, although there is still a lot to be done.

Ariely now has a book out called “Predictably Irrational” where you can read all about the quirkiness of human behavior.

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