The Upside of Irrationality

The Upside of Irrationality: The unexpected benefits of defying logic at work and at home by Dan Ariely is an excitingly, new and positive view on the irrational behaviour of men. Through several decades of studying the behaviour of people, Dan Ariely has accumulated a vast body of knowledge on the irrational behaviour we showcase every day. He takes us on a journey of the strange findings he and other colleagues have found, and elaborates on how we can think of the positive effects these irrationalities can have.

Also see Predictably Irrational.

The book is subdivided into two distinct parts, the first about irrationality at work, the second about irrationality at home. It features grasping aspects of subjects like the topic of big bonuses, why we enjoy work, and why we overvalue what we make ourselves. In the home domain adaption is explained (both to positive and negative events), online dating debunked, and emotions put under the loop. Ariely does a fine job of combining both experiment and real-life examples for all domains that make it easier to grasp the sometimes counter-intuitive concepts and findings.

To give an example is the effect of bonuses on the productivity of workers. In an experiment where they gave people large bonuses (1 day, 1 week, 1 month approximately) most people expected for performance to go up. When you think about it, you would be more motivated to work for more money, and definitively be attracted to a job where bigger bonuses are more common. This conclusion for motivation does hold true, performance, however, did not increase. Not even slightly, it decreased when the bonuses grew bigger. One of the explanations for this effect is the increased pressure from which people start to perform sub-optimal (imagine an inverse U-shape in which the stress level is so high the performance decreases when reaching over the middle level).

Dan Ariely has a right position to be speaking about these irrational phenomena, as a behavioural economist, his field covers everything from business to psychology. As a professor at Duke University, he is an utmost productive researcher and has also written an earlier book about irrationality named Predictably Irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions (2008).

When reflecting on reading the novel one comment can be made. The preface makes it look like there is a vast amount of good news, and that the book will summarize all the positive findings about irrationality. It, however, does not shy away from the negative side of irrationality and shows how bad decisions can be made because of irrational behaviour. This does not hinder the quality of the book in any way but may confront us people more with our faults than we might have wanted to have been.


The Book:

The Upside of Irrationality: The unexpected benefits of defying logic at work and at home – Dan Ariely– ISBN-10: 0061995045 | ISBN-13: 978-0061995040


More on The Upside of Irrationality: – Index of The Upside of Irrationality – Blog by Dan Ariely – Ian Ayres on The Upside of Irrationality (review) – Videos by Dan Ariely on The Upside of Irrationality