Dan Ariely on Behavioural Economics

SOver at The Browser's Five Books:

The first one on your list is The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.

These are the guys who did one of the most important pieces of research in social science, which is to show how little we actually see in the world around us. The basic demonstration of this is a movie in which there are two groups playing basketball. One group is wearing white t-shirts and the other group is wearing black t-shirts. They are passing the ball, and the viewer is asked to count how many times the people in white t-shirts pass the ball to each other. What then happens in the background is a gorilla passes through. He stops right in the middle and thumps his chest. When the clip is over, the viewer is asked, “How many times did you see the people in white t-shirts pass the ball?” Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong. But when you ask, “How many of you saw the gorilla?” it turns out very few people saw the gorilla.

I didn’t see the gorilla.

There’s also another demonstration in the book that I really like. This involves going up to someone on a campus with a map and saying, “Excuse me, can you help me figure out how to get to the student centre?” They take the map from your hand and start explaining it to you. While they’re explaining, two people in workmen’s clothes come between you with a door. For a moment, they obscure your view. What the person you’ve asked for directions doesn’t know is that you’re going away. You’re walking off with the door and a new person is standing in front of them. The question is, do people notice this change? And the answer is, again, no.