Are we in control of our own decisions?

The gist: We are not as ration or in control as we think we are with our decisions. We are constantly and unknowingly influenced by how the options are presented to us.

“…If we understood our cognitive limitations in the same way that we understand our physical limitations, even though they don’t stare us in the face in the same way, we could design a better world.”

We tend to think that we are blessed with rationality thus must be able to make appropriate judgments based on our preferences. But that’s just not the case. Dan Ariely uses a series of cognitive illusions to show that half of the time, we really don’t know what we want!

One example he uses shows that people’s choices of agreeing to organ donation are largely dependent upon what the default option is. Some might say, we choose the default because we don’t care about this. But Dan says that it’s the opposite. It’s because this subject is so complex and difficult that we don’t know what to do. Under such circumstances, we just pick whatever was chosen for us. What an interesting point—how often are we guilty of this illusion? How often do we just go with the default because it’s easy?

The newspaper subscription experiment shows that we are especially susceptible to the way options are laid out when we are unsure about our preferences. In other words, unless you are absolutely sure that you only want option A and hate option B with passion, your final choice can be greatly influenced by the presentation.

Of course it’s not realistic to completely avoid cognitive illusions. After all, we are just humans. But like Dan said, being aware of our limitations is crucial to designing a better world.

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