Looking Forward to Looking Back

“Someday, we’ll look back at this and laugh.”

This expression is reserved for people who, because they are suffering some awful physical or social pain, can find no reason to laugh right now. They have either blundered into made a costly mistake, collided with an avoidable obstacle, or stumbled into a social faux-pas. Yet, they are convinced that in a foreseeable future, their recollection of the moment will allow them a comic interlude. Continue reading

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Do you LIKE it, or do you WANT it?

“And do what you like. Yeah, and doowutchyalike. Everybody doowutchyalike” Digital Underground

In their 90’s hedonic anthem, Digital Underground invited party revellers to ‘doowutchyalike’. Yeah. Doing just what we like is probably the purest form of satisfaction. So, if our goal is to maximise the collective satisfaction of a population, we ought to distribute the limited resources so that as many as people as possible get as much of the things they like as possible.

The problem is that it is difficult to discover what people like without asking them individually. What people want, in contrast, is immediately revealed in their purchases. Continue reading

The Prodigal Son – The Missing Verses

shutterstock_180038786In a recent ‘behavioural’ review of the biblical tale, the Prodigal Son, I was finally able assuage my usual annoyance with the counter-intuitive reaction of the title character’s father to the boy’s return. I understood the wisdom of the father’s action for his own personal well-being, but the parable still irritated a little. This is because, as a father, I struggled to imagine myself being able suppress the urge to scold the child for having squandered half of the family wealth. The expression “I told you so” would probably have rolled more easily off the tongue than “kill the fattened calf for a feast.” It was only after reviewing the episode for a second time that I realised my hasty conclusion was mostly due to the way the story was told.
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The New Prodigal Son

bentley-1273361_1920Over Christmas I became reacquainted with the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a frequently told story from the New Testament, yet it so often provokes grumbles amongst its audience. And this muffled disapproval always concerns the father’s behaviour. Although everyone can understand the actions of the selfish but ultimately repentant title character, and one can also sympathise with his steadfast but ultimately resentful brother, the father’s response to the return of his lost-but-now-found son strikes many as disproportionate. ..Read more on TCAM’s website

Stimulus interruptus

A patient, when offered the opportunity to take a break midway through a painful medical procedure will often accept the offer. However, a spa client offered the chance to take a short break during a relaxing massage session will typically refuse. In each case, the people on the receiving end of these experiences intuitively believe that they are improving their happiness with their choices. But do they? Continue reading

Sugar-Coated Sleight of Hand

Phony outrage broke out in the office this morning when we learned that some snack manufacturers had achieved the feat of producing lower-calorie candy bars by simply reducing their size. The smaller bars contain the same proportion of sugar and fat as their high-calorie counterparts – and cost the same price – but there is simply less of it in the package.  At first glance, it seems like another example of marketing sleight of hand. From a behavioural economics perspective, however, the candy-makers may actually be doing consumers a favour. Continue reading

The Punishment Swap

My nine-year old has been particularly disobedient lately. Her behavior was so unacceptable last week I threatened not to take her to her best friend’s birthday party, planned for last weekend, if she did not mend her ways. Well, the threat went unheeded; she proceeded almost immediately to do the thing that she had been told not to do. So I declared that she would forfeit the birthday party. She became instantly gloomy and remorseful, but seemed to accept the punishment until, that is, the day before the birthday party. Only then did she realize the full weight of the loss. Continue reading

The Top Five Crocodile Tears of the Dying

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In 2011 Bronnie Ware, a former palliative care nurse, published a book in which she detailed the five most frequent regrets of those she cared for in the final stages of their lives[1]. So what would people on their death-beds do differently if they had their lives to live all over again? Hazard a guess. My suspicion is that you will readily sympathise with the five most popular sentiments because these are among the things today’s robustly-healthy already regret.
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