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Speaking of Strange Behavior

Speaking of Strange Behavior

On Saturday, April 20 Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist who loves speaking about his unorthodox research, is coming to RISD as part of Shared Voices: The RISD Presidential Speaker Series. The author of such bestsellers as Predictably Irrational (2008), The Upside of Irrationality (2010) and The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty (2012) has chosen to title his talk at RISD: Who Put the Monkey in the Driver’s Seat?

After all, as a species, humans live with the everyday irony of behaving irrationally despite knowing better. On Saturday, Ariely will talk about why that is – and about how to overcome some of our natural (and less than desirable) tendencies.

In his work as James B. Duke Professor of Psychology & Behavioral Economics at Duke University and as an all-around curious guy, Ariely asks such basic questions as: Despite good intentions, why do we so often fail to act in our own best interest? Why do we swear off eating sweets and yet totally give in to temptation the minute the dessert tray rolls by? What are the forces that influence our behavior?

Ariely’s interests span a wide range of behaviors and have led to interesting, amusing and informative experiments about everything from honesty and decision-making to transient emotions and online dating. In addition to his books, he has published his research findings – often as part of a team – in scores of articles and papers. In place of traditional scholarly research titles, his papers tend to sound as intriguing as the investigations themselves: Too Tired to Tell the Truth: Self-Control Resource Depletion and Dishonesty (in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology), The IKEA effect: When labor leads to love (in the Journal of Consumer Psychology) and If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not? Physical-Attractiveness Evaluations and Dating Preferences as a Function of One’s Own Attractiveness (in Psychological Science).

Ariely first became interested in researching irrationality when he was hospitalized due to injuries sustained in an explosion. “The range of treatments in the burn department – and particularly the daily ‘bath’ – made me face a variety of irrational behaviors that were immensely painful and persistent,” he notes on his website. After leaving the hospital, he kept thinking about why people “repeatedly and predictably make the wrong decisions” and soon resolved to use research to help surface irrational behavior with the goal of potentially helping people to change their ill-advised decision-making patterns.

Ariely holds a PhD in Business Administration from Duke and a PhD in Cognitive Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His BA and MA degrees are also in psychology and among his many academic appointments, he held one at MIT’s Media Lab from 2000–10. In addition to his positions at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, the Department of Economics and the School of Medicine, Ariely is a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight, a laudable institution dedicated to developing “great insights (in hindsight) about an extensive and diverse set of research projects.”

Dan Ariely will speak at 7:30 pm on Saturday, April 20 in the RISD Auditorium. His talk is free and open to the public, but advanced registration is required. Go to the Shared Voices website for more information. A live stream of Ariely’s talk will also be available on the site.