Behavioral economists see humanity as a giant irrational mass. Yet that doesn’t mean they’re innate pessimists. Rather, they see a giant blank canvas on which masterpieces can be built.
In this Big Think+ preview, Duke University professor (and bona fide cool guy psychologist) Dan Ariely teaches an important lesson about perspective. Our goal as human beings needs to accept that we’re wrong sometimes, figure out why exactly we faltered, and commit to making substantial improvements. This idea is universal and can be applied everywhere from college psychology departments to your own office or home.
Dan Ariely: This question about whether behavioral economics is optimistic or pessimistic is really quite interesting. And in some sense it’s both, right?
If you believe in rational economics and you believe that people are rational it’s a very beautiful perspective about people. You would look at this and say, "Hey, this person is rational. They always make the right decision" and "This person is rational always making the..." – how wonderful this is. Behavioral economics is not so wonderful from that perspective. You look at people and say, "This person is myopic," "vindictive," "emotional," "doesn’t know what to do," "is easily confused," and so on. And from that perspective behavioral economics is very depressing.
However, when I look at the world in general I’m not too happy with the state of the world. And you can ask yourself, "Is this the state of the world? Wars, crime, pollution..." You name it. "Is this an outcome of eight billion rational people?" And I would prefer to think that this is the outcome of eight billion irrational people who are not doing the right thing and therefore it means we can make things better.
So it’s kind of my view on this is that, if you think about people as being not so capable, it’s very sad about human nature but it means that we have a tremendous room for improvement. I think that’s our goal. Our goal as scientists is to figure out where do we go wrong and what can we do to not let our nature destroy ourselves and the world - and hopefully get to a slightly better outcome.