St. Paul ate my breakfast.

(something odd is happening with my blog formatting this morning, so I apologize for the lack of paragraph separation. I have redone it five times now, and before I smash something, I’m giving up)

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.(Romans 7:15,16)

Well, maybe Paul isn’t exactly clear on what he did that he hated, but isn’t it possible that he ate two Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and drank three cups of coffee and a glass of milk before 6 a.m.? He could have had a bowl of oatmeal, but he chose the wrong thing.
Which leads me to a review of Dan Ariely’s Irrational Predictability. I ate the cinnamon rolls this morning knowing that they would not make me feel great. I know I’ll have to eat something with protein in it later, and I know that I need to lose weight. But the cinnamon rolls were there. I didn’t have to cook them, because I made them yesterday for a group of my daughter’s friends who spent the night. So they were easy, and they were also tasty.
Ariely makes the case that we don’t always make good choices. Not a difficult case to make, but he provides some unique insights into how we behave through his experiments in behavioral economics, which he describes as “an emerging field focused on the (quite intuitive) idea that people do not always behave rationally and that they often make mistakes in their decisions.”
A number of experiments he arranged deal with dishonesty. At MIT, where he conducted much of his work, he put 6 packs of Coke in various common area refrigerators. Within 72 hours, they were all gone. No one had the right to take the drinks, they didn’t belong to them. He went back and put plates with $6 dollars on them.When he returned, 72 hours later, they were undisturbed. It’s ok to take a Coke, but not a dollar.
So cash influences our decisions, as do the number of choices we have, and the types of choices. There’s nothing in the book that’s terribly surprising (given the opportunity, students will cheat; when people are aroused, they make bad decisions; people procrastinate) but the way he illuminates the poor decision making is great reading.
It’s also relevant to religious discussion.
When reminded of the Ten Commandments prior to an exercise, people were more honest while completing the task. This makes the tefillin seem like pretty good crime prevention.
In social situations, people will go further than they will in economic situations. “Our church” has a thrift store. It’s mostly run by retired people in the community. They work hard for this store, despite the fact that they are “volunteers” (actually, servants). I heard one of them say at one point “you couldn’t pay me to work this hard.” They were right.
We make decisions for strange reasons. When Ariely talks about how we make economic decisions, it gives us insight into our human behavior.
Though he doesn’t speak about gambling in this book, his experiments have further application. Our psychological ties to cash are obvious to lottery runners and casinos. It’s why we exchange cash for chips. It doesn’t hurt as much.
Imagine going into a convenience store, handing the guy a dollar and having him push a button and say “You lose, next!” How long until we had to find other state income plans?
This book will not make me quit making bad decisions. Even Ariely admits to some of his own. But having some knowledge of what influences our decision making can help us improve our chances. There will be no cinnamon rolls on my counter tomorrow morning.