Thursday, July 2, 2009

Choice Architecture & Monkey Magic

Interesting Quirks and Quarks episode on why people, driven by primitive impulse, can be so bad at making decisions, and how good design, in this case choice architecture, can address this by making 'good choices' more attractive, nudging us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice, reversing the techniques marketers have used to manipulate us into buying crap for years.

transcribed from CBC's Quirks and Quarks podcast 2009-06-20

"The human brain evolved to guide decisions within pretty small groups, twenty to a hundred people or so, that were living a kind of marginal existence hunting and gathering in various parts of the world, so there certainly would have been selective pressure that might, for example, favour impulsive behaviour, in the sense of: if you could have a piece of food now versus the hope that there might be some food later on, you might take that little piece of food now. The kind of information that seems to be misplaced right now, for example, our fascination with celebrity and status ... may seem irrational, but a hundred thousand years ago, the motivation to attend to status, to try to climb the social hierarchy, would have been a very important and good thing to do. What seems to be irrational behaviour right now, probably has very deep evolutionary roots ...

Our preoccupation with status leads to economic waste and inefficiency in many different ways. We borrow recklessly and waste money by conspicuous consumption buying huge houses and fancy cars to build or maintain status, executives of big corporations and pro-athletes demand ludicrous salaries to enhance their status ... you can think about a lot of this as our inner ape beating it's chest to intimidate rivals ...

Every choice we make is influenced in ways we won't necessarily perceive or be able to resist, [just in] the way that a choice between two things is presented to us. The people who design how choices are presented to us are more important than we realize ... We use the term 'choice architect' to describe anyone who is in charge of devising the environment in which we choose ... We [should] recruit these choice architects onto our side, whether they are in government, finance, or marketing ... and get them to help us make better decisions, not by limiting our choices, but by changing the way they are laid out, so the good choices are more attractive and more available."
-- Quirks and Quarks

"Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness"
by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

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