Why You Make Irrational Decisions: The Science of Behavioral Economics

Introduction

Every day, we make decisions that can hugely impact our lives. From simple choices like what to have for breakfast to significant decisions like investing our savings, every choice we make shapes our future. Unfortunately, we often make irrational decisions that can negatively impact our goals, both in the short term and long term. But why do we make irrational decisions? In this article, we will explore the science behind behavioral economics and understand why we make irrational decisions.

What is Behavioral Economics?

Behavioral economics is the branch of economics that studies how psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors influence decision-making. It offers an alternative perspective to the traditional economic theory, which assumes that people make rational decisions based on logical reasoning and perfect knowledge. Behavioral economics acknowledges that humans are not always rational, and our decision-making is influenced by biases, emotions, and external factors.

The Science of Irrational Decisions

Studies have shown that humans are naturally wired to make irrational decisions. Many factors influence our decisions, including cognitive biases, emotions, social norms, and heuristics. Let’s look at some of the reasons why we make irrational decisions:

Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases are errors in thinking that cause people to deviate from logical and rational thought processes. These biases are a result of our brain’s limited capacity to process information and our tendency to use shortcuts.

One of the most common cognitive biases is the confirmation bias. This bias refers to our tendency to seek and interpret information in a way that confirms our pre-existing beliefs. For example, if we believe a particular political party is the best, we will search for information that confirms our views and ignore or dismiss information that challenges our views.

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Another cognitive bias is the sunk cost fallacy. This bias refers to our tendency to continue investing in a project, even if it is not profitable, because we have already invested time, effort, and resources into it. For example, if we have spent a lot of money renovating a house, we may continue investing in it, even if the market value has dropped, because we feel committed to the project.

Emotions

Emotions play a crucial role in our decision-making. Often, our decisions are influenced by our emotions, rather than logical reasoning. For example, if we are in a bad mood, we may be more likely to make impulsive decisions, such as buying something we don’t need, to comfort ourselves.

Similarly, we are often influenced by our emotions when making investment decisions. For example, when the stock market is down, we may feel anxious and decide to sell our stocks, even if it may not be the best financial decision in the long run.

Social Norms

Social norms also influence our decision-making. Social norms are unwritten rules that govern our behavior in society. For example, we may feel pressured to conform to societal norms, such as buying a new car every few years, even if we can’t afford it.

In addition, we may be influenced by others’ decisions, especially when it comes to investment decisions. If our friends or family are investing in a particular stock, we may be more likely to invest in it, even if it is not the right decision for us.

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Heuristics

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that simplify our decision-making process. These shortcuts allow us to make decisions quickly but are not always accurate. For example, when faced with a complex decision, we may rely on the availability heuristic, which means we make a decision based on the information that is readily available to us, rather than seeking more information.

Similarly, we may use the anchoring heuristic, where we rely on the first piece of information we receive when making a decision. For example, when negotiating a salary, the first offer we receive may anchor our perception of what is a fair salary, even if it is not the best offer.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the science of behavioral economics helps us understand why we make irrational decisions. Cognitive biases, emotions, social norms, and heuristics all influence our decision-making process. By being aware of these factors, we can make better decisions that align with our goals and values. It is essential to take a step back, analyze the situation, and make an informed decision based on logical reasoning rather than emotions or biases. Only then can we achieve our desired outcomes and avoid the pitfalls of irrational decision-making.