Sway – The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

Photo by C.H.A.R.M.

I recently read an excellent pop psychology book called Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman. It’s a quick read and I recommend it for anyone who has to work with people (such as administrators working with their users.)


The basic premise is that there are unconscious forces constantly trying to sway us away from rationality to make irrational decisions. As much as we try to pretend otherwise, our minds are tricked into making mistakes. Each of their stories is backed up by research, some of which is very surprising. Of particular interest to anyone hiring new employees, for example, is research showing how ineffective most interview questions are. We tend to think we’re better at identifying good employees subjectively than we actually are. The only really effective way to screen employees is with object aptitude tests.

What struck me the most was how susceptible I am to “Loss Aversion” which is perceiving a potential loss to be much greater than it actually is. The problem is that it’s difficult to take a guaranteed small loss now, instead of very likely large loss in the future. For example, continuing to try to get some piece of software working because of all the time already spent on it, rather than just dump it and get something that works. Our brains aren’t very good weighing up the different costs.

All in all, it’s a good read. There’s not much practical advice, but there’s enough food for thought to keep you on your toes.