Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

A fascinating journey into the hidden psychological influences that derail our decision-making, Sway will change the way you think about the way you think.Why is it so difficult to sell a plummeting stock or end a doomed relationship? Why do we listen to advice just because it came from someone “important”? Why are we more likely to fall in love when there’s danger...

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Title:Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior
Author:Ori Brafman
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Edition Language:English

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior Reviews

  • Trevor

    First you need to find yourself an interesting verb – Sway in this case, obviously, but Snoop is also good, as is Stick. It doesn’t have to start with ‘s’ – there’s Blink as well, of course. Then you need some really good stories about people at the end of their tether. Plane accidents are particularly good for this. Both Outliers and Sway both have plane crashes and both have you at the edge of your seat waiting for the inevitable.

    Then you need ‘get-out-of-here’ psychology tests – h

    First you need to find yourself an interesting verb – Sway in this case, obviously, but Snoop is also good, as is Stick. It doesn’t have to start with ‘s’ – there’s Blink as well, of course. Then you need some really good stories about people at the end of their tether. Plane accidents are particularly good for this. Both Outliers and Sway both have plane crashes and both have you at the edge of your seat waiting for the inevitable.

    Then you need ‘get-out-of-here’ psychology tests – honestly, who comes up with the ideas for these things and why, WHY, are they still allowed to out on the streets? Clearly these people are a danger to themselves, their families and the rest of the community. I mean, who would think to test how much more attractive you find a woman after crossing a rickety bridge? What sort of sociopath would you need to be for that to present itself as something that you might like to test?

    If you do want to write one of these books it also seems to help if you are from Israel. I’m not going to pretend I understand this final connection – but that has been true of both this one and Predictably Irrational. Oh, and you might want to write the book with your brother. Not sure how this works either, but it does seem to. Made to Stick was also written by a pair of brothers.

    I have read so many of these books lately and I’m currently also struggling my way through another called Nudge (again written by two people, but this time not brothers, or even related – although both male). Even if I feel I’m overdosing on this stuff, this one was a particularly fine example of the genre.

    This was good not so much because all of the examples were new, but because they put an interesting twist on the interpretation of what these odd behaviours might ‘mean’.

    I’m not going to go into the explanation of why the chief pilot in charge of safety for an airline might end up causing the worst plane crash of all time – although, this would be as good a reason to read this book as any other I can think of, nor any of the other seemingly endless examples of human irrational behaviour. But I do mean to talk about who wants to be a millionaire, because this has really made me think.

    I really love the French. I know people don’t like them for some reason or other, generally involving some talk of arrogance, but I love their sense of humour and I love their sense of style. That whole stuff-the-rest-of-you-we’re-French thing or the, if we want to blast the b’Jesus out of some atoll in the South Pacific, well, it is our atoll. And if you want to stop drinking our wine to protest – what can we say, but you will only be punishing yourselves. I would love to have that level of self-confidence.

    I was talking to someone the other week about the whole ‘Freedom Fries’ thing – but I had forgotten some of the details of this story. This is retold here in full and is probably worth the price of the book for that alone. I had missed the French reply to the proposal to change the name of French Fries to Freedom Fries simply because the French had the audacity to say that it might be dumb to invade Iraq. I hadn’t realised they had responded by saying something to the effect of, “This is much more important than potatoes”. Given that most rational people in the world would now agree with France probably means we should change the name again to Fickle Fries.

    But I distract myself. The best bit of this book is the description of the French version of who wants to be a millionaire when the contestant turned to ask the audience the answer to what ought to have been a simple question of astronomy – what revolves around the earth and the audience effectively said ‘stuff you’. The Wisdom of Crowds points out that if you ever end up on this show and find yourself in difficulty you should rely on the answer given by the audience, as in the US the audience gets the right answer over 90% of the time. But in France or Russia this is not quite so simple a choice. In France if the audience thinks you are too thick to deserve to win they are just as likely on mass to give you the wrong answer. In Russia if they think you are stepping too far out of line they are also as likely to give you the wrong answer. Imagine that! Imagine that there are cultures that will decide whether to help you or not based on whether they think you deserve to win or not. This discussion really fascinated me.

    I really liked that this one started each chapter with a whole series of what were virtually headlines and it was only as you got into the chapter that you began to understand that “We don’t even know where the tunnel is” might refer to LBJ.

    But the bit of this book that will stay with me for months is the random attribution of ‘gradings’ to soldiers and how this got the soldiers to live up to how they were graded. If you ever needed some proof about why you should encourage your kids – this is it.

    This is a wonderfully well written book and one that really could not fail to amuse. Yet another of the long line of books on the troublesome boarder between economics and psychology that have been providing me with so much joy lately.

  • Joy D

    In my working life, I have observed first-hand smart, capable executives making poor business decisions. Although the common thinking is that business decisions are based on logic, such as cost-benefit analysis and business cases, in my experience, the optimal solution is not always selected. This cogent, enlightening book provides explanations of the variety of influences that may have contributed to these questionable decisions. At the beginning of each chapter, the author provides an example

    In my working life, I have observed first-hand smart, capable executives making poor business decisions. Although the common thinking is that business decisions are based on logic, such as cost-benefit analysis and business cases, in my experience, the optimal solution is not always selected. This cogent, enlightening book provides explanations of the variety of influences that may have contributed to these questionable decisions. At the beginning of each chapter, the author provides an example of an irrational decision, such as a pilot taking off in fog without clearance, and proceeds to explore the factors that may have contributed to the resulting catastrophe. The author “peels the onion,” delving into the complexities, citing numerous studies and examples in an easily understood manner. This method spurred my curiosity, and resulted in devouring the book in one sitting. I found it both entertaining and educational. Recommended to those who enjoy learning about human behavior and psychology, and highly recommended to management consultants to help their clients avoid biases in decision-making.

  • Lisa Vegan

    This book is very readable and entertaining, and so engaging that I just kept reading and didn’t read the notes until after I’d finished the book, which is unusual for me. It’s fascinating knowlege for anyone who has an interest in universal human nature and/or group dynamics.

    The authors take a bunch of existing studies and do a tremendous job of presenting a cogent thesis about why human beings can exhibit such irrational behaviors. I was familiar with many of the studies cited in t

    This book is very readable and entertaining, and so engaging that I just kept reading and didn’t read the notes until after I’d finished the book, which is unusual for me. It’s fascinating knowlege for anyone who has an interest in universal human nature and/or group dynamics.

    The authors take a bunch of existing studies and do a tremendous job of presenting a cogent thesis about why human beings can exhibit such irrational behaviors. I was familiar with many of the studies cited in the book; I was even a participant in a friend's version of the “different lengths of lines” study described.

    I recommend this book to everyone, because it shows that even if we believe we’re logical and independent thinkers and reasonable in our decision making, and assume that we possess impeccable common sense, that there are factors at work that often make our assumptions not so. You may be surprised by the findings presented here re loss aversion, pull of commitment, value attribution, diagnostic bias, etc. Even if these concepts are not new to you, the way the information is presented here will make you think. Now that I’ve read this book, I’m confident that remembering the material presented will help me think before I act. I do think of myself as someone who thinks and makes decisions in a logical manner, although even though before I read this, I was very aware of my own aversion to loss, and also my tendency to be influenced by value attribution; the latter is something I’ve actually tried to work on with some success.

    I’d like to see this book assigned as an adjunct text for many psychology, sociology, economics, business, and education classes. I also hope that it’s read by every person who is in a position of power, especially our elected officials and those such as airplane pilots and others in similarly responsible jobs. Also finding it helpful would be those who work with others, including HR people (although preferably not those who will interview me for jobs since historically I do “very well” in job interviews, even though I’ve always thought they’ve had limitations.)

    My favorite portions of the book were the part that described the brain centers of altruism vs. pleasure, because that research was brand new information for me, and also the part where Stephen Breyer describes his process doing his work as a Supreme Court Justice, just because I found his explanation so fascinating. I also was extremely entertained by the $20 bill story, and I assume that all readers will find this story enjoyable, unless they were ever one of the final two participants in this or a similar activity.

    I appreciate that, while this is not a self-help book, reading the book isn’t an exercise in futility; having this information actually gives the readers tools to empower themselves.

    The formatting of the chapter headings is very clever too, as it ties into the sway/pull theme of the book.

  • Otis Chandler

    Great book. Quick read, and you learn about about psychology that you can apply to life or business.

    A few notes:

    - All about first impressions. First impressions can sway our opinion of something for years to come regardless of subsequent performance.

    - Labels matter. If you label someone as a higher performer, top of class, leader, having command potential, etc - it will translate into them actually having it. My high school motto was Principes Non Homines (leaders not men

    Great book. Quick read, and you learn about about psychology that you can apply to life or business.

    A few notes:

    - All about first impressions. First impressions can sway our opinion of something for years to come regardless of subsequent performance.

    - Labels matter. If you label someone as a higher performer, top of class, leader, having command potential, etc - it will translate into them actually having it. My high school motto was Principes Non Homines (leaders not men) - now I know why they thought that would work.

    - When we brand or label people they take on the characteristics of the diagnosis.

    - People are easily swayed when other people they deal with are decent or nice or fair to them. You enjoy a restaurant 10 times more if the waiter is really nice, regardless of the food (the product). Same goes for any service or business relationship.

    - Heightened adrenaline levels lead to higher levels of romantic interest

    - We have "two engines" running in our brain that don't operate simultaneously. So we usually approach things from either an altruistic perspective or a self-interested one. Money (self-interest) is not always the best motivator - sometimes pride (in your country, your city, what you do) will inspire people much more.

  • Lena

    I was not at all in the mood for another non-fiction book about human behavior when my husband asked if I wanted to read this one before he returned it to the library. I half-heartedly decided to scan a few pages before saying no, but I was quickly sucked in to a fictionalized re-creation of the last few hours in the cockpit of the KLM flight responsible for the 1977 Tenerife crash that claimed the lives of 583 people.

    Though this book looks at research from social psychology, behavio

    I was not at all in the mood for another non-fiction book about human behavior when my husband asked if I wanted to read this one before he returned it to the library. I half-heartedly decided to scan a few pages before saying no, but I was quickly sucked in to a fictionalized re-creation of the last few hours in the cockpit of the KLM flight responsible for the 1977 Tenerife crash that claimed the lives of 583 people.

    Though this book looks at research from social psychology, behavioral economics, and organizational behavior in order to explain why humans often make highly irrational choices, it does so in a compulsively readable fashion. The authors are good storytellers who know how to engage the reader as they explain surprising findings from a whole host of diverse research.

    Though I was already familiar with how fear of loss and commitment to a position can have devastating effects on investors, I enjoyed reading about how these in-built habits played out on the football field and on anthropological digs. People responsible for hiring others will benefit from the chapter explaining the flaws of the "first-date" style interview, and pretty much everyone would do well to read the stunning findings on how negative attitudes about aging can affect one's health.

    The chapter in which the authors discuss how our innate capacity for altruism can be undermined by financial incentives is also fascinating, as is the authors' discussion with Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on the impact of a lone dissenting voice on our highest court.

    In the epilogue, the authors summarize their main points and offer a few hints on how to avoid being negatively impacted by some of the factors most likely to sway us to make questionable choices. Though I'm not certain how easy it will actually be to overcome the multiple evolutionary habits that cause us to make irrational choices, it was still terribly fun to read.

  • Brian

    Quick read - 181 pages. I banged it out over two days. Sway is a social economic book from the same vein as Freakonomics and The Tipping Point. The authors descibe psychological forces that can "sway" people into irrational decision making. Several well stated examples are given to support the authors theories throughout.

    Overall, Sway is entertaining. It falls short on meaningful substance, and some areas are fluff laden. However, there are several interesting points illustrated thro

    Quick read - 181 pages. I banged it out over two days. Sway is a social economic book from the same vein as Freakonomics and The Tipping Point. The authors descibe psychological forces that can "sway" people into irrational decision making. Several well stated examples are given to support the authors theories throughout.

    Overall, Sway is entertaining. It falls short on meaningful substance, and some areas are fluff laden. However, there are several interesting points illustrated through engaging stories. The authors fall short describing tactics to counteract the psychological forces they write about in the book. They basically give you a phenomenon, support the phenomenon with insightful case studies, and then essentially say "you probably should not let that happen to you."

  • Orsolya

    We’ve all made irrational decisions: be it in work, love, or finances. The question is, why? What psychological drive causes this behavior? Brothers Ori and Rom Brafman explore these burning questions in, “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior”.

    In “Sway”, Brafman and Brafman attempt to explore loss aversion, value attribution, and the diagnosis bias in order to explain human behavior which is either irrational or out of the norm. Sadly, they are not quite successful.

    “Sway” is gear

    We’ve all made irrational decisions: be it in work, love, or finances. The question is, why? What psychological drive causes this behavior? Brothers Ori and Rom Brafman explore these burning questions in, “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior”.

    In “Sway”, Brafman and Brafman attempt to explore loss aversion, value attribution, and the diagnosis bias in order to explain human behavior which is either irrational or out of the norm. Sadly, they are not quite successful.

    “Sway” is geared toward reaching the general reading audience in a pop psychology way but goes too far in that direction over-simplifying the topic. Instead of focusing on the psychology, biology, neurology, or similar fields; Brafman and Brafman instead offer chapter after chapter of case study after case study. Don’t get me wrong: the text is accessible, exciting, and well-written but the scientific element in lost in the mix.

    Elaborating on this, the topics at hand are barely even mentioned when discussing a case study; with Brafman and Brafman then adding a line which basically says, “This was done because of so-and-so behavior” but failing to execute any back-up, proof, or experimentation. At least though, the text sounds professional in the sense that it isn’t simply opinionated.

    A strong suit of “Sway” is that although there are co-authors; the writing is smooth and cohesive with one communal voice versus the disjointed narrative some books take when having multiple authors. “Sway” is an easy and light read.

    Approximately half-way through, Brafman and Brafman finally begin to adhere more to scientific data and unique experimental results which turns “Sway” into a more compelling work. Much of the information is common sense and still just an introduction on the topic but it encourages further reading and exploration on the subject. It should also be noted that some of the experiments mentioned in “Sway” have been cited in other books on similar topics and none are primary, conducted by Brafman and Brafman.

    The concluding chapters are the strongest in “Sway” as a whole with insightful information and a steady pace while the Epilogue provides a summary of what has been learned. Followed by a brief notes section; Brafman and Brafman

    try to cover their bases.

    Although “Sway” is not what I expected (which is a more heavy-hitting psych work); the text is an entertaining and readable introduction to the topic which sets the foundation for further research. “Sway” is a fast one-day read and is thus recommended for a brief but somewhat scientific foray into the psychological world of irrational behavior. However, if desiring a deep and multi-faceted scientific look; then this is not for you.

  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    Books are basically meant to be read (although some buy them for display purposes only). So you buy books because you intend to read them. But why buy more books if you already have so many books in your to-be-read pile that you can’t possibly finish reading them even if you live 150 years? IT is pointless, a waste of money and silly. Yet you keep on doing it. This book analyzes irrational behaviours like this.

    It starts with a real life story, a tragic one. KLM Flight 4805 was pilote

    Books are basically meant to be read (although some buy them for display purposes only). So you buy books because you intend to read them. But why buy more books if you already have so many books in your to-be-read pile that you can’t possibly finish reading them even if you live 150 years? IT is pointless, a waste of money and silly. Yet you keep on doing it. This book analyzes irrational behaviours like this.

    It starts with a real life story, a tragic one. KLM Flight 4805 was piloted by Captain Jacob Van Zanten, the head of KLM’s safety program and known for his attention to detail, methodical approach and spotless record in flying. His flight was en route from Amsterdam to the Las Palmas Airport in the Canary Islands but was diverted to the island of Tenerife because of a bomb explosion at the Las Palmas Airport. Parked at the Tenerife airport, the airport authorities had told him to unload his passengers because it may take a long while before the plane could be given a takeoff clearance. Van Zanten must have known what this means: passengers which need to be given accommodations, late arrivals to their destinations, more cancelled flights, etc. There was also the matter of his mandated rest period (time when a pilot needs to rest, with a heavy penalty if he does not) and his reputation as a pilot who always brings his passengers to their destinations on time. So this pilot, a paragon of flight safety and prudence, flew the plane in the fog, hit a parked Pan Am and killed all 584 people in his plane, including himself. So why did he act so irrationally?

    Would you buy 1,000 pesos for 1,100 pesos? You’d immediately think: “Why would anyone do that? Plain commonsense tells you that you’d incur a loss of 100 pesos if you buy 1,000 pesos for 1,100 pesos. So no, I definitely would not do that.” But there was a popular experiment, discussed in this book (though I tweaked it a little bit) where people would do such a purchase at a loss. A 1,000 peso bill is put on auction. The starting bid is 50 pesos, and successive bids can only go 50 pesos at a time. To the highest bidder goes the 1,000 pesos. But the second highest bidder will also pay the price of his bid and get nothing. So the first bidder places the initial 50 peso bid. If no one bids higher than that, he pays 50 and get 1,000. But someone bids 100. If no one bids higher, the 100-peso bidder pays 100 and gets the 1,000 AND the 50-peso bidder will have to pay 50 pesos and gets nothing (being the second highest bidder). The latter, of course, does not want to lose 50 pesos for nothing, so he places a bid of 150. This goes on and on until the highest bid goes 1,000. A no-gain-no-loss bid. However, the second highest bidder of 950 resents losing 950 for nothing. He reasons out: better to bid 1,050 pesos and lose 50, than not bid anymore and lose 950. So he bids 1,050. However, the other guy who had bid 1,000 reasons the same way: better to lose 100 by bidding 1100 than lose 1000 by not bidding anymore. So he bids 1100 for 1000 pesos.

    All these examples demonstrates how people can be pushed into irrational behaviour because OF THE FEAR OF LOSS (just one of the many factors the book discusses which influence men to do irrational things). I still buy more books, especially they are at a bargain, because I FEAR I may never be able to find that book again, or even if I find it again, not in such a bargain anymore. Van Zanten feared the loss of his spotless record of punctuality and of satisfying his passengers. The bidder fear the loss if he remains the second highest bidder.

  • Ross

    Think of the the Brafman brothers as a poor man's Malcolm Galdwell. A very, very poor man. "Sway" covers interesting and important ground, but dumbs it down way too much.

    This might be the right call when presenting this material to a half-day corporate retreat. But it makes for a maddening read. Instead of building up their case based on evidence and support, the authors simply assert their conclusions (or the conclusions of the researchers on which they rely? It's never made clear).

    Think of the the Brafman brothers as a poor man's Malcolm Galdwell. A very, very poor man. "Sway" covers interesting and important ground, but dumbs it down way too much.

    This might be the right call when presenting this material to a half-day corporate retreat. But it makes for a maddening read. Instead of building up their case based on evidence and support, the authors simply assert their conclusions (or the conclusions of the researchers on which they rely? It's never made clear). Instead of showing us something surprising, they simply append that descriptor before every other assertion. They don't discuss or share the actual data (so that you might draw your own conclusion, or verify theirs); potential confounding factors are waived away or (even worse) left unaddressed; the statistical significance of various "findings" also goes unremarked. I could go on.

    One of the authors claims to have studied "magical moments" but you would never know it because this book manages to generate none.

  • Barnaby Thieme

    I wish I could recommend this book, as the topic is an interesting and important one, but I can't. It's simply not well written or organized.

    Brafman treats the hot topic of cognitive biases and nonconscious factors that contribute to decision making, an area which has received enormous attention in recent years in cognitive and social psychology (Wegner, Wilson), and economics (Tversky).

    I gather what he's trying to do is to present some of the basic findings to a lay audience. Either Brafman's

    I wish I could recommend this book, as the topic is an interesting and important one, but I can't. It's simply not well written or organized.

    Brafman treats the hot topic of cognitive biases and nonconscious factors that contribute to decision making, an area which has received enormous attention in recent years in cognitive and social psychology (Wegner, Wilson), and economics (Tversky).

    I gather what he's trying to do is to present some of the basic findings to a lay audience. Either Brafman's wrong and he's dumbing it down WAYYYYY too much, or I'm wrong and we live in a nation of imbeciles.

    His organization of the basic concepts is simplistic and reductive, and the basic facts of the research are concealed by several thick interpretive layers.

    For readers who are not completely put off by scientific material -- who would be comfortable, say, with "A Brief History of Time" or Science Daily -- you will get much more from books like "The Illusion of Conscious Will" and "Strangers to Ourselves."

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