I’m not immune from behavioral biases. Really, no one is. There’s no cure, either; the best you can hope for is to #1 understand how behavioral quirks effect us, #2 recognize them when they show up and #3 don’t let our biases interfere with our decision making. Number three is a lot harder to pull off than we think. What works for me is having a few trusted colleagues and friends to whom I’ve given authority to speak truth into my life when, as Dan Ariely puts it, I’m Predictably Irrational, or as Meir Statman says ever-so effortlessly, I’m Normal Stupid.
Long before the recent financial crisis, Ariely wrote about how we humans prize keeping all our options open, how forfeiting an option is painful and the high price we’ll pay to “prevent” incurring the emotional cost when we’re in danger of losing one of our options.
If your travels need an overnight in Asheville, you can surely spend more money but you won’t find nicer accommodations, better breakfasts and more delightful proprietors than at Sweet Biscuit Inn. While behavioral quirks in Asheville abound (everywhere, bumper stickers fulfill the prophecy: Asheville – Where Weird is Normal), you won’t find behavioral finance illustrated half so clearly than in Robert and Angela’s kitchen, headquarters to one fine chow-poodle mix named Otto and one cat named Daisy. The cat is trouble.
Otto recently had surgery to repair one torn Ruptured Anterior Cruciate Ligament, or
ACL. Otto was still feeling a little punky when we were there, partly due to his Elizabethan collar, to keep him from pulling out his staples. Otto had learned to navigate the 1915 home and, much to his (and his owners’ delights) discovered he had a reverse gear, which is helpful if you walk around on all fours and wear a lampshade about your neck. So when Robert and Angela told me how they finally got him to swallow his pain pills, I perked up. You never know when you, like Angela and Robert, will need to know the finer points on how to give an uncooperative dog 5 pills a day, without taking down your whole day or running your customers off.
So Angela and Robert popped a pill in Otto’s mouth. The pill went splat on the kitchen floor. They tried wrapping the pill in a blanket of sliced ham, with the ends tucked in like an egg roll. Yum. Otto took the bait, swallowed. So far so good. Next dose, wrapped another ham slice around another pill. Otto must have thought, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” “Nah,” gestured Otto, “no pill going down my throat.” Angela and Robert tried again. Ham roll went in, out flew the pill. “Let’s roll it up and put it at his feet and see if he takes it, one of them said, and so they did. Otto looked down, and then, as only a dog can do, looked utterly and completely disinterested. Disinterested, that is, until Daisy the cat sashayed over to see what was shaking. Figuring if Otto the dog was dumb enough to pass up a perfectly good slice of ham, they both didn’t have to be stupid and so Daisy tiptoed up to the trick ham slice like it was found money. “Not in my house,” grunted Otto to himself and upon seeing his treat about to disappear, lunged wide-eyed, open-jawed, past Daisy, Elizabethan collar and all, straight at the ham-roll, and gulped down his dose of deception in one bite. Mission accomplished. Angela updated me –
“We just had Otto’s staples removed today, so he is finally healing well. Pills are still no fun, although we are down to only 3 a day from 5 a day! Progress! Our cat Daisy was the great pill motivator for that one session. Butter is the lure device presently, but now Robert is worried about Otto’s cholesterol! You just can’t win!
In 2008, Ariely wrote about how winning looks and feels to contestants when they start seeing their precious options disappear. Not too different from what Otto experienced. They pounce, even when it’s in their best interests to stand still.
“Closing a door on an option is experienced as a loss, and people are willing to pay a price to avoid the emotion of loss,” Dr. Ariely says. In the experiment, the price was easy to measure in lost cash. In life, the costs are less obvious — wasted time, missed opportunities. If you are afraid to drop any project at the office, you pay for it at home.”
You can read the full article here, and you can even try your hand at how a guinea pig feels to be in one of Ariely’s experiments. If you see or hear iterations of Dog takes the pill but Cat takes the cake, drop us a line.