Thursday, April 30, 2009

Choosing What Makes Us Happy (9): Lay Rationalism

Human beings attempt to make decisions based on rationality and they may ignore the affective influence. The ‘rational decisions’ may prevent us from choosing experiences optimal for happiness.

The three specific manifestations of lay rationalism are: (a) lay economism (focus on economic values), (b) lay scientism (focus on hard rather than soft attributes), and (c) lay functionalism (focus on main function or objective).

Lay economism is the tendency to base decisions on financial/economic aspects and ignore the experiential aspects. For example, while choosing a pizza people may give more importance to the price and size and less to the factors like shape, colour and taste which significantly influence the consumption experience.

Lay scientism is the tendency to base decisions objective (hard) attributes rather than subjective (soft) attributes. Decision makers may thus trust hard facts and discount soft preferences. For example, when choosing between two equally expensive audio systems, most people will pick up the higher wattage (hard attribute) model rather than the one with a richer sound (soft attribute), even though when asked to predict their enjoyment, they would favour the richer-sounding model.

Lay functionalism is the tendency to focus on the primary objective of the decision and overlook other aspects that are important to overall experience. Although functionalism helps us to achieve objectives, it may also in some cases prevent us from an experientially optimal experience.

For example, while driving to office a person may choose the shorter route which helps him to reach office quickly rather than the longer route which has more pleasant scenes and which he would have identified as the more preferable route.

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