Predictably Irrational

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 12.07.43 PMPredictably Irrational is the title of a book by Dan Ariely that details a range of experiments undertaken to shed light on human behaviour. The premise is that our behaviour, as individual and quirky as it might seem, conforms to drivers that are universal – and predictable. Here’s one experiment that sheds light on what we understand by organizational culture.

Two groups of participants are placed in separate rooms and asked to complete a scrambled sentence task. For some the sentences comprised words such as aggressive, rude, annoying, and intrude. Others were given words such as honour, considerate, polite, and sensitive. The second part of the experiment involved both groups waiting while other subjects were given instructions that dragged on… How long would the subjects wait before their patience ran out? For those primed with polite words, they waited about 9.3 minutes before interrupting. For those primed with rude words, the time was 5.5 minutes.

A second set of experiments primed one group with scrambled sentences that focused on the concept of elderly while the other group was primed with youthful words. The experimenters then timed the groups to see how long they took to walk down the exit passage. Sure enough, those primed with the elderly words walked slower!

Why is this significant in learning communities?

Because we learn! And the words we use in our community are important – they have meaning for our behaviour beyond their intent. Consider the impact our words have on community culture, on the emotive climate created, on the opportunities for effective communications in the context of the experiments above. I’m interested in your views.

Richard Swart
Director ISBerne

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