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Ariely Discusses Irrational Behavior During Leadership Breakfast

Fall leadership breakfast 2013-189-LThe Center for Executive Education hosted Dan Ariely as the keynote speaker during its Fall Leadership Breakfast on Dec. 5 in the Curb Event Center arena. Presented in partnership with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurs’ Organization Nashville, the event explored how irrational behavior is a part of human nature as well as how emotions, relativity and social norms influence economic behavior.

Ariely began his keynote address with the story of how an explosion while he served in the Israel Defense Forces burned 70 percent of his body and kept him in a hospital for three years. During that time, he debated with nurses how to change the bandages of burn patients. They insisted on swift removal, which caused intense pain for a short period. Ariely preferred a slow peeling of the bandages, which lessened the pain but increased its duration, he said. After recovering from his injuries and pursuing higher education, Ariel began studying decision making through experiments that pinched fingers, made annoying sounds, radiated electrical shocks and changed body temperatures through suits running with hot or cold water. This led him to conclusions on why humans make systematic, predictable mistakes.

“The environment in which you are being placed makes a lot of the decisions for you,” he said. For example, in Denmark where drivers must opt-in to an organ donation program, the country has only 4 percent participation. On the other hand, Poland uses an opt-out form for organ donation and has 100 percent participation, simply because people do not like to fill out forms.

Fall leadership breakfast 2013-160-L“We prefer the default, the path of least resistance and the easiest way to do something,” Ariely said. “We need to think very differently about how we make decisions and rationality. Asking people questions is a good way to reconsider what they are doing, think about the answer and make a better decision.”

People also are “self-herders,” meaning they repeat previous acts because, he said, “We have no memory for emotional states, but we do remember our actions.”

Ariely’s talk focused on his New York Times bestsellers Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality. He is James B. Duke professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight and the author of New York Times bestseller The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. After the breakfast, he autographed copies of Predictably Irrational and continued to interact with Nashville business executives during a Talk Back Session in the Vince Gill Room. 

During the event, Center of Executive Education Director of Executive Learning and Marketing Jill Robinson announced best-selling author and New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell will kick off the 2014 speaker series with a keynote address centered around his new release, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. More details on the event will be announced soon.

The Center for Executive Education at Belmont University has been a premier provider of leadership education for more than 25 years, existing to provide world-class learning to meet the needs of the Nashville community and beyond. The Center provides a full range of executive learning opportunities including its Executive Learning Networks, Executive Leadership Experience, certificate programs and customized solutions. ELN membership consists of senior leaders from over 50 Middle Tennessee companies who seek to learn from one another and national leaders through ongoing networking, speakers’ series and small group discussions.