Whom do you want for President?

Behavioral Psychology
When we don't much about something, we fill in the gaps in an optimistic way, Ariely says.
  • Transcript


Question: Whom do you want for President?

Dan Ariely: Well first I don’t want a rational candidate.  I want a candidate who understands the irrationality of people.  Again if you talk about healthcare or anything, I think you have to take people’s abilities and inabilities into consideration.  And Obama looks to me like he’s the guy who understands people’s limitation to . . . in the best way right now.  He’s also been using principles from behavioral economics more than anybody else.  So he had one early approach in his campaign when he used the lottery.  The lotteries are so interesting because the expected value is tiny, and people nevertheless flock to it.  And Obama at an early point had a dinner.  But instead of having a lot of people at the dinner, it was a lottery to have dinner with him alone.  And I think he raised . . . I think it was like $8 million for one event, which is very successful.  So I think he understands this better.  So if I hope that there will ever be a behavioral economist on the economic council, I think he’s probably the best candidate to be willing to do that.

Question: Do we know enough about Obama?

Dan Ariely: Yeah I . . . There’s something that worries me about Obama, and that’s the fact that we don’t actually know much about him.  And interestingly enough some of our research shows that when you don’t know something about somebody, you fill the gaps in an optimistic way.  So if you think about all the excitement around Obama, it looks like he’s – outside of JFK – like the most amazing person that has the potential to be a president.  Like if you would have a distribution of abilities, he would be like out there.  How can it be that people expect so much?  I mean we had a lot of presidents, a lot of good people in the past; but the expectations are so high.  And I think part of the expectations being so high is because we know so little.  The best way, by the way, to think about it is dating.  If somebody tells you on an online dating site that they love music, people automatically assume they like the same music they do.  Only later they meet them and they discover that’s not the case and they get disappointed.  I think that’s one of the things that worries me about Obama, is that the expectations are so incredibly high.  And they’re so incredibly high because they’re based on so little information.

Recorded on: Fep 19 2008