The Upside Of Irrationality Summary

1-Sentence-Summary: The Upside Of Irrationality shows you the many ways in which you act irrational, while thinking what you’re doing makes perfect sense, and how this irrational behavior can actually be beneficial, as long as you use it the right way.

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Dan Ariely is like a bias-sniffing dog, uncovering psychological fallacies in our minds and then helping us understand them in plain language. Much of his research is based on how we can defeat or use our irrational behaviors in our favor, The Upside Of Irrationality being no exception.

Sometimes being irrational has its advantages, for example when it comes to giving to charity or online dating, where logic doesn’t get us and our causes very far. In our optimized world trying to make 100% rational decisions all of the time seems tempting, and most people would probably adapt a robot-like decision-making ability in a heartbeat, if they could.

Dan argues that this isn’t the best solution, for much of what makes us irrational is also what makes us human and allows us to connect with one another.

Here are 3 lessons to show you being irrational ain’t so bad sometimes:

  1. You overvalue whatever you create yourself.
  2. Pictures and checklists aren’t enough to make online dating successful.
  3. Self-herding could ruin your habits in the long run.

Are you ready to embrace your irrational side? If not, you’re about to!

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Lesson 1: Creator’s bias makes you overvalue your work.

In the 1940s and 50s processed food was on the rise, thanks to color TV and clever marketing. One of the first products to hit the shelves was the Pillsbury cake mix. Baking a cake was now as easy as washing hands. Moms could just add water to the powder mix, pour it in a tray and pop it in the oven.

The only problem was that women weren’t telling their friends about this awesome time-saver and sales were flat at first. But why?

Baking a cake had become too easy. It wasn’t an achievement worth talking about. It felt almost like cheating, so women would rather not tell their friends. Until Pillsbury changed one thing: They removed the dried egg from the mix and told housewives to add one fresh egg themselves. Sales went through the roof.

All of a sudden, the cake felt enough like a creation of their own hands, so women could pass it as a veritable achievement in front of friends and family.

This is called creator’s bias and it shows how much you overvalue your own work, especially compared to others. Simply because of the effort you put into something you think it’s worth a lot, and usually a lot more than what other people do.

Note: This is the bias big brands play on when they let you customize your shoes, shot glasses or car. It only works when you can complete your efforts though. A girl or guy who teases you a little before agreeing to a date is sexy and desirable, but if she/he rejects you too much, you’ll lose interest.

Lesson 2: Online dating doesn’t work, because checklists aren’t how we evaluate partners.

Young people in my age group (I’m 25, let’s say the age group is 18-29) are more single than ever. In 2014, 64% of those young people confirmed that they’re single.


Well, given so many career options, most of us have become Da Vinci people, jumping from one thing to the next – whether that’s schools, jobs or just side projects – which often coincides with moving to another location. But if you never settle, it’s almost impossible to develop a solid circle of long-term friends and even harder to find the right partner in or next to that circle.

For example, I’ve lived in four different places in the past five years, and moved a total of nine times. Just spelling it out makes me think I’m insane.

The market for online dating is therefore bigger than ever. Young people are tech savvy and the platforms grow and grow. But their results suck. When Dan Ariely looked at the data, he saw that 90% of all time on online platforms is spent looking at profiles and messaging with potential partners – only 10% of it is actually spent face to face – you know, meeting people.

But checking boxes on hobbies, zodiac signs, annual incomes and profile pictures isn’t how we evaluate people. Love is the most irrational thing in the world. You’ll never feel that spark as she giggles and you see her dimples for the first time or the chills down your spine when he sits on your bed and sings for you without, well, meeting!

Note: When yours truly used Tinder last year, I installed a system to focus on meeting people rather than chit-chatting. If you’re using the app, here’s how to get quality matches and meet up.

Lesson 3: Avoid short-term outbursts now to steer clear of long-term bad habits later.

Do you curse a lot while driving? My sister does, it’s hilarious. Sadly, it might lead to a lot more cursing down the road (pun intended).

There is a phenomenon called self-herding, which indicates you look to your past self’s behavior in order to determine what to do in a particular situation.

Case in point: When the car in front of you cuts you off, your brain instinctively recalls how you reacted the last time this happened. If giving the finger is the answer, you’ll find your window rolled down faster than you can say “Jackass!”

What your brain forgets though, is how you felt after reacting the last time. Chances are you felt bad for flipping off a random person and didn’t want to do it again. But since it’s hard to remember how you felt yesterday at 2 PM, let alone the last time this happened in traffic, there’s nothing to prevent you from indulging in this bad behavior again.

Therefore, short-term emotional outbursts have a much bigger long-term effect than you think, so be aware of them and you’ll spare yourself plenty of bad habits.

The Upside Of Irrationality Review

I could’ve easily doubled all these lessons in length, simply because there are still so many examples and good points to cover. And I’m only touching on a small portion of The Upside Of Irrationality in this summary. Just get it!

Who would I recommend The Upside Of Irrationality summary to?

The 18 year old, who’s about to give up on becoming a writer after his first two blog posts tanked, the 27 year old, who can’t seem to make online dating work in her favor, and anyone who curses at other drivers in traffic regularly.

Last Updated on August 1, 2022

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Niklas Göke

Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!