There are Free Lunches Statement of Intentions

There are Free Lunches: Behavioral Clues to Live Happy in the Economic World is a blog that intends to present updated and relevant information about the "hidden" and only recently uncovered dimensions of the economic science: the behavioral factors. With this blog we intend to promote in Europe and in the rest of the World, the top research articles and perspectives on behavioral economics, decision making, consumer behavior, and general behavioral science. We aim to be followed by journalists, academics, managers, civil servants, and everyone who wishes to improve their daily interaction with the economic world and consequently, their lives' happiness.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Principle 8: Follow the Herd Instead Of Your Head

By visiting the Internet Movie Database at, consumers can access a huge array of information to help them choose a movie, including trailers, plot summaries, and detailed information about the cast and crew. This information allows consumer to simulate the experience of watching a movie, potentially enabling them to make more accurate affective forecasts and better movie choices. Alternatively, however, consumers could choose to ignore all of this detailed information about a movie’s content, and instead click on "user ratings" to find out how thousands of other visitors to the site rated the movie. It is possible to break down these ratings by demographics so, for example, a thirty-two year old woman could find out how women ages 30-44 liked the movie. So which method is better?
Research suggests that the best way to predict how much we will enjoy an experience is to see how much someone else enjoyed it. In one study, Gilbert, Killingsworth, Eyre, and Wilson (2009) asked women to predict how much they would enjoy a speed date with a particular man. Some of the women were shown the man’s photograph and autobiography, while others were shown only a rating of how much a previous women had enjoyed a speed date with the same man a few minutes earlier. Although the vast majority of the participants expected that those who were shown the photograph and autobiography would make more accurate predictions than those who were shown the rating, precisely the opposite was the case. Indeed, relative to seeing the photograph and autobiography, seeing the rating reduced inaccuracy by about 50%. It appears that the 17th century writer François de La Rochefoucauld was correct when he wrote: "Before we set our hearts too much upon anything, let us first examine how happy those are who already possess it."
Other people can supply us with a valuable source of data not only by telling us what has made them happy, but also by providing information about what they think will make us happy (McConnell, Dunn, Austin, & Rawn, 2010). To demonstrate this idea, McConnell et al (2010) told participants that they would be asked to eat two small snacks and then unveiled a piece of celery and a chocolate chip cookie, in turn. After seeing each food, participants predicted how much they would enjoy eating it, and then ate it and rated their actual enjoyment. Unbeknownst to participants, they were being watched by two observers, who surreptitiously rated participants’ facial reactions when each food was unveiled. The flash of affect that appeared on participants’ faces when they saw each food significantly predicted their enjoyment of the food—above and beyond the affective forecasts the participants themselves had made just moments before eating. This suggests that an attentive dining companion may be able to tell whether we would enjoy the fish or the chicken simply by watching our reactions when these options are presented. More broadly, other people may provide a useful source of information about the products that will bring us joy because they can see the nonverbal reactions that may escape our own notice.

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