Our Buggy Brain

Our amazing brain, with all of its harmonious functions, also performs any number of peculiar actions, which we might find unexpected and counter-intuitive. What tricks do our minds play when we think it's okay to lie, cheat, or steal? How in control are we of our own decisions? And why do our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy?

Despite our best efforts, bad or inexplicable decisions are as inevitable as death and taxes and the grocery store running out of your favorite flavor of ice cream. They're also just as predictable. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has based his career on these questions, and in his bestselling book, Predictably Irrational, he describes many unorthodox and often downright odd experiments used in the quest to answer this question.

Why do we like an original painting better than a forgery? Psychologist Paul Bloom, author of How Pleasure Works, argues that human beings are essentialists — that our beliefs about the history of an object change how we experience it, not simply as an illusion, but as a deep feature of what pleasure (and pain) is.

Dan Gilbert challenges the idea that we'll be miserable if we don't get what we want. Our "psychological immune system" lets us feel truly happy even when things don't go as planned. The Harvard psychologist, says our beliefs about what will make us happy are often wrong — a premise he supports with intriguing research, and explains in his accessible and unexpectedly funny book, Stumbling on Happiness.

Learn more or listen again to this week's episode.

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