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Follow the Anomalies

Hidden Brain

Hidden Brain Media

Science, Arts, Social Sciences, Performing Arts

4.639.3K Ratings

🗓️ 16 October 2023

⏱️ 49 minutes

🧾️ Download transcript


As we move through our lives, we have to make decisions both big and small. Some are banal: What will I eat for breakfast today? Should I drive or bike to work? Others are more complicated: How much should I contribute to my 401k? What career should I pursue? Today on the show, behavioral economist Richard Thaler explains why our decision making is often far more nuanced than economic models would suggest.

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This is Hidden Brain. I'm Shankar Vedantam.


In the year 1596, a cartographer in what is today the Netherlands noticed a startling


anomaly. Abraham Ortelius observed that if you moved around the continents of the known world like


pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, the Western coastline of Africa fit like a glove around the eastern coastline of South America.


At first, the anomaly was dismissed as a weird coincidence.


The idea that the continents of Africa and South America


could have once been joined together seemed absurd because sitting between


them now was the vast immensity of the Atlantic Ocean.


In time, however, scientists realized that continents do move around.


What is today South America was in fact once attached to Africa.


Intersecting lines of evidence soon began to come together.


The fossil record, for example, shows similar species in areas that were once contiguous.


Abraham Orteelius' observation was a crucial clue in the development of the theory of continental drift.


Anomalies have long been a powerful driver of scientific invention. Paying attention to places where things look odd and


weird can tell you where your maps and models of the world are wrong. If you have


the humility and patience to sit with anomalies instead of simply


dismissing them, they can teach you things about the world that you didn't know before.


This week on Hidden Brain, how a series of anomalies in the way people get money, spend money, and save money led to the development of the field of behavioral economics. Every day of our lives we make decisions both trivial and momentous. What will we eat for lunch today? Will we ride the elevator or take the stairs? How much money


will we save from our paycheck and how much will we spend?


It turns out there's a hidden logic to the way we make such choices, a logic often not rooted in rationality.


Richard Thaler is a behavioral economist at the University of Chicago.


He has spent decades studying the psychology. behavioral economist at the University of Chicago.


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