Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Laureate and Author of Thinking, Fast and Slow Takes Your Questions

One of the first times I met Danny Kahneman was over dinner, just after SuperFreakonomics was published. Shortly after we were introduced, Danny said, “I enjoyed your new book.  It will change the future of the world.” I beamed with pride at this compliment. Danny, however, was not done speaking. “It will change the future of the world. And not for the better.” While I’m sure many people would agree with his last sentence, he was the only person who ever said it to my face!

If you don’t know the name, Danny Kahneman is the non-economist who has had the greatest influence on economics of any non-economist who ever lived. A psychologist, he’s the only non-economist to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, for his pioneering work in behavioral economics. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that he is among the 50 most influential economic thinkers of all time, and among the ten most influential living economic thinkers.

In the years since that dinner with Danny, I’ve gotten to know him quite well. Every time I am with him, he teaches me something.  His particular brilliance, I have decided, is being able to see what should be totally obvious, but somehow no one else manages to notice until he points it out.

He has a fantastic new book aimed at a popular audience entitled Thinking, Fast and Slow. It is a wonderfully engaging stroll through the world of behavioral economics – the kind of book people are going to be talking about for a long, long time.

Danny has generously offered to take questions from Freakonomics blog readers. So post your questions in the comments section, and if you are lucky will you get to a response from one of the wisest sages of our time. [Addendum: the answers to your questions can be found in this post.]

This post is no longer accepting comments. The answers to the Q&A can be found here.


Frank Riely

What does it mean to be smart?

mike

He isn't the only non-economist to win the Nobel in economics. Lin Ostrom is a political scientist (who does great applied work using economic principles).

Basil White

How can I identify my incentives and values so I can create a personal program of behavioral conditioning that associates incentives with the behavior likely to achieve long-term goals? Basically I want to build my own Skinner box with retirement savings and weight loss as outcomes, but I have to overcome the incentives of buying toys and eating lasagna.

Michael Bishop

Steve, you're forgetting Elinor Ostrom again ;)

Andrew

Professor Khaneman-

Let me begin by saying I am a huge fan of your work. We read several of your articles in my graduate program at UofC (Public Policy) and I have become increasingly interested in the field of decision science. As someone interested in pursuing additional study in the field, where do you see it going? What are some of the most exciting problems you wish you could have addressed but were unable to?

Serge d'Agostino

should we consider the moral values - or their absence - as disturbing factors in economics?

Mary Robinson

While in the middle of reading your book, I found myself thinking about the effort required to work in an environment dominated by the opposite gender. I've been engaging in a lot of discussion on G+ about the lack of women in STEM. Taking my career in engineering as a single case of anecdotal evidence, I would propose that it requires quite a bit of System 2 effort to interpret communication and intent of co-workers, as well as predict behavior patterns, when you are not the dominant gender. With experience, over time, this becomes a System 1 task. For the males, far more is System 1 from the very start, so the stress is less and they can concentrate on work tasks. This hurdle may be enough to deter women from these challenging disciplines, since their cognitive load is higher to accomplish the same goals. The might assume that this handicap remains throughout their career, rather than decrease over time.

Does this seem likely? If so, what are the implications? Any suggestions about how to ameliorate the situation? My apologies if the answers to my questions are later in the book.

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Damian

Hi Danny,

I'm interested in economics in general having studied it in high school, but haven't gone much further than that apart from reading books about the subject.

I'm a software developer by trade, and am interested in the topic of why we get paid less than the project managers who manage us. Our job is highly skilled and most often requires degree level qualifications, whereas our project manager can get by with some relevant on the job experience. Does it come down to negotiation skills at the interview? Or the supply of developers versus the supply of project managers?

I've recently posted a blog article about this subject here.

I'd appreciate your views on the subject.

Best Regards,

Damian

David Evans

Not do diminish Kahneman's achivements, but it is hard to buy "If you don’t know the name, Danny Kahneman is the non-economist who has had the greatest influence on economics of any non-economist who ever lived. A psychologist, he’s the only non-economist to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, for his pioneering work in behavioral economics." in light of mathematician John Nash's achievements in pioneering game theory and Nobel Prize in Economics.

Geoff

Dear Professor Kahneman,

You were deeply involved in the mapping of a large number of cognitive biases. What do you think the most promising current directions are in the area of debiasing?

MD

"A psychologist, he’s the only non-economist to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, for his pioneering work in behavioral economics."

Hmmm I'm pretty pretty pretty sure John Forbes Nash is NOT an economist yet has earned the memorial prize as well (I cannot bring myself to call it a "Nobel" cause it ain't one!).

Chris Roberts

Daniel Kahneman, adept at psychological sleight of cognition, gives us a two tier system that is inherently flawed. This is so because quantitative research holds that correlation does not imply causation.

This Fundamental principle follows a truth that it is always possible that a spurious relationship exists for variables between which covariance is held to some degree. In probability theory, covariance is the measure of how much two random variables vary together.

In equating these variables I find in the instance of the variable System 1 is above its expected value as opposed to System 2s expected use, which is below its expected value. The covariance between these two variables is deemed negative in probability theory. In this case the negativity being System 1s expected value, thus it follows a higher value is placed on System 2.

Therefore the value based derivative of System 1 when used in Kahneman's terms as a base value positive is absolutely without worth. It is trifling, manipulative, thought processing - it is a transparent artifice.

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Joao G

Professor Kahneman,
Do you have a perspective on how human thinking, intuition, decision-making process and biases have changed over time? I am curious how we would compare, for instance, people who had learned almost everything orally centuries ago, people who had grown up with television but not internet, and the new generation that is growing with internet and much more interactivity than before.
Thank you.

Ivana

Dear Prof. Kahneman,

I will be starting a psychology PhD next year. If you were starting out in psychology right now, what would you choose as your PhD topic?

Jack Springman

Professor Kahneman

You recommend the use of checklists in business decision-making to counteract a number of the most common biases - confirmation bias, anchoring, etc. I would like to know what you think of the argument that framing bias (and the associated narrow targets) has an even greater impact - for example framing strategy as being about beating competitors (with potentially misleading analogies from chess, football, judo etc used as a guide) or framing the focus of marketing as being on branding (thereby encouraging an inside-out perspective) rather than customers (which would encourage a more outside-in approach), even the focus on shareholder value (rather than broader stakeholder value) which has been linked to short termism that ultimately isn't in shareholders best interests?

ECON 123

Can you state your most important finding in one sentence?
How does it feel to have so much influence on economics given your training in psychology?