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.


Max St Brown

Hi Dr. Kahneman,
I instruct economics at Washington State University and discussed Anchoring and Adjustment (for example if you show people a random number then ask them to guess a percentage they may form their guess by adjusting from the initial random number (the anchor)) with my class this week. I am a graduate student and my roommate is a psychology student; we have great conversations about the prison system in America. Steven Levitt has written a lot about this topic. When you two talk about prisons in America what comes up and what do you agree and disagree on?
Thank You

InBonobo

What are your current top 5 non-fiction books and what do you think about e-books vs paperbacks?

InBonobo

On the issue of widespread adoption of electronic voting, do you believe that positives outweigh negatives?

Jim Batterson

I think of economics as a set of models for how people and markets ought to behave, and behavioral economics as the scientific study of how people actually do behave, with names for the various biases and fallacies to explain the differences.

Has anything that you or anyone has done in behavioral economics changed the models of economics of how people and markets ought to behave?

dave gershner

This is what is really going on with pubs, tho few will be bright enough even to get it, not that it's easy.

A cognitive illusion is a false belief that we intuitively accept as true. The illusion of validity is a false belief in the reliability of our own judgment.

The interviewers sincerely believed that they could predict the performance of recruits after talking with them for fifteen minutes. Even after the interviewers had seen the statistical evidence that their belief was an illusion, they still could not help believing it.

Kahneman confesses that he himself still experiences the illusion of validity, after fifty years of warning other people against it. He cannot escape the illusion that his own intuitive judgments are trustworthy.

Michael L. Bowler

Sir:

I just finished reading your impressive book, Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow.

As a public defender in Fresno, California I must make quick decisions affecting people's lives. I do try to carfully consider all potential resultsa from dismissal to a client serving significant prison time.

I do know I have a thought paradigm favoring my side which prevents anything close to objective observations. I also know I become jaded and assume everyone is guilty of something.

Is it possible to make these decisions quickly without any bias or as little bias as possible?

How do I get judges to do the same? They actually think they are obective. I know they make a decision and then look for reasons to justify it.

I have written a short story about this (before getting this gig I made most of my income by writing freelance) which was read on Valley Public Radio. I can't come close to making sense out of the criminal justice system or how to even approach fairness.

Thank you for taking time to read this missive.

Mike Bowler

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Drew

Thank-you Dr. Kahneman... I just finished F & S thinking this afternoon.
It was thought provoking and insightful and leaves me with a healthy suspicion that
I'm not really aware how I make many decisions.

I work in medicine and was particularly interested in some of the medical decision examples
you provided. I have the impression from the book that the field of psychology is quite aware of the work that you, Amos and others developed....and that economics has recently found applications of your work. Has public health and epidemiologic research begun to use the lessons of your work? ( those fields certainly ask a lot of survey questions that would be prone to a variety of biases).

Ralph Hancox

Your book, Thinkng Fast and Slow, is of considerable interest. But I found some of the statistical conclusions reached in many of the psychological experiments using randomly selected individuals --- those of Prospect Theory, Illusions of Validity, the taking of risks, the critque of the Bernoulli's Errors , and so on --- take no account of the personality variable that could be of significant importance in the System 2 responses of those taking part.

The Myers-Briggs analysis of the sixteen possible personality characteristics would, it seems to me, influence the responses to the questions asked and, witwhout examining them, partly invalidate the statisical conclusions reached. Without taking this personality variable in the random selection of participants into consideration, the analysis ignores the genetic element that is 'hard-wired' in all human decision making.

Surely, the variations in the range of introversion/extroversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, judging/perception in the personalities of those taking part, if applied, would alter many of the conclusions that ignore the personality variable/ influence.

Ralph Hancox

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