Choiceology with Katy Milkman
Summary: Can we learn to make smarter choices? Wharton professor Katy Milkman shares stories of irrational decision making--from historical blunders to the kinds of everyday errors that could affect your future. Choiceology, an original podcast from Charles Schwab, explores the lessons of behavioral economics, exposing the psychological traps that lead to expensive mistakes. Season 1 of Choiceology was hosted by Dan Health, bestselling author of Made to Stick and Switch. Podcasts are for informational purposes only. This channel is not monitored by Charles Schwab. Please visit schwab.com/contactus for contact options.
For many people, the start of a new year is an occasion to re-examine their lives, to set new goals and to give up old habits. Making New Year’s resolutions is something of a social ritual, but we see similar behaviors around other significant dates, as well--such as birthdays and anniversaries and the changing of seasons. And while it can be argued that all of these dates are arbitrary, studies show that they can still give you a head start in achieving your goals. In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we examine the common but not always rational phenomenon whereby people divide their lives into chapters. We look at ways to leverage this phenomenon to make better choices. The episode begins on a riverbank, with an age-old ritual of personal renewal. Many religious traditions have codified this tendency to divide life into distinct segments. Next, we hear about Ray Zahab’s life changing New Year’s resolution. What began as a simple plan to live a healthier lifestyle, ended up taking him on incredible adventures all around the world. Ray is the author of the book Running For My Life. From Ray’s story of personal transformation around an auspicious date, we pivot to a related tendency for people to separate their money into mental accounts. Money, like time, is fungible--one dollar is as useful as any other dollar--and yet people often divide their money into different categories. Why? Nobel laureate and best-selling author Richard Thaler explains the value of this cognitive bias, and explores some of the peculiar behaviors people exhibit when they earmark their money for different purposes. And John Beshears of the Harvard Business School describes a study that exposes this bias in the way people perceive the value of grocery store coupons. Finally, Katy Milkman offers additional tips on leveraging these temporal landmarks and personal budgets to help you stick with your resolutions.
Choiceology with Katy Milkman returns after the holidays, starting with a special New Year’s episode on January 7. In the meantime, you can listen to all of our past episodes online or in your podcast app of choice. Choiceology is an original podcast from Charles Schwab. For more on the series, visit schwab.com/podcast.
In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we examine an old insight about happiness and giving. It’s an insight that is now backed up by behavioral science. The episode begins with a scene from the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. From there we hear from the founder and CEO of Charity: Water, Scott Harrison. When Scott turned 18, he moved to New York City and got a job as a nightclub promoter. He lived a hedonistic lifestyle that included private jets and exotic parties. He should have been on top of the world, but he was miserable. It wasn’t until Scott moved to one of the poorest countries in the world that he started to find fulfillment. You can learn more about Scott’s story and his incredible transformation in his new book Thirst. Next Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton explores the topic of happiness and spending. He’s the co-author of a study on the subject of happiness and spending, and the book Happy Money: The New Science of Smarter Spending. Finally, we hit the streets to conduct an experiment. We gave out five dollar bills to random people and asked them to spend it on themselves or give it away. Which group do you think will experience a greater level of happiness?
You’re an independent-minded person. You make choices for yourself based on the best information available. You own your decisions, right or wrong. Right? No so fast. You are, in fact, a social animal. You take many visible and invisible cues on how to behave from the people around you—family, co-workers, friends, social media, even the folks in the elevator or on the bus. So your decisions and behaviors aren’t always as independent as you might think. In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we look at a phenomenon that may have you running with the crowd, even when it’s not in your best interest. The episode begins with an experiment. A benign but peculiar behavior appears during an otherwise normal orchestra rehearsal. It starts with a few members but spreads rapidly through the orchestra. What’s causing this behavior, and why is it so contagious? From there we move to a much more consequential behavior in the world of professional cycling. We examine a high-stakes decision by cyclist Tyler Hamilton in his quest for Tour de France glory and Olympic gold. It’s a story of peer pressure, deep secrets, subterfuge and, ultimately, redemption. Behavioral scientist Todd Rogers of the Harvard Kennedy School explores the myriad ways we’re influenced by those around us. He speaks with Katy about some of the ways that businesses and institutions can harness our social nature for the greater good. Finally, Katy Milkman looks back at some of the early research on how individuals can be manipulated by social groups. She offers tips to help you avoid falling victim to mob mentality.
Most of us would like to think we make decisions for our own good. Presented with the imaginary choice between a bag of salty, greasy potato chips and a healthy salad, you might opt, in principle, for the salad. But what happens when that bag of chips is freshly opened, sitting there right in front of you? Do you change your mind? In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we look at a bias that has an outsized influence on decisions you make in the here and now. The show begins with an experiment that reveals how difficult it is to avoid the temptation of junk food—and how the power of that temptation is affected by time. Then, you’ll hear the story of a man who spent his childhood in relative poverty but found himself wealthy beyond his dreams by the time he was a teenager. This unexpected windfall changed his life in an instant. But it ultimately became a painful lesson on the dangers of living only for the present. You’ll hear from two heavyweights in the world of psychology and economics. Richard Thaler is a Nobel Prize–winning economist and co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Thaler tells the story of how he came to discover and research this bias. Renowned psychologist Angela Duckworth explores some of the ways you can combat temptation and make better decisions for your future. She’s the author of the bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Finally, Katy Milkman offers additional tips to help you avoid the pitfalls of this bias: with behavioral tools such as temptation bundling and commitment devices.
Winning feels good. Whether it’s nailing a tricky golf shot or landing a big client for your firm, it’s nice to come out on top. But is it the thrill of victory that pushes you to sink that 10-foot putt or compels you to put in a few extra hours at work? Or is it the fear of losing that motivates you more? In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we examine a bias that affects the irrational way people often react to gains and losses. The episode begins with the heartbreaking story of Robbie Powell. A missed medical diagnosis and an elaborate cover up expose the lengths to which some people are willing to go in order to avoid a hit to their reputations. You’ll hear from professor Dolly Chugh from New York University’s Stern School. Dolly and collaborator Molly Kern have done some great research demonstrating how people behave differently when making ethical choices in the face of a potential loss versus a potential gain. You can learn more about this phenomenon in her book How Good People Fight Bias: The Person You Mean to Be. Then renowned golf coach Hank Haney describes how Tiger Woods and other golf pros seem to work harder to avoid bogeys on the putting green than they do to make birdies. According to Wharton School professor Maurice Schweitzer, professional golfers may be missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in winnings because of this tendency. And he’s got research to prove it. Finally, Katy will leave you with practical tips on how to limit the influence of this bias in your own decisions. Choiceology is an original podcast from Charles Schwab. If you enjoy the show, please leave a rating or review on Apple Podcasts.
Season 2 of Choiceology is coming soon! Dan Heath hands the reins over to new host Katy Milkman for this season. Katy brings an incredible depth of knowledge to the show through her work as a professor of Operations, Information & Decisions at The Wharton School. You’ll hear from sports stars, Nobel laureates and everyday people making life-altering choices, and Katy will share useful tools and strategies to improve decision making in your own life. Subscribe for free today on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen. Season 2 launches October 29.
Imagine you’ve just been through a major life event: The birth of a child. A major award. The loss of a job. A divorce. Now picture yourself 10 years in the future and try to imagine how that event affected your overall well-being. Research shows that—more often than not—your predictions will miss the mark. Why is that? On this episode of Choiceology with Dan Heath, we examine a bias that influences the way you believe you’ll feel in the future. The show begins with a quick survey based on the work of psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson. The survey demonstrates—in a surprising way—our tendency to misjudge the importance of future events. From there we raise the stakes with two very dramatic stories from the opposite ends of human emotional experience. Diann Roffe describes the elation she felt after a stunning athletic achievement, and Scott Fedor shares the harrowing story of a life-altering injury. And while these events were totally different, you may be surprised to learn how they affected Scott and Diann’s lives over the long run. Boston University professor Carey Morewedge explains how this bias works and offers suggestions to help you re-examine your greatest hopes and fears.
When you set out to buy something—a car, for example, or a laptop or some small gadget for your kitchen—you analyze the features and the style and the utility of the thing, and then you make a choice. But it turns out that there’s a psychological force that can influence what you’re willing to pay. On this episode of Choiceology with Dan Heath, we examine a bias that affects how you perceive gains and losses, how you negotiate deals and the way you think about value. The episode begins with legendary sports agent Leigh Steinberg. He describes his dramatic first attempt at negotiating a high-stakes contract for a client joining the National Football League. You’ll hear an experiment based on Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky ’s early studies that demonstrate the bias in real time. And lawyer, mediator and conflict resolution expert John Curtis explains how everyone—from people selling their homes to police informants going into witness protection—can fall prey to this psychological trap.
Sometimes it seems as if danger lurks around every corner. News reports of events like plane crashes and shark attacks make grave risk to life and limb feel real and imminent. And while there’s no doubt that risk is a part of life, are these the types of events we should really be concerned about? On this episode of Choiceology with Dan Heath, we examine a bias that affects the way you perceive both risk and reward. We trace how this bias may have helped your ancestors avoid lions lurking in the tall grass—but may also negatively affect your decisions around things like vacations and lotteries. The episode begins with Ranie Pearce and her harrowing tale of adventure in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Then you’ll hear an experiment involving sharks—and something even more dangerous—at the Vancouver Aquarium in British Columbia. Finally, author Dan Gardner explains the psychological roots of our common misperceptions about risk and reward.
In a world awash in data, you’d think it would be relatively easy to make informed, objective decisions. But there’s a problem that gets in your way, even with all of this information at your fingertips: You see what you want to see. On this episode of Choiceology with Dan Heath, we look at the tendency to favor information that confirms pre-existing beliefs. The episode begins in Europe in the 16th century, with a secret debate about sainthood, and then moves to a harrowing story of crime and punishment in contemporary America.
Imagine that you’ve put in effort toward a goal, but things haven’t quite worked out the way you hoped. Maybe your goal was more expensive than you expected; maybe it’s taking longer to reach than you thought. So the question is, do you double down and continue to work toward that increasingly difficult goal, or do you move on to something new? Do you fish or cut bait? On this episode of Choiceology with Dan Heath, we look at how past effort, time or expense can influence the way we make decisions moving forward—even when they shouldn’t. The episode begins on an auction house floor but quickly climbs to the top of the highest peak in the world. Along the way, you’ll see how common is the lure to continue no matter what, and how it affects all kinds of decisions, big and small. Professor Michael Roberto explains how to identify this bias in your day-to-day life. You’ll also find out how to fight back against the influence of this trap in a story about Intel CEO Andy Grove—one of the most successful business leaders of the 20th century. (0318-8VJ8)
You don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Context matters, perhaps more than you think. On this episode of Choiceology with Dan Heath, we explore the subtle, sometimes hidden structures that influence your decisions. You’ll see how small changes in the way choices are presented can have a huge impact on everything from vandalism to traffic congestion to retirement savings. Tara Austin of Ogilvy Change tells the dramatic story of how she and her team worked to reduce street crime in a London neighborhood after a devastating riot. It was a surprisingly simple project that had a measurable impact. You can see images from the project in this BBC News article. You’ll also hear about an experiment we ran on a busy intersection in an attempt to reduce collisions between bicycles and pedestrians—using nothing but a roll of duct tape. And behavioral design expert Sille Krukow explains how choice architecture can channel our inherent laziness to help us make better decisions. After listening, you can read our bonus article "Nudge Yourself" to learn even more about how to turn smart decisions into easier ones. Choiceology is an original podcast from Charles Schwab. For more on the series, visit schwab.com/podcast.
The Battle of Midway. Saltine crackers. Carnival games. What do these seemingly unrelated things have in common? Well, they’re connected by a common psychological trap—one that affects the way we all make decisions. In this first episode of Choiceology with Dan Heath, we reveal this bias and explain how it affects decisions, big and small. Jonathan Parshall tells the dramatic story of how it influenced the course of history during a World War II battle. A ridiculous cracker-eating contest demonstrates the pitfalls of this bias in real time. And Professor Don A. Moore explains the history and psychology behind the bias and offers advice on how to minimize its effects. (0218-8W73)
You’re not as rational as you think. In this new podcast, bestselling author Dan Heath performs forensic analysis on decision making. You’ll hear real stories, learn from top experts, and witness informal experiments that demonstrate the mistakes we too often make. Subscribe for free today to get the first episode automatically when it launches February 12.