Each of us filters the world differently. For the same stimulus, we generate different thoughts, feeling and behavior. That is because our filters are unique.
SAME STIMULUS, DIFFERENT REACTION. INDUCTIVELY, WE’RE ALL IRRATIONAL.
Rationality is increasingly becoming an assumption among people we interact with – it is very often confused with reasoning. We expect our colleagues, friends and family members to act in a certain way. If they do not, we assume they are acting without any reasoning. If reasoning is a guiding factor of judging individuals then the reality is that we all are irrational in our own way.
Take for example, a colleague, let’s call him Fred. Fred decides to leave his job and take a sabbatical, despite being recently promoted. You’d think he was crazy to have worked that hard and not wait to reap his reward and the big pay check every month that his promotion would have gotten him. Or take the case of Sahil, who dropped out to college to see the world for a year before getting back to resume college. Or every single entrepreneur that you know who starts out without the experience of starting up!
Mental Model x Person = Range of Behavior
All these instances draw out our attention because they’re typically outside our mental model of what we expect people to do. Our mental model of people influences what we think their range of behavior can be. And when they fall afoul of these boundaries, we think they’re acting irrationally.
This mental model of ours is at work and is evident in our interactions with our environment everyday – we either choose to ignore it or accept it without proper examination. Other than our mental model of people, there are sets of biases at work in the way our brain functions and the impact on the way we think. Some instances for thought follow.
“…IF IT DOES NOT RHYME, THEN IT IS NOT IN MY MIND…”
Rhymes have been known to hold people’s attention and thereby registering in their long-term memory. It is a common activity in schools wherein teachers teach using rhymes. In addition to being registered easily, rhymes also tend to appear persuasive. Increasingly, in Indian politics, rhymes have started to appear quite consistently. Politicians communicate using rhymes as there is a higher likelihood that their voting bank is persuaded towards accepting their proposition.
The irrationality arises when it is assumed that these rhymes are true. Rhyme (form) and reason (content) are not always appreciated by readers or listeners – in many circumstances, rhyme may be confused as a reason.
The use of rhymes is so powerful and effective that it creates biases in our minds that we tend to have favourable biased views and opinions towards those groups that have frequently used it to their advantage. There are countless examples of politicians and organizations that use rhymes or slogans or empty words without showing action. Classic examples are “India Shining”, “Yes we can” and popular slogans sometimes even found on the rear of trucks all over India “Horn, Ok, Please.” Sometimes these slogans are crafted with a focus on an outcome, but over a period of time, they lose their significance and fail to create a bias for action.
 There are countless Youtube videos of an actor, singer who turned into a politician (Manoj Tiwari) – known to use rhymes in his campaigns.
“…WE ARE WHAT WE [DON’T] EAT…”
Very few countries can boast of the variety of food consumption as India can. The choices available to vegetarians and non-vegetarians are immense – even famous chef Anthony Bourdain claims that he can stay vegetarian only in India. While the options are many, we are also very personal in our choice of consumption.
This freedom, many a times, is challenged – the recent example being the recommendation of a minister to pregnant women to refrain from eating meat.
There is no doubt that any of the choices are safe and nutritious for women expecting a baby. It just appears bizarre that a category of consumption pattern (“…non-veg etc”: to quote directly from the released booklet) is declared unhealthy with no supporting evidence.
This irrational behaviour is indicative of a tendency towards exaggerating the differences between two choices (vegetarian and non-vegetarian). Many a times when we evaluate options simultaneously we tend to highlight the differences in a pronounced way, when actually the options have certain similarities. Instead of making comparison at categories, attributes within each of these categories can be evaluated and a much more informed decision can be taken.
An alternative and possibly an effective manner of comparison could have been, if the nutritional needs of pregnant women are considered. Subsequently, the effectiveness in providing the nutrition by consuming vegetarian or non-vegetarian food could be highlighted. The final choice of selecting the category of food could be left to “soon-to-be-moms”.
An application of using the distinction bias positively could be in the area of Recruitment. When people apply to a job at your company, do you provide them with enough data points about your offer and benefits as part of the offer letter? Providing them information will help candidates in making the most appropriate choice, specifically when they are applying to multiple openings in different companies. This ensures that you’re giving them enough information to focus on making comparisons within attributes, rather than just the positions or company brand within categories. Here’s a sliver of how InMobi provides these data points for career decision making rather distinctively.
 Also known as Distinction Bias
 The differences could also be influenced by certain external agenda. For this article, such agenda is not given consideration since the idea is to conduct an objective evaluation based on the recent recommendation made.
Our habit of “making sense” of things around us does two things: helps us form rules for our ease and, at the same time, restricts us within the boundaries formed due to these rules. However, we continually strive to form rules – we cannot help it, this is the way we are wired. Our actions are guided by these rules.
The main drawback is that we appear “rational” when others witness our actions as they predicted. We appear “irrational” when our actions are dissimilar to their expectations. Since our familiarity with other individuals is limited, we may appear irrational to many unless we make an explicit attempt to rationalize.
These sets of irrationalities or proclivities in reacting to situations, in a certain way, are evident in many of our actions, as indicated above. Instead of scuffling to reason, it could serve us better to start accepting the fact that irrationality exists in all of us and it is normal to exude these in our interactions.
QED: Irrationality is not a god particle. It’s a naturally occurring element.