Thursday, February 28, 2008

An Economist Measures the Fear of Letting Go

Here is a fascinating report from the International Herald Tribune:

‘Predictably Irrational’: Keeping (too many) options open

MIT economist Dan Ariely’s new book Predictably Irrational identifies various patterns of behavior in which people — not just a few people, but basically everyone — can’t endure the discomfort of making a rational decision. The article focuses mainly on one experiment based on a video game with three doors. Players wasted effort and lost out on points — which in the experiment translated to real money — just trying to keep all the doors open.

I believe this is the same pattern I see in people who keep too many possessions — clothes they have no reason to wear, movies they don’t want to watch, food that no one wants to eat, and so on. The resulting clutter comes with costs that are hard to ignore, yet somehow people do ignore the cost of clutter and focus instead on the value of the possessions, even when that value is entirely imaginary.