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  • Maisha Hassan

Could We BE Any More Irrational?

"Could we be any more irrational?" This question, evoking Chandler Bing from the iconic TV show "Friends," rings true for many of us in our day-to-day decision-making. The episode "The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant" from Season 2 can serve as an interesting backdrop to discuss the principles of behavioural economics; here, the friends find themselves at odds over an expensive dinner, giving an insight into a variety of biases and cognitive complexities.


The "Friends" Episode as a Case Study


Fairness vs. Equality

In the episode, Joey, Rachel, and Phoebe have less financial wiggle room compared to Monica, Ross, and Chandler. The dilemma of how to split the dinner bill reveals the behavioural economic concept of fairness versus equality. Traditional economic models may suggest a straightforward answer like an even split or division based on the capacity to pay. However, human emotions, perceptions of fairness, and group dynamics add layers of complexity. This mirrors real-world financial decisions, where equity and equality are often at odds, forcing us to grapple with our understanding of what's "fair."


Loss Aversion

Another behavioural economics principle highlighted is loss aversion. The emotional weight of losing money seems to hit Joey, Rachel, and Phoebe harder than it does the others, amplifying their discomfort with paying an even share. This shows how the psychological pain of losing often outweighs the pleasure of gaining, which impacts not just how we split bills but also decisions like investments or bargain hunting.


Social vs. Market Norms

Finally, the episode tackles the tension between social and market norms. The more financially comfortable trio—Monica, Ross, and Chandler—indulge in expensive dishes during a dinner, while the others stick to budget-friendly options. When Ross suggests splitting the bill evenly, it causes palpable discomfort. This demonstrates how social norms, like splitting costs equally among friends, can clash with market norms, such as paying for what you consume, affecting how we make economic decisions in social contexts.


Beyond TV Shows: How Behavioural Economics Affects Our Lives


The Endowment Effect

Think about that old T-shirt in your closet you can't bring yourself to part with. The endowment effect suggests we value things more once we own them. This psychological attachment to possessions can even influence our willingness to sell or trade them, often at irrationally high values.


Scarcity Bias

Ever wondered why sales create a sense of urgency that drives you to make impulsive purchases? This is scarcity bias at work. Marketers capitalise on this by offering "limited-time" deals, nudging us to act quickly, often against our better judgment.


Conclusion

Whether it's splitting bills with friends or deciding what to buy at a sale, behavioural economics provides invaluable insights into the psychological underpinnings of our economic decisions. Understanding these biases and cognitive processes can empower us to make more informed and rational decisions, helping us navigate both personal and market-driven choices with greater clarity.


1. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk. Econometrica, 47(2), 263-291.

Note: This is a foundational paper on behavioral economics, introducing concepts like loss aversion.

2. Thaler, R. (1980). Toward a positive theory of consumer choice. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 1(1), 39-60.

Note: Richard Thaler is one of the pioneers of behavioral economics, and this paper discusses many of the biases we experience in decision-making.

3. Ariely, D. (2008). Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. HarperCollins.

Note: A highly accessible book that delves into the quirky ways in which people often make decisions.

4. "Friends" Season 2, Episode 5: "The One with Five Steaks and an Eggplant."

Note: For the specific case study and scenario described in the blog post.

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