A personal example of human irrationality by a neuroscientist


A large part of the neuroeconomic research field is the study of human irrationality. It can be argued that our propensity for irrationality leads to many of the problems of our modern society (but I won’t go into the details at this present time). Now I will present I personal example for your amusement.

At the recent large neuroscience conference (SFN: Nov 15-19, 2008) I was offered a new post-doc position with a 50% pay increase! The new post-doc offered a great opportunity to further examine novel neuroprotective treatments in a great and clinically relevant model, that has near unlimited opportunities for me.

I turned down the job – which is in itself highly irrational – for the obvious difference in pay, but also my current position is only funded for the next 6 months – not to mention the additional factor of the current worldwide economic conditions. What I did next though really makes me question this whole rational human thing (at least at a personal level). I then turned and made a counter offer to the principal investigator I would work for him free on part of the problem.

Now that is some negotiating strategy, going from a 50% pay increase to offering to work free for him.

How irrational, not to mention stupid is that? This is all despite my additional scientific interest of studying human irrationality (so in theory I am not ignorant of this human pension for irrationality). Maybe I should have my head scanned - I think I might know what it will find :)

Additionally, there are no rational reasons particularly keeping me at my current location and post-doc position.

So what I am suggesting is in your own day to day choices maybe step back once in awhile to check how rationale some of your choices are (hopefully they won’t be as irrational as my one personal example I am sharing).

2 comments for “A personal example of human irrationality by a neuroscientist

  1. Jigen
    November 23, 2008 at 11:56 am

    So did you take the job? And now that you’ve had a moment to step back, what would your “rational” course of action be?

    Another question:

    What about the classical adage when you take your exam, the first answer is the best answer? Although this is not a very rational way of going about writing a test, it sometimes seems to work.

    In your case, was the decision you made, possibly under a little bit of stress, actually an extremely rational decision?

  2. Ward
    November 24, 2008 at 8:54 am

    I turned down the full post-doc position with the 50% pay increase. But I am very happy to work for him for free (hence irrational) to come up with testable neuroprotective treatments and write grants/papers (but I am guessing I will get compensated in some fashion because of the bureaucracy – and I won’t complain). Could be a great project.