Self Help

The Upside of Irrationality - Dan Ariely

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Matheus Puppe

· 49 min read



Here are the key upside or unexpected benefits of irrationality according to the summary:

  • It can help overcome procrastination and improve self-control. The author was able to complete an unpleasant medical treatment by making the injection ritual pleasurable through associating it with watching movies afterwards. This helped motivate him to stick to the treatment schedule.

  • It shows that we are not perfectly rational beings who always make optimal decisions based on logical calculations of long-term costs and benefits. Recognizing our irrational tendencies can help explain why we procrastinate or favor immediate gratification.

  • Embracing irrational factors like associating an unpleasant task with future rewards can help improve motivation and compliance, even if it requires defying a purely rational assessment of short-term costs versus long-term benefits. Using movies as a reward helped the author take his injections as prescribed when others failed to comply fully with the medical protocol.

So in summary, the key upside is that limited or controlled irrationality can actually enhance rational behavior and decision-making by leveraging psychological factors like reward motivation to overcome natural human tendencies like procrastination or a bias towards short-term thinking. Recognizing how we are irrational opens doors to leveraging those tendencies strategically.

  • Behavioral economics acknowledges that people are not always rational decision-makers as traditional economics assumes. We are subject to biases and irrational influences.

  • Experiments help illuminate the complex unconscious forces that shape our decisions. They isolate individual influences to better understand human behavior.

  • Technology and modern environments can exacerbate irrational behaviors by taking advantage of innate human instincts developed in ancient times (e.g. craving high-calorie foods).

  • Policies, companies, and technologies often don’t account for human limitations and fallibility, leading to failures and mistakes.

  • Understanding our biases is the first step towards making better decisions. Redesigning systems to be more compatible with human nature can help avoid pitfalls.

  • The goal is greater self-awareness of biases and improved decision-making, both individually and socially, not an assumption of perfect rationality which can have disastrous consequences.

  • Each chapter explores specific biases through experimental findings and considers implications for life, business, and policy to help overcome irrational influences.

The passage discusses the relationship between incentives/motivation and performance. It describes an experiment by Yerkes and Dodson where rats were placed in mazes and given electric shocks of varying intensities. The results showed that at low and high intensities, the rats learned more slowly, but at medium intensities they learned faster, following an inverse-U relationship.

This challenges the intuitive assumption that higher incentives always lead to better performance. Just as the rats were “overmotivated” by very high shocks, people may be distracted or stressed by extremely large bonuses rather than motivated. The passage questions whether paying very high bonuses would truly improve workers’ performance, as companies assume, or whether medium bonuses might achieve better results due to optimal motivation.

It discusses how this research has implications for understanding executive compensation on Wall Street. While boards try to motivate CEOs with large bonuses, the inverse-U relationship found in Yerkes and Dodson’s experiment suggests that beyond a certain point, higher pay may paradoxically reduce rather than improve performance. The key point is that the relationship between motivation and performance is complex, and more motivation does not always mean better outcomes.

The authors conducted an experiment to test the impact of financial incentives on job performance. They recruited participants in rural India and assigned them to one of three incentive conditions: low bonus (1 day’s pay), medium bonus (2 weeks’ pay), or high bonus (5 months’ pay).

Participants played six different games that tested skills like memory, spatial reasoning, and motor skills. For each game, there were performance thresholds for a “good” and “very good” score. Participants earned bonus payments based on the incentive condition and whether they met the performance thresholds.

The games were played one-by-one over about an hour. Three sample participants were described - Nitin earned a medium bonus of 120 rupees by meeting thresholds in 4 games. Apurve earned a low bonus of 10 rupees despite similar performance due to the lower incentives. Anoopum was assigned to the high bonus condition and stood to earn substantially more if he performed very well.

The experiment aimed to test whether very large financial incentives improved performance more than smaller incentives, or potentially decreased it due to pressure, as some prior research on rats had suggested. The results would shed light on how effective bonuses are in enhancing job performance.

  • Anoopum participated in an experiment run by graduate students where he could earn money based on his performance on various games.

  • He was told he could earn Rs. 200 for achieving a “good” level of performance and Rs. 400 for a “very good” level.

  • On the first game, Labyrinth, he failed to get the ball past the holes to earn any money.

  • He also struggled on the Dart Ball and Packing Quarters games and did not earn bonuses.

  • On the Simon game, he started to do better, remembering sequences of 6-7 lights, earning him Rs. 200.

  • However, he failed the final two games and left frustrated but with Rs. 200, a nice sum though less than he hoped for.

  • The experimenters tested different bonus levels - small, medium, large - and found people performed worst when the largest bonus was on the line, due to stress and pressure. They switched to paying bonuses afterwards to avoid issues of losing money upfront.

  • The researchers wanted to test how prepaying versus post-paying bonuses would impact performance. They thought prepaying bonuses was analogous to how professionals view expected bonuses as part of their compensation and make spending plans around them.

  • They predicted high rewards would backfire on cognitive tasks but improve performance on mechanical tasks, like jumping for money. However, experiments in India found high rewards reduced performance on all tasks tested.

  • A follow up experiment at MIT tested a cognitive (math) task versus a mechanical (keyboard clicking) task. High rewards improved clicking performance but harmed math performance.

  • When presenting results to MBA and banking students, the students incorrectly predicted high rewards would always improve performance, showing people’s intuitions don’t match the empirical findings.

  • Bankers refused to accept high bonuses could negatively impact their work, insisting they were exceptional. They claimed stress improved their performance. However, they refused to participate in experiments to test this.

  • Without being able to directly study bankers, the researchers looked to basketball performance under pressure for related insights into highly paid professionals.

  • Researchers studied whether “clutch players” in the NBA perform better under pressure in close games. Clutch players are paid more for being able to excel in high-pressure moments.

  • They analyzed clutch players’ performance in the last 5 minutes of close games vs earlier periods. Clutch players scored more points late, but it was due to taking more shots, not better accuracy.

  • Further analysis showed clutch players weren’t actually improving - they took more shots and free throws due to heavier defence, but their shooting percentage didn’t increase under pressure.

  • This suggests clutch players’ skills don’t actually improve in high-pressure situations, contradicting the common belief. NBA skill is more physical than mental compared to banking.

  • A congressman publicly questioned the ethics and effectiveness of large bonuses in banking, as bonuses are paid from shareholder money with unclear benefits. Performance may not actually improve under pressure as believed.

  • Researchers then did an experiment adding social pressure to a word puzzle task. Performance declined for some when having to perform the task publicly in front of peers, showing how pressure can negatively impact performance even on simple cognitive tasks.

The passage discusses how social motivation and pressure can negatively impact performance. Research found that people solved twice as many anagrams in private compared to in public, showing they “choked” under social pressure.

It describes a case study from Frankl where a stuttering patient was unable to stutter when trying to convince a streetcar conductor to let him ride for free, since he lacked motivation to perform without stuttering. Similarly, a patient with sweat anxiety would sweat more when expecting to sweat due to high motivation to remain sweat-free.

An experiment on cockroaches found they navigated a simple maze faster with an audience but struggled more with a complex maze, demonstrating how social pressure can backfire on difficult tasks.

The passage argues higher incentives don’t always lead to better performance, as overmotivation from things like high bonuses can induce stress and cause people to focus more on the reward than the task. It uses thought experiments to illustrate how large monetary incentives may not necessarily improve creativity or doctor performance during surgery. In summary, the passage discusses how social and external pressures can paradoxically undermine performance on challenging tasks.

  • Lancelot gives a student named Mark advice on how to fight better. He says the key is to not care whether you live or die in the fight. That way, nothing is riding on your performance and you can focus purely on your skills without worry or stress affecting you.

  • This suggests Lancelot fights so well because he has eliminated stress from the situation by not caring about the outcome for himself. He can be fully concentrated on his abilities rather than worried about survival.

  • The chapter then discusses how economic theory typically treats work as something annoying people only do for money and rest, rather than finding meaning or identity in their jobs. But many people associate who they are with their work.

  • It tells a story of a former student, David, who became dissatisfied with his banking job after putting many hours into a presentation that ended up not being used when the deal it was for fell through. This made him feel his work had no purpose or meaning.

  • David hypothesizes that if someone’s only job was to make PowerPoint slides that got immediately deleted, they would be unhappy, even if well compensated. This highlights the importance of finding purpose and meaning in one’s work beyond just compensation.

  • As a teenager, the author volunteered at an aviary run by a man called “Birdman” who had rescued birds from around the world. This is where he met a girl he had a crush on. He continued volunteering to spend time with her.

  • Later, the author got a parrot named Jean Paul. The parrot enjoyed engaging activities like a puzzle toy called SeekaTreat that required working to get food, rather than just eating freely available food.

  • Research by psychologist Glen Jensen found that many animals, including rats, prefer to “work” for food by pressing a lever, rather than just eating freely available food in a cup. This concept is called “contrafreeloading.”

  • Contrafreeloading suggests animals find meaning and satisfaction in earning their food rather than just obtaining it easily. The author’s parrot Jean Paul also seemed to enjoy contrafreeloading type activities like the puzzle toy.

  • An economist friend argued contrafreeloading doesn’t contradict economic theory, since that focuses on human behavior, not animals with smaller brains like rats. But it does challenge the simple view that animals always minimize effort to maximize reward.

  • The researchers designed an experiment to test how small reductions in meaning or value would impact motivation to complete a task.

  • They had participants assemble Lego Bionicle robots in exchange for payment on a diminishing scale. The first robot was worth $2, with each additional robot worth 11 cents less.

  • One participant, Joe, was in the “meaningful” condition where he got to fully assemble each robot. He built 10 robots before stopping.

  • The next participant, Chad, was in the “Sisyphean” condition, named after the mythological king Sisyphus who was punished by the gods. In this condition, the researcher would disassemble each robot after it was built, removing the sense of accomplishment.

  • The researchers wanted to see if this removal of meaning through disassembling each creation would impact Chad’s motivation and how many robots he would build compared to Joe, who got to see his works completed.

  • The experiment aimed to understand how small reductions in meaning or value from a task can influence motivation, even for relatively meaningless tasks like Lego assembly. It explored the concept of “small-m” motivations driving behavior.

  • Sisyphus, the king of Corinth, tricked death and avoided the Underworld through deceit. When the gods discovered this, they condemned him to the eternal punishment of rolling a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down each time, forcing him to restart the task forever.

  • An experiment was conducted where participants built Lego robots (Bionicles). One condition involved taking the robots apart after they were built, simulating a Sisyphean or meaningless task. The other condition let the completed robots remain intact, simulating a meaningful task.

  • Those in the meaningful condition built more robots on average (10.6 vs 7.2) and earned more money overall ($14.40 vs $11.52). They were also more likely to continue even when pay decreased (65% vs 20%).

  • Enjoyment of Legos correlated strongly with persistence in the meaningful condition but hardly at all in the Sisyphean condition, showing that meaningfulness allows internal motivation like enjoyment to drive effort more.

  • The results indicate that even small reductions in meaningfulness can significantly demotivate people and decrease productivity and willingness to work in unpleasant tasks. This parallels real workplace experiences shared by some of the participants.

  • An experiment was conducted where participants completed tasks involving finding letter pairs and were put in different feedback conditions - acknowledged, ignored, or shredded.

  • Participants in the acknowledged condition where the experimenter acknowledged their work produced the most letter pairs. Those in the shredded condition where their work was immediately shredded produced the fewest.

  • Those in the ignored condition, where they received no feedback, produced an intermediate amount of work closer to the shredded condition than the acknowledged one.

  • This showed that even simple acknowledgement can greatly increase motivation and productivity, while ignoring or destroying work demotivates people.

  • The author reflects on how their administrative assistant’s job involves filling out numerous electronic forms that get passed around, breaking the work into small meaningless parts without seeing completion.

  • This division of labor breaks tasks into small parts for efficiency but can reduce meaning and motivation, relating to Marx’s idea of alienated labor.

  • In today’s knowledge economy, meaning and motivation are even more important, so companies risk demotivating employees through overly dividing labor without the bigger picture.

  • However, since work is central to life, there is potential to make work more meaningful and motivating through things like acknowledging contributions.

  • People tend to feel pride and ownership over things they create, even if the level of effort is minimal. IKEA furniture assembly is a prime example - while not difficult, people feel attached to what they build.

  • The level of effort required to feel ownership over food varies. Instant noodles require little effort so people don’t feel pride, but home cooking does.

  • Early cake mixes weren’t popular because they were too simplified, removing all feeling of accomplishment. However, letting people add an egg or two made them feel like they had a role, boosting sales.

  • This shows how deeply ingrained the desire for ownership and pride in creation is. Even a small amount of participation or effort can make people feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Marketers understood this “egg theory” and leveraged it to boost sales of cake mixes by giving consumers a sense of involvement.

The key point is that humans strongly value what they create, even if the level of creation or effort is minimal. Allowing some participation activates this and increases motivation, satisfaction and perception of value.

  • Sandra Lee of the “Semi-Homemade” TV show and cookbooks promotes a “70/30 philosophy” of using ready-made ingredients for 70% of recipes and adding 30% fresh touches. This allows home cooks to feel proud of homemade meals while saving time.

  • One example recipe combines a container of chocolate frosting, powdered sugar, and vanilla to make truffles, requiring just 15 minutes of work.

  • Pride of ownership is important psychologically when cooking or making other creations. Small amounts of customization and effort lead to feeling like something is one’s own.

  • Local Motors takes this further by allowing customers to design their own car and help build it over 4 days, feeling deeply connected to something they created.

  • Norton, Mochon, and the author designed an experiment using origami to test if people value their own creations more highly due to sentiment or self-delusion. Creators bid more for their origami than non-creators did, showing the “IKEA effect” of overvaluing one’s own work.

  • Experiments showed that people ascribe higher value to objects they have created themselves, even simple origami or Lego models. This is known as the “IKEA effect” - taking pleasure and pride in one’s own work.

  • Merely creating or building something is enough to generate this effect, even without customization or personalization. People overvalued identical Lego models they assembled themselves.

  • People are generally unaware of their tendency to overvalue their own creations. In bidding auctions for their origami, creators bid similarly high amounts whether considering just their value or others’ values too, suggesting they think others value it the same.

  • Understanding one’s tendency to overvalue one’s own work has practical implications, like not assuming others see as much value or talent in things like one’s children.

  • Allowing some level of customization or effort in creation can maximize both the IKEA effect and customer satisfaction, without requiring so much effort it drives people away. The right balance depends on context.

  • Experiments continued exploring whether completion of a task, not just creation, also leads to overvaluation and feeling invested in the outcome.

  • The passage describes the author’s experience with occupational therapy after an injury. For months, occupational therapists had the author do repetitive tasks like putting bolts on screws to improve dexterity.

  • The author found these tasks boring and mind-numbing. They were able to join activities for children with developmental problems, like sewing, knitting, and woodworking. While difficult given their limited mobility, the author enjoyed creating things like pillowcases, shirts and chess pieces.

  • The author most enjoyed sewing and still remembers clearly the shirt they made for a friend decades ago. They were surprised the friend did not remember it as vividly.

  • The author reflects that completing a creative project may be important for developing an attachment to the creation. While they invested effort in unfinished projects like weaving and wood carving, they do not feel the same affection for the incomplete works.

  • The passage suggests that occupational therapy was more effective when the author found intrinsic enjoyment and pride in their creative accomplishments, rather than just repeating tedious physical tasks. Completing projects seemed important for the author to truly value their own efforts and creations.

  • The researchers conducted two experiments to examine the “Not-Invented-Here” (NIH) bias, which is the tendency to value one’s own ideas over others’ ideas.

  • The first experiment found that participants rated their self-generated solutions more positively than solutions generated by the researchers. But this could be due to superior quality or personal fit of their own ideas, not just idea ownership.

  • The second experiment tried to isolate the effect of ownership by having participants generate and evaluate both their own solutions and identical solutions proposed by the researchers.

  • To ensure identical solutions, the researchers provided proposed solutions to certain problems beforehand, then for other problems had participants generate solutions but ensured they came up with the exact same proposals as the researchers.

  • This controlled experimental design aimed to separate the effects of objective quality/fit from mere ownership, to test if owning an idea increases one’s valuation of it even when the idea is identical to others’.

In summary, the researchers conducted controlled experiments to test if the “Not-Invented-Here” bias - the tendency to prefer one’s own ideas over others’ - exists even when objective quality and personal fit are controlled for, in order to isolate the effect of mere idea ownership.

The passage describes several studies conducted to demonstrate the “Not-Invented-Here bias,” which is people’s tendency to favor and overvalue ideas that they feel ownership over, even if they had little input in generating the ideas.

In one study, researchers gave participants solutions to problems but framed the solutions in a way to make participants feel like they came up with the ideas themselves, such as by providing word lists containing the solution and having participants recreate the sentences. Participants consistently rated solutions they felt were their own as better.

The passage also discusses how the bias can negatively impact fields like science, where attachment to one’s own theories can prevent objective evaluation. It gives the example of Thomas Edison refusing to acknowledge Nikola Tesla’s superior alternating current electricity because Edison was too invested in his own direct current.

Overall, the passage examines how the Not-Invented-Here bias is a natural human tendency, but in organizations and industries it can decrease openness to new ideas and lead companies to become insular and out of touch if they only value internal perspectives.

  • The human desire for revenge runs very deep, as evident in stories like The Count of Monte Cristo and throughout history where revenge has motivated bloody conflicts.

  • While revenge often causes harm, it can also serve as an effective deterrent against behaviors like stealing or betrayal. The threat of vengeance encourages social cooperation and order.

  • An experiment called the Trust Game showed that when people’s trust is betrayed, many will spend their own money on costly punishment of the betrayer.

  • Brain scans during the Trust Game revealed activity in the striatum, an area linked to reward processing, when participants chose punishment. Higher striatum activity correlated with greater punishment levels.

  • This suggests punishment has biological underpinnings and elicits a pleasure response, making it rewarding even when costly to the punisher. Revenge motives are deep-seated.

  • Related experiments found that chimpanzees also retaliate against those who are unfair in resource distribution tasks, showing revenge instincts are shared with animals.

The key idea is that a basic and important part of irrationality and ourselves is the instinct for revenge, which can both support social cooperation through deterrence but also often causes harm when taken to an extreme. The biology of reward processing in the brain helps explain why revenge is pursued despite personal costs.

  • Researchers conducted an experiment putting two chimpanzees in neighboring cages with a table of food placed between them that they could move closer or further using ropes.

  • When one chimp was alone, it ate happily without issue. But when a second chimp was added, problems arose.

  • If one chimp moved the table close to itself, out of the other’s reach, the annoyed chimp would often pull the “revenge rope” to collapse the table, costing itself food too.

  • This suggested chimpanzees have a sense of fairness and that revenge, even at personal cost, is an important part of their social structure, similar to humans.

  • The author then bought a new Audi car that had free oil changes for 4 years. On a trip from Princeton to MIT late one night, the car suddenly lost power on the highway, forcing the author to pull onto the shoulder in a dangerous situation. This showed the desire for revenge customers can feel when a company breaches their trust, as the author later took action against Audi.

The authors conducted an experiment on consumer revenge. They tried to irritate participants in a minor way by having the experimenter pretend to take a phone call during the explanation of a task.

Participants were given sheets of random letters and paid $5 to find adjacent letters and circle them within 5 minutes. This was the control condition with no irritation.

Those in the annoyance condition experienced the experimenter pretending to take a phone call during the task instructions.

The goal was to give participants an opportunity for “strong” revenge by leaving the $5 and signed receipt on the table unattended after the task. The authors wanted to see if the irritated participants would be more likely to steal the money as a vengeful act for being annoyed.

The minor irritation was meant to establish that even low-level annoyance could provoke feelings and acts of revenge. This would suggest real-world annoyances have an even higher likelihood of eliciting vengeance.

Researchers conducted an experiment to test if a brief phone interruption would make people more likely to seek revenge. Participants were given instructions by Daniel, who sometimes took a 12-second fake phone call.

To measure revenge, Daniel “accidentally” overpaid participants by $1-4 when paying them. Those who experienced the phone disruption were much less likely (14% vs 45%) to return the extra money, suggesting they sought petty revenge for the minor annoyance.

The researchers concluded that even small irritations can increase unethical behavior, as people irritated by the phone call were more willing to violate an ethical norm by keeping money that wasn’t theirs. This shows how annoyances at one point can spiral into worse treatment of others down the line.

  • The study explored whether people would seek revenge against a principal (company owner) or agent (employee) if annoyed. In separate scenarios, the agent said they were hired by the researcher or doing their own thesis project.

  • Results showed people were equally likely to seek revenge regardless of who it punished - the agent or principal. This showed a lack of distinction between who caused the annoyance vs. who suffered the consequences.

  • As an act of revenge for a poor experience with his Audi car, the researcher wrote a fictional case study in Harvard Business Review about a customer’s negative experience with a car company called Atida.

  • The case questioned how Atida should respond to the customer’s anger and threat to make a negative YouTube video. Experts took the customer’s side and said appeasing upset customers is better than ignoring them.

  • When the article was published, the researcher sent a copy to Audi’s customer service noting it was based on his real experience. He felt better having taken this revenge, though not sure if it was the revenge itself or time passed that eased his anger.

  • This led the researchers to examine if apologies could improve interactions and reduce the instinct for revenge in business exchanges. Their next study explored the power of apologies.

  • The passage discusses experiments from the late 19th century where scientists studied physiological adaptation by dividing, dismembering, and relocating frogs, worms, and other creatures.

  • One famous example is the apocryphal story of slowly heating frogs in water to test their ability to adapt to environmental changes. While not factual, it illustrates the concept of gradual adaptation.

  • If placed directly in hot water, frogs will jump out, but if water is slowly heated, they will stay put as they acclimatize to the rising temperature.

  • This story demonstrates the human tendency to get used to gradual changes in our environment over time, termed ‘adaptation’. However, we do not always adapt and some changes may be too extreme to adjust to.

  • Adaptation is a survival mechanism where repeated exposure makes us accustomed to things that may initially cause discomfort. But there are limits, and sudden, drastic changes can still provoke reactions.

So in summary, the passage discusses the scientific experiments on physiological adaptation from the 1800s and uses the example of frogs in heated water to illustrate how humans and animals can grow accustomed to gradual environmental changes through the process of adaptation.

  • The story highlights adaptation and how creatures, including humans, can get used to gradual changes over time without noticing. It compares this to the story of a frog boiling to death if the heat is raised slowly.

  • While the literal frog boiling story may not be accurate, it is used as an analogy to illustrate how people can gradually adapt to changes without realizing it, for better or worse. Examples given include climate change and erosion of civil liberties.

  • The story then discusses how humans are remarkably adaptive in various ways, such as adjusting to different light intensities and environments. It focuses on how the visual system adapts to changes in light levels.

  • Another type of adaptation discussed is “hedonic adaptation,” where people adapt to painful or pleasurable experiences more than they realize. Examples given include adapting to disabilities over time.

  • The story outlines a study done by the author and a professor where they empirically tested the idea that people who have experienced long-term pain, like veterans with injuries, may have a higher pain threshold and tolerance than others due to adaptation.

  • The researchers initially wanted to compare their experimental group who had injuries to healthy students or random people at a mall. But they worried those comparison groups would introduce too many otherfactors like age, life experiences, etc.

  • Instead, they had medical experts split their 40 participants into two groups - mildly injured vs severely injured. This allowed a comparison while keeping many factors similar like all being veterans, injured in the army, part of the same club.

  • Examples of participants - severely injured included a man who lost a leg and eye from a land mine. Mildly injured included a man who broke his elbow.

  • In a pain threshold test, severely injured tolerated hot water 10 seconds vs 4.5 seconds for mildly injured.

  • In a pain tolerance test, severely injured kept hands in hot water 58 seconds vs 27 seconds for mildly injured.

  • This suggested prior severe injuries lead to greater ability to tolerate pain long-term, even years later. Potential explanation is associating past pain with healing/improvement.

  • Two participants with terminal illnesses surprisingly had even lower pain tolerance, suggesting without hope of improvement pain may feel more intense.

Here are the key points:

  • The person learns that trying to convince someone of something they strongly believe is very difficult. They also learn lessons about science and perceptions of women.

  • Hedonic adaptation is the process where our emotional responses to positive or negative events diminish over time as we adapt to changes. We get used to new homes, jobs, injuries, wins, etc and they don’t affect us as strongly over the long run.

  • Research shows people adapt more than expected to major life changes like becoming paraplegic or winning the lottery. The impact on happiness lessens over time.

  • We are poor at predicting how quickly or fully we will adapt emotionally. Events often impact us less than anticipated in the long run.

  • Failing to consider adaptation, people make poor decisions assuming reactions will last. But new cars/items don’t keep providing the same happiness once the novelty wears off.

  • The hedonic treadmill refers to the phenomenon where people are constantly seeking new purchases or experiences to achieve happiness, but quickly adapt to their new situation and want more.

  • A cartoon shows a woman who was excited about her new car last year but now wants to renovate her kitchen, showing how happiness fades with time.

  • A study found that people moving from the Midwest to California experience an initial boost in happiness due to the weather but eventually their happiness returns to baseline levels after adapting. Moving does not lead to lasting changes in happiness.

  • Breaking up pleasurable experiences with short breaks can interrupt adaptation and enhance enjoyment. Breaking up annoying experiences makes them worse by preventing adaptation.

  • Experiments showed people enjoyed massages more and were willing to pay more if the massage was broken into segments, while breaks during an annoying vacuum noise increased irritation.

  • Adaptation is complex and not fully understood, but seeking to interrupt it can help extend happiness from new purchases or experiences for longer periods. The hedonic treadmill is hard to escape permanently.

Here are the key points about hedonic adaptation from the passage:

  • Hedonic adaptation refers to how people tend to adapt and return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite changes in life circumstances. We get used to things over time and they lose their ability to affect our happiness levels.

  • The author gives some personal examples where he has not fully adapted to circumstances:

  1. He remains sensitive and aware of how people look at his visible scars from an injury. Intermittent exposure to others’ reactions may prevent full adaptation.

  2. He still did not dream of himself with injuries over a year later, dissociating from himself instead of adapting.

  3. He has adapted his career choice to his limitations through “active adaptation” of making many small decisions over time that fit his circumstances.

  • Ways to harness adaptation to maximize happiness include spacing out purchases to prolong the novelty and happiness boost, and focusing on transient experiences that can’t be readily adapted to over constant ones we may adapt to. Limiting consumption in certain areas can have benefits as well.

So in summary, the passage discusses hedonic adaptation and how our happiness tends to return to baseline after changes, then provides personal examples where the author has not fully adapted and ways to make use of adaptation principles.

  • The author saw his badly burned reflection in a mirror for the first time after 3 months in the hospital. He was shocked by how disfigured and distorted his body appeared.

  • As a teenager focused on looks and dating, he felt his attractiveness and social status had been destroyed. He worried about how others would perceive him and whether girls would reject him now.

  • He realized his value in the “dating market” had greatly diminished. However, he felt his inner self had not changed. This disconnect was difficult to accept.

  • Over time in the hospital, he came to resent his damaged body as something alien and imprisoning him. He saw his mind and body as separate.

  • To assert control, he decided to mentally prevail over his body through determination and exercises to stretch tightening skin. He vowed to let his mind, not his pain or body, dictate his life and decisions.

The summary captures the author grappling with the loss of his physical attractiveness and social standing as a teen, and his effort to maintain his inner self and assert mental control over his disfigured and painful body through willpower and adaptation.

  • The passage discusses how an individual who was seriously injured and lost their physical appearance resolved to live in the “mental world” and ignore their declining value in the dating market by avoiding romance altogether.

  • However, they learned the mind and body are intertwined as their teenage hormones returned during a nurse’s sponge bath, creating embarrassment. This made them realize a strong separation between mind and body is inaccurate.

  • They began thinking about their place in society and the dating process again as their body improved. This led to an interest in the phenomenon of “assortative mating” where attractive people tend to date each other and those of similar levels of attractiveness pair up.

  • The passage then discusses how aesthetically challenged individuals might adapt to their position through changing their aesthetic ideals to value less conventional traits, or by focusing on non-physical attributes in a partner like humor or kindness since physical attraction is not an option. This demonstrates how people learn to find fulfillment with those of similar appeal.

Based on the information provided:

The three possible ways to deal with our own physical limitations are:

  1. Sour grapes theory - People fail to adapt and believe they deserve a more attractive partner than is realistic given their own looks. They will constantly be disappointed.

  2. Redefining attractiveness - People adapt by learning to place greater importance on attributes other than physical attractiveness, like personality, humor, intelligence, etc.

  3. No adaptation - People do not change their view of what makes someone attractive. Their own level of attractiveness does not influence how they perceive or judge others.

The studies described seemed to rule out options 1 and 3, and provide support for option 2, that people adapt by reprioritizing what attributes they find important in a potential partner. Specifically:

  • The HOT or NOT study found people generally agreed on standards of beauty, ruling out option 1.

  • The Meet Me study found less attractive people aimed lower in who they pursued, showing awareness of their own looks and ruling out option 3.

  • The speed dating study was designed to measure if people learn to appreciate non-physical attributes, providing support for option 2 of reprioritizing what they find important in a partner.

So in summary, the evidence best supports the view that aesthetically challenged individuals adapt by redefining attractiveness and placing more emphasis on personality and other non-physical traits when considering a potential mate.

Here are the key points:

  • Traditionally, matchmakers or yentas played an important role in marrying people off, essentially acting as market makers in the dating market. They knew personal details and made introductions.

  • In the late 20th century before online dating, individual freedom was prioritized over arranged marriages. But this left people to find partners on their own, which could be difficult.

  • The story is given of a professor named Seth who worked long hours to establish his career. He had little time or opportunities to meet potential partners organically. Personal ads and bars weren’t good options for him.

  • Online dating emerged in the mid-1990s to address this mismatch in the dating market. Sites acted as virtual matchmakers, allowing people to search profiles, communicate efficiently, and arrange meetings more easily than traditional offline methods.

  • Early dating sites helped establish the current online dating industry, which provides an important service byconnecting people who otherwise may not meet, similar to the traditional role of matchmakers. But it also introduced new challenges around scaling, fraud, and managing user expectations.

  • Seth recently moved to a new city for graduate school. As a new resident, he had few social connections and didn’t attend many social events like dinner parties.

  • There were female graduate students interested in dating him, but university rules discouraged office romances.

  • Seth tried activities for singles like ballroom dancing, hiking and religious groups. However, he didn’t enjoy the activities and neither did others who mainly used them to find romantic partners.

  • Online dating sites emerged as a way to help address the “market failure” in connecting single people. They aimed to efficiently match individuals through detailed profiles and criteria.

  • However, the author argues people are complex and can’t be fully understood through checklists of attributes alone. Attraction and chemistry are difficult to capture digitally.

  • Treating dating like an online searchable database may oversimplify human relationships and make the process less useful. The author conducted a study to examine online dating sites’ approaches.

Here is a summary of the key points from the MIT study on online dating:

  • Participants spent on average 12 hours per week on the screening process of online dating, which included 5.2 hours searching profiles and 6.7 hours emailing potential matches.

  • However, they only spent 1.8 hours per week actually meeting people in person, and most of these meetings led to nothing further.

  • When asked, participants said they would rather watch a movie at home than engage with online dating.

  • A follow up study found that people were 3 times more interested in experiential qualities of a partner (e.g. hobbies, passions) rather than searchable attributes used in online profiles.

  • The study concluded that reducing people to searchable attributes was not effective for online dating and made the experience unnatural and time-consuming.

  • To test possible improvements, the researchers created a virtual dating environment where participants interacted as shapes exploring shared virtual spaces, allowing for more natural interactions than purely searching profiles.

So in summary, the study found online dating in its current form is inefficient and unnatural compared to offline dating, and suggested exploring new virtual environments that facilitate more experiential interactions.

The researchers conducted an experiment to compare a virtual dating environment to a standard online dating scenario. Participants went on one regular online date and one virtual date using a simulated 3D environment.

For the virtual dates, participants could explore shared spaces, look at images together, and chat. These discussions resembled real-life dating conversations as the shapes discussed the images.

Next, all participants participated in a speed dating event where they met both the person from their virtual date and regular online date. After each 4-minute interaction, they rated the person on likability, similarity, excitement, and comfort.

The results showed that both men and women liked and felt more comfortable with their speed dating partner if they had first met them during the virtual date, compared to the regular online date. They were about twice as likely to want another date.

The researchers believe the virtual environment was more successful because making judgments based on shared experiences aligned better with how the human brain naturally processes social interactions, compared to just describing attributes in an online profile. This shows the importance of designing dating platforms and other digital services around human cognitive limitations and strengths.

  • The story of Baby Jessica garnered far more attention and sympathy than larger tragedies like the Rwanda genocide that involved hundreds of thousands of deaths.

  • This phenomenon suggests that people are much more responsive to helping or feeling empathy for one identifiable person in need, compared to large faceless tragedies involving many victims.

  • Factors like lack of information, racism, and difficulty relating to problems far away can contribute to apathy for larger tragedies. But a key factor is that a single person’s suffering is tangible and concrete, while mass tragedy becomes just a statistic.

  • Both Stalin and Mother Teresa acknowledged this uncomfortable reality - that looking at one individual elicits action, while the mass of suffering does not. So while people have great sensitivity to one person, there is disturbing apathy toward tragedy on a large scale involving many victims.

  • Understanding this tendency is important to comprehend human behavior, even if the realization that people care less as numbers increase is depressing. More work is needed to overcome this limitation and generate appropriate concern for all human suffering, regardless of scale.

Here is a summary of the Identifiable Victim Effect:

  • The identifiable victim effect refers to the phenomenon that people are more willing to help or donate to help a specific, identifiable individual in need rather than statistical or anonymous victims.

  • An experiment showed participants were willing to donate twice as much (48% of earnings vs 23%) when presented with information about a specific girl in need versus statistical information about millions affected by hunger in Africa.

  • Factors that drive this effect include closeness/proximity, vividness of the individual case, and the “drop in the bucket” feeling that one’s donation can’t fully solve large statistical problems.

  • Charities are aware of this effect and use identifiable individuals, stories, and networks of survivors to elicit more empathy and donations from potential donors by making the cause more vivid and personal.

  • The American Cancer Society effectively implements this strategy through fundraising events, survivor networks, and framing all who had cancer as “survivors” to build closeness and sympathy for the cause.

  • People are more motivated to help and donate money to identifiable individuals in need, rather than large statistical or remote problems, even if more people could be helped in the latter cases. This is called the identifiable victim effect.

  • Experiments showed people primed with emotions donated more to help an individual child, while those primed to think rationally donated less overall. Rational thinking suppressed compassion.

  • However, solely following emotions is not always the best guide, as it could lead to spending disproportionate amounts to help dramatic individual cases over larger problems.

  • The identifiable victim effect risks misallocating resources, as successful charities focused on emotional cases may receive more funding than other equally important causes affecting more people.

  • In general, donations do not always match the actual scale of problems and number of victims. High-profile disasters in one’s own country tend to receive more money than less visible crises affecting many more people elsewhere.

So while emotions motivate helping behavior, rationally calculating problems is not the full solution either. Balancing emotion and rational consideration of impact and need is challenging but important for allocating resources effectively.

  • Problems like preventing disease or reducing CO2 emissions are difficult to motivate people to care about because the impacts are statistical, abstract, gradual and distant in the future.

  • Our emotions are more easily activated by vivid, identifiable individual suffering than large impersonal problems affecting many people statistically.

  • Some approaches to overcoming these psychological barriers include focusing on helping a single identifiable person rather than statistics, counteracting the drop-in-the-bucket effect, following rules to take action even without emotion, and governments/NGOs prioritizing causes that don’t attract emotional support.

  • Creating clear moral principles or rules for rapid intervention could help address problems like genocide where numbers of lives are at risk but response is slow due to lack of emotion over statistics.

  • Overall it is sad emotions don’t motivate action based on objective need, but understanding these biases could help make more reasonable decisions to help those beyond our emotional focus on identifiable individuals. Rules and prioritization may be needed where emotions fall short.

  • Emotions like anger can drive us to make impulsive decisions that we later regret. However, those emotions are transient and soon fade away.

  • The author tells a story of when he lost his temper after a scheduling conflict disrupted his class. He confronted another professor in front of students, which he later realized was inappropriate.

  • Even though emotions fade quickly, they can still influence future decisions through a process of “self-herding.” When we make a decision in an emotional state, we may repeat that behavior later without the original emotion, viewing our past actions as a guide for what we should do.

  • For example, being happy after your team wins may lead you to buy flowers for your mother-in-law. Later, when reviewing how to act as a son-in-law, you remember your past flower-buying and repeat it as a new habit, even though the original emotion is gone.

  • The author and a colleague hypothesize that impulsive decisions made in emotional states can influence behavior long-term through self-herding, where we follow our own past actions as a guide rather than the initial fleeting emotions.

  • The weekly staff meeting is used to get project updates from team leaders and look for synergies between teams. However, it often devolves into socializing and small talk as it’s the only time for the whole staff to get together.

  • On one Monday, the narrator arrives early and finds they missed the deadline to register their kids for ceramics class. They are upset and know their wife will blame them, souring their mood.

  • At the staff meeting, still annoyed, the narrator decides (DECISION in caps) to lecture the staff about being more efficient and not wasting time chatting. The social atmosphere changes.

  • That night, the wife is understanding about the missed deadline. But the narrator’s DECISION to stop socializing at meetings sets a precedent that continues shaping their management style and meeting tone long afterwards, even when the original emotion has passed.

  • Decisions made during emotions can influence our behavior for a long time through an “emotional cascade” effect, as we tend to rely on past behaviors as a guide without remembering the associated emotions. This shows how emotions can continue affecting decisions long after they’ve passed.

  • The experiment looked at how irrelevant emotions can influence decision-making in the ultimatum game. Participants first watched a clip from either Friends (positive emotions) or Life as a House (negative emotions).

  • After the emotions from the clip dissipated, participants played the ultimatum game as receivers, where they either accepted or rejected unfair offers. Those who watched Friends were more likely to accept, while those who watched Life as a House rejected more.

  • Then the roles were reversed - participants played as senders making offers to other receivers. Even though the initial emotions had faded, senders behaved consistently - those previously angry made fairer offers, while those previously happy made unfair offers.

  • This showed that irrelevant emotions can influence decisions through “general self-herding” - people remembered their past actions, attributed them broadly to their character, and acted similarly in new but related situations. The specific emotions no longer mattered, but the general pattern of behavior remained.

  • This suggests general self-herding, where past decisions broadly inform future choices, has a significant influence on decision-making even long after the initial emotions are gone. Momentary emotions can thus shape behavior in various unrelated future situations.

  • Our emotions can easily influence our decisions, even when the emotions are unrelated to the decision at hand. This effect of emotions can last longer than the emotions themselves and influence a sequence of related decisions over time.

  • If we don’t make any decisions when feeling an emotion, there is no short-term or long-term harm. But if we react to the emotion by making a decision, we may regret the outcome and establish a pattern of decisions that misguides us long-term.

  • Small, everyday decisions made while upset or annoyed can significantly impact our future decisions. Interpersonal relationships are especially prone to these emotional cascades deteriorating communication and decision-making over time.

  • To avoid relationship deterioration, potential partners should be tested on how they work together in unpredictable, unfamiliar situations without social protocols, like canoeing. This can reveal emerging patterns of behavior for dealing with challenges.

  • When difficulties arise, it’s important to work together constructively and cool off before making decisions, to avoid crashes that influence the future negatively. Self-awareness of biases is also key to making better long-term decisions.

  • The author’s right hand and arm were severely burned and swollen. Doctors needed to operate immediately to drain fluid and reduce pressure or risk losing the hand.

  • Due to the author’s poor health, anesthesia was not an option. The surgeon made multiple deep incisions from shoulder to fingers to drain fluid while the author was fully conscious and in agony.

  • Years later, doctors recommended amputating the damaged arm below the elbow to reduce pain. The author refused due to emotional attachment and fear of adapting to a prosthetic.

  • With hindsight, the author believes psychological biases like loss aversion and status quo bias led to keeping the poor functioning arm, limiting productivity and causing ongoing pain.

  • While understanding the biases intellectually, the author still feels their impact and is reluctant to consider amputation now due to fears, sunk costs, and rationalizations developed over many years of living with the injury and limitations.

This passage discusses several key points:

  1. Over time, the author has invested in organizing their life around their physical limitations after an accident, making a major change like replacing their arm with a prosthesis now more difficult.

  2. They have walked particular personal, romantic, and career paths that fit their abilities, and are wary of how different paths may have unfolded if they made a substantial change earlier in life.

  3. It is very hard to make truly big, life-changing decisions because we are prone to numerous unavoidable biases that influence our judgement without realizing it.

  4. The author argues that while initially motivated to gain a new sensory experience, there are rational reasons grounded in their life experience for keeping their existing arm given the obstacles to substantial changes at this stage in life.

In summary, the passage explains that while initially drawn to the unique sensations of a prosthetic arm, the author is now convinced there are rational grounds for keeping their existing arm based on how they have organized their life around their physical abilities over many years. Major changes would be difficult given unavoidable decision biases and their significant investment in their current situation.

The passage argues that the need for systematic experimentation in business and policy is just as great as in other fields like science. It claims that if businesses and governments took a more experimental approach to testing assumptions and policies, they could achieve better outcomes.

As examples, it suggests companies could better understand customer anger, the importance of workplace pride, and executive pay policies through testing. Governments often apply blanket policies without experimenting on issues like bank bailouts, weatherization programs, agribusiness, and education.

The author argues we should collect more empirical data through small experiments before committing vast resources. An experimental approach could help discover ineffective programs and different ways to improve them. Intuitions alone are not enough - we need data from experiments. Just as businesses, individuals, and governments have limitations, an experimental mindset can help overcome cognitive biases and mistakes. Overall, the passage advocates for applying the scientific method of testing hypotheses through experimentation more broadly in business and policy domains.

Here is a summary of the key points about the collaborators:

  • Ayelet Gneezy is a professor at the University of California, San Diego who has collaborated with Dan Ariely on research about mistrust and revenge.

  • Uri Gneezy is described as sarcastic, creative, and able to rapidly produce important research. He is a professor at the University of California, San Diego.

  • Emir Kamenica is appreciated for his deep thinking and philosophical discussion style. He is a professor at the University of Chicago.

  • Leonard Lee joined MIT to work on e-commerce topics and collaborated productively with Ariely. He is a professor at Columbia University.

  • George Loewenstein is one of Ariely’s first and longest-standing collaborators, a role model known for his creativity and breadth. He is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

  • Nina Mazar stayed longer than intended at MIT and collaborated funfully but productively with Ariely on challenging projects. She is a professor at the University of Toronto.

  • Daniel Mochon is intelligent, creative, and good at getting things done. He currently a postdoc at Yale University.

  • Mike Norton has a unique perspective and finds any topic interesting. He is fun to collaborate with on adventures. He is a professor at Harvard.

  • Drazen Prelec is described as extremely smart and successful in all he does. He is Ariely’s mentor and is a professor at MIT.

  • Stephen Spiller is like a younger academic brother to Ariely. He is currently a PhD student at Duke University.

” Here is a summary of the Herman (1969) article:

  • The study investigated the effects of social factors on individual performance in cockroaches. Specifically, it looked at how being alone vs. in a group impacts running speed.

  • Experiments involved timing individual cockroaches running down an alley either alone or with other cockroaches present.

  • Findings showed that cockroaches ran significantly faster when alone compared to when they were in a group of others.

  • This “social impairment of performance” effect demonstrates that social factors can negatively influence individual functioning, even in a simple species like the cockroach.

  • The results provide early evidence that mere presence of others is enough to produce social pressure that degrades individual task performance.

  • The study was one of the first to experimentally show social factors like evaluation apprehension or competition can undermine skilled execution of a task.

  • It helped pave the way for later research on “choking under pressure” and how social/evaluative contexts impair human performance on mental tests, sports skills, and other achievement situations.

Here is a summary of the key readings:

  • “Viewing Experience through Commercial Interruptions” looks at how commercial breaks during TV viewing impact the overall viewing experience. It finds that advertisements segment the experience in a way that makes it less enjoyable to recall later.

  • “Does Living in California Make People Happy?” examines the “focusing illusion” where people tend to overestimate the impact of life experiences like living locations on their happiness. Individual characteristics and experiences have a bigger impact than variations between regions.

  • The Joyless Economy by Tibor Scitovsky discusses how economic growth hasn’t necessarily led to greater individual well-being and what kinds of experiences provide the most happiness. It argues for policies that encourage more meaningful leisure activities.

  • Additional papers explore how our memories of experiences are shaped by their duration, intensity changes, and whether they are evaluated online vs retrospectively. They examine how experiences are partitioned and summarized in memory.

  • Other readings discuss concepts like hedonic adaptation, how emotions shape decision-making, the architecture of sustainable happiness, and subjective well-being factors like physical attractiveness.

  • The next set of summaries is on partner selection biases and how factors like one’s own attractiveness influence attractiveness evaluations of others on dating sites. It discusses speed dating experiments and online dating behaviors.

  • Another section looks at challenges in the online dating market where people struggle to evaluate potential partners based only on limited information. It proposes methods like virtual dates to address this issue.

  • The last few summaries center around empathy, altruism, and responses to identifiable victims vs statistical victims. They discuss how our emotional reactions can be diminished for larger aid cases and why short-term emotions shouldn’t dictate long-term decision-making. The importance of testing theories and assumptions is also emphasized.

Here is a summary of the key points from the provided text:

  • Hedonic adaptation refers to how people adjust to changes and often return to a baseline level of happiness even after positive or negative circumstances. Experiments in the 19th century first explored this phenomenon.

  • Adaptation occurs to physical, sensory, and painful experiences over time. It helps reduce pain perception and allows people to focus attention on other matters besides the change.

  • Aesop’s fable about sour grapes illustrates how people may alter their aesthetic perceptions to justify outcomes - known as sour grapes theory. This relates to how people fail to fully adapt to changes in relationships or attributes through rationalization.

  • Assortative mating research looks at how people choose romantic partners and the role of adaptation. Studies like speed dating experiments and analyses of dating profiles have explored factors like attractiveness and how evaluations may change over time due to adaptation or failure to adapt.

  • Sections are devoted to exploring hedonic adaptation specifically related to physical changes, sensory perception changes, and adaptation to pain from different perspectives like dentistry and disease. Footnotes provide additional context and references.

Here is a summary of the key points from 237–56:

  • Vividness enhances our emotional reactions to negative events. Identifiable victims elicit stronger emotional responses than statistical victims.

  • The endowment effect is the phenomenon that people value objects they own more than the same objects owned by others.

  • Evolutionary mismatches can occur when technological development outpaces biological evolution. For example, humans are poorly adapted to modern environments with abundant calories.

  • Carefully designed experiments have helped test intuitions and assumptions in business, public policy, medicine, and other fields. However, rational economists have criticized some experiments.

  • Identifiable victim effect: People give more aid/charity when the victim is identified by name/story rather than as a number/statistic. This was shown with donations to help one girl versus many famine victims.

  • Humans show a sense of fairness even as young children, as seen in studies with chimpanzees and children’s reactions in ultimatum games. However, there are gender differences in perceptions of fairness.

  • Hedonic adaptation describes how people adjust to positive and negative life changes to maintain baseline happiness levels over time. This applies to injuries, disabilities, changed financial circumstances, and more.

  • Negative emotions should sometimes be cooled off rather than acted upon, as actions taken in anger or desire for revenge can have long-lasting negative effects.

Here is a summary of the key points from the provided text:

  • The text discusses human experiences with and design considerations for virtual dating platforms and services.

  • It notes some of the challenges and limitations of taking human psychology and behaviors into account when designing such systems, including things like virtual dating approaches and ways consumers can improve their experiences.

  • Specific aspects discussed include virtual dating services helping overcome issues like shyness or lack of opportunities by simulating in-person speed dating experiences online. The text also addresses explanations for why virtual dating services have found success.

  • Design challenges mentioned involve properly accounting for human tendencies, biases, and limitations when creating virtual dating systems and experiences. Examples given are how to design interfaces and interactions that improve upon rather than exacerbate issues.

  • Overall the passage focuses on examining virtual dating from both the consumer experience side and considerations designers should make when creating such platforms and services given inherent human characteristics and behaviors. It covers both positives and challenges of the virtual dating approach.

The passage discusses how through experimentation, we can discover whether our intuitions about human behaviors and foibles are correct or not. It mentions some examples of experiments that have been conducted to test hypotheses related to CEO pay, the impact of order effects, loss aversion, rationality of businesses, intuitive judgments about performance incentives, and more. Overall, the key point is that well-designed experiments allow us to objectively determine if our guesses or hunches about human nature end up being right or wrong.

  • The predictive accuracy of a method would likely be excellent, but there is an awareness of the overconfidence bias that could impact accuracy.

  • Experiments conducted later found that counting helps increase endurance during exercise, and counting backwards may be even more helpful.

  • Medical professionals have discovered many wonderful treatments over the years, but without sufficient experimentation, ineffective or dangerous treatments can be used for too long.

  • Two books that discuss medical delusions are Nortin Hadler’s Stabbed in the Back and Worried Sick.

  • Whether men or women have a higher pain threshold, and if that relates to childbirth, is still an open scientific question.

  • The importance of social life for health is discussed in Ellen Langer’s book Counterclockwise.

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