Dear Irrational (Radio Promotions and Bikes)

August 17, 2008 BY danariely

I heard a portion of your interview on CBC radio (near Toronto, Canada) and was instantly inspired to buy your book, a behavior most uncommon for me. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it and have shared stories from it with many friends and colleagues. I look forward to its sequel.

So here’s a question you may wish to explore although the irrational behavior may be harder to test since it’s not an immediate response like cheating or making a purchase. I am wondering about our irrational affinity/allegiance to things. For example, we have a certain radio station on at work and it held a “bike a day in May” promotion where one could register at the station’s website and each morning at 7:30 a lucky person’s name was read aloud on air and that person had 10 minutes to call in and receive a brand new shiny bike. I signed up (another behavior I have never done) and found it curious how enticingly exhilarated I was to anticipate my name being called. Even though I work shift work, even when I got home in the wee hours (when I worked nights) I would set my alarm, turn on the radio and listen intently, then return to bed when the contest was done for the day. (As a side note, despite NOT being named and so receiving nothing, I have had a strong urge since then to go out and purchase a new bike. It’s like, in my mind (or my heart?) I already have laid claim to a bike and it’s a part of me now.) Regardless, the contest had me faithfully tuning in day and night, which I believe was the station’s primary underlying goal.

That’s all backdrop for the most recent event of this week. This station also asks a trivia question each morning. Many coworkers ask me everyday what the question of the day is. We all have light hearted fun guessing answers. This week someone confidently announced the answer, told me to call it in, which I obediently did (never done that before!) and won. The prizes were not huge, but…here it is… I have felt an irrational affinity to that station ever since. Their music and programs are no better than all the others, but I notice an inexplicable allegiance to this station, like they are friends of mine. Please explain / test out this behavior. Any comments and insights would be appreciated.
Irrationally faithful,


Dear Dave,

These are two wonderful observations and thanks for sharing them with me.

I think that you are exhibiting multiple irrationalities in your radio related behavior:

1) Regret: You kept on listening for your name to be called because of possible regret. You imagine how you would feel if someone would tell you “Hey Dave I heard you won that bicycle….” and the possible regret from this makes it much more important to keep on checking

2) Thinking leading to action: I suspect that thinking about the bike you might win and how you would use it made you think more of biking and increased your desire to have one

3) Reciprocity: we are largely social animals and when someone does a favor to us we want to “pay” them back — which is what you are doing by listening more to the station….

Irrationally yours