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Patterns Of Irrationality

November 9, 2017 by pgd1

One of the most rewarding aspects of having the privilege to practice family law is to observe human irrationality.  When I listen to the predicaments that people find themselves in I am struck with the sentiment that truth is stranger than fiction.

In his book, The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds, author Michael Lewis tells the story of two psychologists, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

The work of these two men reveals previously undiscovered patterns of human irrationality.  Their efforts show the ways that our minds consistently fool us and the steps we can take to avoid being fooled.  They use the word “heuristic” to describe the rules of thumb that often lead people astray.  One such rule is the “halo effect”, in which thinking about one positive attribute of a person or thing causes observers to perceive other’s strengths that aren’t really there.

Another rule is “representativeness,” which leads people to see cause and effect – to see a “narrative” – where they should instead accept uncertainty or randomness.

The findings of these two men are full of practical ideas. “No one ever made a decision because of a number” Kahneman has said.  “They need a story.”  Or Tversky’s theory of socializing: because stinginess and generosity are both contagious, and because behaving generously makes you happier, surround yourself with generous people.

One of the reasons that I find the field of family law fascinating is that one can draw from many different fields to assist the client in the problem-solving exercise.  This is most clearly experienced in a collaborative setting.

The production of Tversky and Kahneman reveals to the family law attorney how irrationality can be predictable.1  When we can predict a client’s irrational behavior, we are in a better position to advise and counsel.  To practice family law is to become familiar with and to predict patterns of irrationality.

by Patrick Gaffney

by Patrick Gaffney


1 Portions of this blog were taken from Leonhardt, David. “From Michael Lewis, The Story of Two Friends Who Changed How We Think About the Way We Think.” December 6, 2016.  Retrieved from:  https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/06/books/review/michael-lewis-undoing-project.html

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