Jeevun Rohilla

Naked Politics Blogger 

What motivates you to act the way that you do? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? Why do you go to work? Dan Ariely- a behavioural economist and the author of ‘Predictably Irrational’ explores these seemingly simple questions. His research consists mostly of basic experiments, yet the results aim to reveal the true fundamentals of human nature.

In a TEDx talk at Midwest University in America, Ariely explains the human pursuit of meaning. If I was to ask you: what would be your perfect life? The majority of people may choose to spend everyday sitting on a beach in the Bahamas with a cocktail far away from their everyday worries. However, in reality, this life is not enough for people. Fundamentally, people seek meaning, meaning which is not found doing nothing whilst sitting on a beach all day. Ariely would conclude that we choose the beach analogy as our perfect life because we do not know our preferences. In his book, Ariely concludes that human beings do not know what they intrinsically want and to some extent, I agree. So, what are the motivations behind our actions and how does this consequently affect our political system?

Ariely concludes that meaning, achievements and reward molds the motivation behind the majority of our actions. Using the example of furniture, one is more inclined to value their furniture if they themselves had made the item with the materials necessary. Similarly, Ariely highlights a theory as to why cake mix was not a popular alternative to ready-made cakes when the product was first released. At first cake mix only required the consumer to add water; however, this process of ‘just add water’ was not enough for people to feel satisfied once the cake was made. Subsequently, this dissatisfaction was reflected in the revenue earned by the cake mix companies. In response, rather than only adding water, cake mixes now require the consumer to add eggs and, as a result, cake mix became more and more popular. The reason behind this is because consumers found the idea of having to put more work in the creation of the cake more appealing. Once the cake was made, people felt a greater satisfaction due to a greater involvement in the making of the cake. Human beings need work and its subsequent satisfaction to really value anything.

Therefore, applying this theory of human motivation to our political system, one can pose the question: do humans value the legislative process the more involvement and struggle they have creating and influencing it? This theory is certainly true when applied to suffrage, race rights and civil liberties. These values are now fundamentals in any humane society. However, according to this theory, an increased use of referendums and other forms of direct democracy could potentially be the future of our political system. Are we more likely to value decisions if we have a larger involvement in their creation? If so, should more decisions be made through these direct democratic methods?

In reality, a large majority of the electorate view politics as being more distant than ever. Many people are doubting their impact on the political system and whether they really have a say on our country’s decisions. Consequently, people are placing less value on our political system and questioning the validity of the democracy that we claim to live in. Therefore, perhaps a solution lies in using the psychological innovations from behavioural economists through involving the electorate in more decisions concerning the country’s future. More referendums may be beneficial concerning the public perception of the political system.  As a result, people may feel more satisfied with our society providing that they receive the correct information surrounding the matters under consideration if a referendum is issued (unlike the case in the Brexit referendum).

The approaches explored by behavioural economists of aiming to understand the fundamentals of human nature and what motivates us to act the way that we do, will consequently be able to be applied to real-world processes, making the electorate feel more satisfied with our current political system.

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Last Update: April 22, 2018