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Rotman Insights Hub | University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management Groundbreaking ideas and research for engaged leaders
Rotman Insights Hub | University of Toronto - Rotman School of Management

Rationality: what it is, why it seems scarce and why it matters

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Steven Pinker, Dilip Soman


How can a species that developed vaccines for COVID-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, medical quackery, and conspiracy theorizing? It's a thorny and very pressing issue that Harvard professor Steven Pinker tackles in his book Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters

In this video presentation, he addresses some of the forces that lead us to act irrationally, including self-interest, group dynamics and sectarian solidarity. He describes a prominent study that showed that a basic regression analysis — the kind you might learn to carry out in a Statistics 101 course — outperforms the most sophisticated intuition when predicting when an accused criminal is most likely to skip bail.

It's just one example of how we can fail when trusting our gut instincts over a more rational approach to decision making.


Steven PinkerSteven Pinker is the Johnstone professor of psychology at Harvard University. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books, he has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and named one of Time‘s 100 Most Influential People and one of Foreign Policy‘s 100 Leading Global Thinkers. His books include The Blank SlateThe Stuff of ThoughtThe Better Angels of Our NatureThe Sense of Style, and Enlightenment Now.

Dilop SomanDilip Soman is a Canada research chair in behavioural science and economics, and serves as a director of the Behavioural Economics in Action Research Centre at Rotman [BEAR]. His research is in the area of behavioural science and its applications to consumer wellbeing, marketing and policy. He is the author of The Last Mile [University of Toronto Press] and teaches a massive open online course (MOOC) BE101X: Behavioural Economics in Action on EdX.