Prey to temptation: Our struggle with irrational health choices

Making healthy choices isn’t always easy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all like to think of ourselves as rational individuals — making decisions according to the best available information for a beneficial outcome. But over the past few decades, the burgeoning field of behavioural economics has made it abundantly clear that humans are not always rational beings. In many of the financial decisions we make, we fall victim to the mental short-cuts and ‘rules of thumb’ that govern our behaviour. We end up making decisions that seem to defy logic, and work against our own long-term goals and desires.

Work by Daniel Kahneman and his late colleague Amos Tversky and others that integrated behavioural psychology with economics earned Kahneman the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002. Researchers are now looking at how the principles of behavioural economics can be applied to fields beyond finance, to understand how we make decisions in other areas of life. And what better field than health, where we often struggle to make the right choices — often despite a plethora of available information.

In the latest episode of Up Close, I was joined by Professor Ichiro Kawachi, to discuss how behavioural economics can be applied to public health and health behaviour change. Ichiro Kawachi is Professor of Social Epidemiology, and Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health.