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Kahneman’s Gripe

Marketing draws heavily on psychology and economics. I feel that both disciplines have much to offer (as well as weaknesses). So it is without any specific agenda that I agree with Daniel Kahneman’s “gripe”.

Kahneman’s Gripe

Agreeing with Kahnema might not seem brave. Kahneman is a Nobel prize winner. I’d say a good rule of thumb is “agree with Nobel prize winners”. As with many rules of thumb, i.e. heuristics, agreeing with Nobel prize winners saves effort and is usually sensible. That said, it occasionally turns out very badly, e.g. Long-Term Capital Management.

Kahneman is griping about a research stream that he helped create. He complains that psychology is labeled behavioral economics. 

“…psychologists applying their field to policy issues are now seen as doing behavioral economics. As a result, they are almost forced to accept the label of behavioral economists, even if they are as innocent of economic knowledge as I am.”

Kahneman quoted in Singal 2013

Similar comments might apply to marketing research labeled behavioral economics.

Classification Of Disciplines

There is no agreed classification of disciplines. Still, I often read excellent “behavioral economics” papers that I think are psychology. Laboratory-based research investigating mental processes has produced important findings. Why not call it psychology? I worry more for psychology than economics from this classification. I fear it shows a lack of confidence in psychology. Do psychologists think economics is a “harder” science? Do they envy it? I personally think this is silly. We shouldn’t judge the worth of research on how much math it contains.

There are many excellent researchers called behavioral economists who are, in fact, economists. For example, Colin Camerer, Matthew Rabin, Ulrike Malmendier. Others seem less obviously economically focused. For example, Daniel Kahneman, Dan Ariely, Eldar Shafir. This makes them no less impressive. My message is about what to describe this latter group. Calling them economists devalues psychology’s (and marketing’s) contribution to social science. If it is economics it is okay to call it that. Still, we don’t need to use that as shorthand for a variety of things that really are different.

Behavioral Economics For Kids

Interestingly my free cartoon book, Behavioral Economics For Kids, is part of the problem. Okay, not enough people have read it to change the world. That is a bit strong. Still, I refer to many findings that might be better classified as psychology or marketing. It may seem I’m being inconsistent. That is because I am. Of course that we can be inconsistent is a major finding of behavioral economics. Possibly that is a finding of psychology.

A Free Cartoon Book That Illustrates Problems And May Help Cause Them

For more on behavioral economics and Daniel Kahneman see here, here, and here.

Read: Jesse Singal, Daniel Kahneman’s Gripe With Behavioral Economics, The Daily Beast, Apr 26, 2013,

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