Thursday, June 18, 2009

Some notes on Sway by the bros. Brafman

Recently, at a webinar, Francois Gossieaux recommended the book Sway by Ori & Rom Brafman. I decided to take the rest of the afternoon off and see if the Hayward Public Library had a copy. They did and it was such a slim book and a quick read that, well, here we are.

As I read the first few chapters, the authors introduced terms such as "value attribution" and "diagnosis bias". The descriptions sounded familiar as Fundamental Attribution Error and Confirmation Bias, so I googled the terms and, lo, found very little in the way of formal definition of their terms. While I think the concepts in the book are very interesting, I admit I am a bit annoyed at dressing up known or familiar concepts in new terms without acknowledging or improving upon the terms or concepts.

So here's a very short summary of the concepts in the book with more common terms and links where I could find them.

Chapt 1 - aversion to loss - Sunk Costs Fallacy

Chapt 2 - commitment (even in the face of mounting loss) - Escalation of Commitment

Chapt 3 - value attribution - Fundamental Attribution Error

Chapt 4 - diagnosis bias - Confirmation Bias

Chapt 5 - chameleon effect - Pygmalion Effect & Golem Effect

Chapt 6 - process justice - Perceptions of fairness and The Ultimatum Game

Chapt 7 - the paradox of rewards - neuroscience of personal pleasure (Brian Knutson) and altruism (Dharol Tankersley). prospect of reward is stronger pleasure center stimulant than receiving the reward.

Chapt 8 - group conformity and dissenters - Asch conformity experiments

Epilogue - advice on avoiding each of the above "sway" forces. However, advice on avoiding being swayed by rewards was not included. I would have liked to see much more on this with the advice backed by research.

I'm glad I read Sway, it's a bit like a crib sheet of behavioral psychology and economics, so it works as an introduction, but there are deeper resources out there and I'm looking forward to digging into them.


  1. I have started reading the book (Sway) but " Fundamental Attribution Error" is anything but "value attribution" as specified in the book. Your analogy to both, I think, misleading.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I'm glad that you are reading the book and that you read my notes and are challenging my reading.

    It's been a few months since I read Sway and so at this point I may be misremembering exactly how they described "value attribution". I recall they start with some economic behavior, but start ascribing biases and judgments of people or object in a non-economic way to "value attribution".

    Once I finished reading the book, the Brafman definition of "value attribution" seemed like an amalgamation of ascribing impressions without taking in the full circumstances (the underlying problem of fundamental attribution error) and ignoring evidence that counters those impression (confirmation bias).

    So you are right, in thinking about economics, there is a difference (I have since read Predictably Irrational by Dan Airley and recommend it if you are interested in the economic aspects of first impressions). I found the application of "value attribution" to personal and social behavior less valuable than more formally and narrowly defined concepts.