The Rational Reminder Podcast podcast

Episode 266: Prof. Cass Sunstein: Practical Reason in Ordinary Life

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We make countless decisions throughout our lives that range from the mundane to the monumental. But how do you decide how you decide? That is the fundamental question in our esteemed guest, Cass R. Sunstein’s new book Decisions about Decisions: Practical Reason in Ordinary Life. Cass currently serves as the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University and is the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy at Harvard Law School. He is also a prolific author, with one of his most notable works being the hugely popular and impactful book, Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, which he co-wrote with Richard Thaler in 2008. In today's conversation, we sit down with Cass to discuss the difficulties inherent to understanding why people make the decisions they make and what the latest research teaches us about how we should approach decision-making to maximize our well-being. Cass provides insight into second-order thinking strategies, the difference between picking and choosing, and why delegating a particular decision is sometimes the right call. We also unpack what to consider when making major life choices, the strengths and weaknesses of algorithms when it comes to decision-making, and much more. To hear Cass’s many insights on the topic of behaviour, knowledge, and decision-making, be sure to tune in!

Key Points From This Episode:


  • The challenges of understanding why people make the decisions that they make. (0:03:38)
  • Second-order decisions and why they are sometimes preferable to on-the-spot decisions. (0:04:50)
  • An overview of various second-order decision strategies.  (0:06:45)
  • Guidelines to help you choose which decisions to delegate and how to determine whether you have a trustworthy delegate. (0:11:28)
  • What to consider when making a transformative and irrevocable life decision. (0:16:07)
  • Why people avoid seeking out information that might make them feel bad, even if it could help them make better decisions. (0:21:29)
  • How people decide what information to believe and when to update their beliefs. (0:28:01)
  • Asymmetries in how we update our beliefs and factors that can deter people from updating their beliefs when faced with new evidence. (0:32:28)
  • How joint evaluation and separate evaluation influences your decision making and which one you should use depending on the context. (0:43:12)
  • Insights on well-being and what to value when you’re making everyday decisions. (0:48:14)
  • The strengths and weaknesses of algorithms when it comes to making decisions and what we gain when we make decisions ourselves. (0:52:38)
  • Examples of when using algorithms can be harmful or dangerous. (0:59:25)
  • How our decisions can be manipulated and the importance of doing due diligence. (01:01:30)
  • Cass’s well-known work on nudges and how nudges differ from manipulation. (01:02:59)
  • Happiness, meaning, variety, and how Cass defines success in life. (1:05:50)


Links From Today’s Episode:


Cass R. Sunstein —

Cass R. Sunstein on LinkedIn —

Cass R. Sunstein on on X —

The Behavioural Insights Team —

Decisions About Decisions: Practical Reason in Ordinary Life

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness

Rational Reminder on iTunes —
Rational Reminder Website — 

Rational Reminder on Instagram —

Rational Reminder on X —

Rational Reminder on YouTube —

Rational Reminder Email — [email protected]
Benjamin Felix — 

Benjamin on X —

Benjamin on LinkedIn —

Cameron Passmore —

Cameron on X —

Cameron on LinkedIn —

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