Examples of irrational behavior


Bureaucrats are confused. In their search for control, they switch the focus from the what to the how. They take things literally, because the literal is easier to control. There is no ambiguity in a literal world, no dissonance.

Bureaucrats are fundamentalists: like them, they use literal interpretations of the world. And as fundamentalists, they express their distress with imposition. They are frustrated of having too many rules to follow and consequently feel out of control. Their way to get control back is to impose their restrictions (their rules) to others. If others must follow the rules as well, they feel justified in following them in the first place.

“It’s not my job”

By saying “It’s not my job” we mean: “If I did that, I would produce evidence I’m not in control of my job”.

By saying “I’m just doing my job” we mean: “I will conceal evidence that I am not in control of my values by focusing instead on evidence that shows that I am in control of my job”.


We admire the bold choices which demonstrate the artist’s control over his craft. We venerate artists because we admire those in control. However, we often only dream of becoming one, as this would imply losing control over our reputation.


Art is control of one’s craft in exchange for control over one’s reputation. Compliance is the opposite: it is control of one’s reputation obtained by giving up control over one’s craft.
However, compliance is always subject to the arbitrary judgement of an authority (your boss, your parents, your priest, etc.). Eventually, a thought infiltrates the mind: one realizes that by becoming compliant, he did not get back control over our reputation: he gave it to someone else. Nervous breakdowns might follow.


Some perceive independence as being without control. Some perceive independence as being in control of their own lives.
Both are right. Hence the unpleasant feeling of dissonance we associate to independence.

The monk and the dictator

They both selfishly want control over their own lives. They only differ on their opinion on what type of control they want, and how to achieve it.

“Why did he do that?”

“To feel again control over his life” is the most likely answer.

In a battle between two ideas,

… the best one doesn’t necessarily win. The one that is perceived as bringing control into someone’s life does (e.g. Brexit).


Like a sunflower, we die when we do not have anyone or anything to follow.

“We all want the right answer”

That’s a lie. We all want an answer that is interesting, safe or advantageous. An answer we are comfortable with.


Curiosity is the process of accepting the dissonance long enough to learn something new. Its contrary is fundamentalism: rejecting the dissonance immediately, before getting the opportunity of learning.

End of the excerpt

This is an excerpt from my book “The Control Heuristic​: Explaining Irrational Behavior and Behavioral Change”. You can find the Kindle copy here or follow me on Medium or on Twitter (@DellAnnaLuca) to be notified of the publication of the paperback edition.

Originally published at Luca DellAnna.