An Esquire writer tries to live like homo economicus

It doesn’t work out so well.

The writer is A. J. Jacobs. His brother-in-law, behavioral economist Eric Schoenberg of Columbia Business School, offers a phrase for humans who refuse to see themselves as average or mediocre at anything:

He said I was suffering from the Lake Wobegon Effect: Our brains are delusively cocky. We all think we’re better-looking, smarter, and more virtuous than we are. (It’s named for Garrison Keillor’s town, where “all the children are above average.”)

Jacobs writes his own newspaper headlines to compensate for the availability bias that prevents him from remembering much more than what he’s read recently.

Today, there’s an article about salmonella. Eight hundred people have gotten sick from salmonella, possibly from tainted tomatoes–which later will turn out not to be the case. I’m a paranoid bastard, so I would normally purge our house of anything tomato-related: the pint of cherry tomatoes, the ketchup bottles, the Esquire cover of Andy Warhol in tomato soup. Salmonella would climb onto my list of Top Ten Worries.

Instead, I take my first countermeasures. I ask my wife for the newspaper, find a Sharpie, and scribble under the headline: “Meanwhile, millions of people ate tomatoes and did NOT get sick. But thousands did die from obesity.”

Jacobs, familiar with the human tendency to eat whatever is in front of them, tries to fool himself eating cereal.

I pour my MultiGrain Cheerios into a bowl, then cover the bowl with a napkin. I’m not going to let my brain see what’s inside the bowl. That’d be too tempting. I’ll just eat till I feel full. It’s a time-consuming process trying to negotiate the spoon around the napkin. Which is probably a good thing, since it’s healthier to eat slowly.

He realizes he’s been brushing with Crest for 30 years because of the “yeah whatever” heuristic.

That’s not good enough. I need a fully rational toothpaste. I need, first, to expand my dental-hygiene horizons. I go to the drugstore and buy a sample platter of forty tubes of toothpaste…I go home and spend eighty minutes brushing. Pepsodent Smooth Mint. Colgate Luminous Crystal Clean Mint. Aquafresh Extreme Clean Whitening Mint Experience. I never realized how much I hate mint.

Read the rest here.