Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Dan Ariely Wrong on Bandages?

in Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational, he highlights a smorgasbord of incorrect intuitions. He was burned in an explosion as a young man, and had bandages removed regularly. He talks here about debates he had with nurses about how to trade-off the quick rip-off of bandages, versus slow rips. He talks about lab experiments that proved ripping off slowly was 'better', than when you rip them off quickly. This was in contrast to the nurse intuition, and highlights that our intuitions are often incorrect.

This is not really economics, just the standard Freakonomics empirical analysis of random stuff. It makes for fun reading, as trivia books often are, but as to whether the trivia is wrong, well, no one really cares.

So, I found this recent finding of interest, because I'm sure it won't affect Ariely's research one iota, because the truth about this is really not so interesting.

THE perennial debate in every playground has finally been solved - ripping a Band-Aid off quickly causes less pain than pulling it away from the skin in a slow two-second tug.
For the study, published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, each student had two plasters applied to their upper arm, hand and ankle. The plasters were then removed using both fast and slow methods, with a randomisation process used to decide which was used first on each student. Subjects were asked to rate the pain on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the "worst pain imaginable".

Fast removal achieved an average pain score of 0.92, while slow removal was significantly more painful at 1.58


J said...

It is difficult to dispute Dan Ariely's opinion because he is speaking out of intimate personal experience. Yet it is striking that he did not insist that the nurses remove his bandages slowly, as he says that is better, so the procedure would last two or three hours instead the one normally took. He says that the power relationship - he was a powerless patient vs the physical and institutional power of the nurses - made it impossible for him to dispute the nurses's decisions. Allow me disagree. I am familiar with Beit Loewinstein Hospital in Israel where wounded soldiers and so are treated, and the staff goes to great extremes to get feedback from the patients and to do what they demand. Ariely presents the hospital as an authoritarian rigid vertical structure, which simply is not true. Nurses stations are full of brochures about "the patient's rights" and so on, and they are taken very seriously. The patients are much respected (many are war heroes) and their opinions are NOT dismissed. My point is: Had Ariely been really convinced that he was being treated wrongly and tortured unnecessarily, he could have asked - no, he could have demanded - to remove his bandages slowly. He didnt. He preferred to accept the "wrong procedure" and the consequent torture and take satisfaction in the idea that he was very smart and he knew more than the professionals. BTW, I have met many people who insist telling anecdotes of how they were right while the medical staff knew nothing and were wrong. Since I am not a cruel person, normally I keep my silence. I hope that Ariely will not be hurt by this impersonal comment on Falkenblog.

Anonymous said...

Subjective pain-ratings seem 20th Century. Wouldn't brain-scan data settle the question more definitively?

Anonymous said...

I trust Ariely's anecdote a lot more than I trust the cited "scientific" experiment. I myself switched from ripping my kids' band-aids off fast do doing it slowly after reading Predictably Irrational - I think it is not the integration of pain that matters, but the degree to which you feel in control of the process and the peak intensity of pain.