NYU Stern School of Business
(John Darley Memorial Colloquium)
“Categories Create Illusory Boundaries, Bundles, and Burdens”
When I arrived in the United States, in August 2004, John Darley collected me from a hotel in Princeton, opened a U.S. map, pointed to New Jersey, and said, "A vertical state. Most are horizontal." John loved to label the world, and that was the first of hundreds of Darley-coined labels and categories that came to shape how I see the world today. In this talk I'll present work from three papers, partly inspired by John and his view of the world, that examine how and why categories shape human perception. These studies, combining experiments, field work, and archival data analyses, show that real and illusory categories shape how we perceive the passage of time, the extent to which we audit the meaningfulness of our lives, how close we feel to completing desirable and undesirable experiences, how willing we are to spend money, and how well we anticipate and plan for those expenses. In sum, this work shows that categories are a major driver of health, happiness, financial stability, and both wise and foolish decision-making (e.g., running marathons and choosing to have extramarital affairs).