A topic studied by social scientists is how people value things in relative terms rather than absolute terms. How much are you willing to pay for a cup of coffee? How do you decide how much an iPhone is worth? What factors change our valuations? In literature, we can also recognize these kinds of relative evaluations in which protagonists make their decisions dependent on others. A related topic we might also consider in this unit is the concept of “defaults”: how marketers learn quickly that consumers tend to make choices based on the path of least resistance. For example, consider organ donations: if people are asked to opt-in (“sign if you want to participate”) to be an organ donor, it results in low participation. However, if they are asked to opt out (“sign if you don’t want to participate), it ensures a larger percentage of potential organ donors. This topic raises issues about how difficult it is for us and literary characters to deviate from the status quo.


Join us, as we explore relativity and defaults in our daily lives through an intro video of a day in a Duke student's point of view, a short 'highlight' reel of our interview, and a case study of defaults by looking at organ donations.

Completing some or all of the readings will help immensely in gaining a deeper understanding of the material discussed here.

Group members: Sophia Sennett, Nicole Alvarez,

                                   Billy Huang, and Dan Jung

To visit the full course site for Duke's Surprise Endings,

click here.

What are Relativity and Defaults?

Duke Surprise Endings: Social Science and Literature 

ENG/ISIS 390 with Dan Ariely and Cathy Davidson