Ask Ariely: On Seeing Solutions, Emotional Actions, and Fun Foods

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Dear Dan,

My girlfriend hates wearing contacts and has been talking about getting laser eye surgery ever since I’ve known her. But she’s never taken the first step of getting an evaluation. I had the surgery a few years ago, and it was like magic: One day I couldn’t see—and the next day I could. It took me about two years to get my act together, do the research and take off time for the procedure. How can I help my girlfriend to shorten this timeline?

—Phil 

I’d suggest various forms of encouragement. For an incentive, offer to pay half the bill. To add a deadline, say that your offer to pay only holds if she has the procedure within the next two months. And to add social pressure to the mix, ask some of her friends to chip in for the effort but ask them to condition their gifts on the same two-month timeline. That should do it.

Of course, if you do this, you should expect that at some point she will set up some incentives for things that she wants you to do. Try to accept these cheerfully in the spirit of making your relationship more exciting and productive.

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Dear Dan,

Last week, two different stories about senseless murders were all over the news. The first was about Cecil, Zimbabwe’s most famous lion, who was hunted down and killed as a trophy by a dentist from Minnesota. The second was about Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black motorist shot dead by a police officer in a routine traffic stop. Guess which story received more attention and outrage? Do we really care more about lions than people?

—Janet 

Your question hinges on what we mean when we use the term caring. When you look at the volume of public outrage and the amount of ink spilled, it can sometimes seem that the loss of an endangered animal matters more. Sadly, that’s because, at least for some of us, the news of an animal’s death can have more emotional impact than the news of a person’s death.

Of course, this isn’t true for those who were close to the deceased, have personally experienced similar tragedies or have worked to fight similar injustices. But for those who experience such tragedies only via the news, the human loss sometimes doesn’t pull as much at their emotional strings.

This tendency has limits, though. If you gave most people two buttons, told them that pressing one would kill an endangered animal and pressing the other would kill a random fellow citizen, and ordered them to push one, very few would press the kill-a-person button. In this sort of direct comparison, I’d predict, almost everyone would prefer to kill the animal. Comparing lives more directly engages our cognition, not our emotions—and so the type of caring that emerges reflects our higher empathy for human beings and their families.

In other words, when we really think about it, we care more about humans—but we are often called to act based on our emotions, where our caring works quite differently.

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Dear Dan,

How can I get my kids to eat more vegetables?

—Yael

How about trying a new version of Popeye the Sailor, who used to gulp down spinach at moments of crisis and instantly grow stronger? You could modernize the Popeye approach by changing the language at the dinner table and talking about passing the Iron Man (kale), the Green Lantern (peas), the Superman (tomatoes), the Penguin (Oreos) and the Joker (soda). (My pairing of characters and foods may reflect some of my parental biases.)

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.