Ask Ariely: On Beating a Breakup, The Food Fight, and Diesel Deception

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 boyfriend and I recently broke up, and the anguish and depression have been hard to bear. How can I cope with the feeling that my life has come to a halt?

—Inbal

In general, when we experience a strong emotion—whether it is anger, joy or grief—we tend to believe that it will stay with us for a very long time. In fact, time dulls the sensation far faster than we expect. The end of a relationship can be a terribly difficult life event, but studies show that people expect the pain of a broken heart to last much longer than it actually does.

One way to make things easier on yourself, while the agony subsides, is to change as many of your life patterns as possible so that you don’t constantly run into painful reminders of your ex.

Go to different restaurants and meet new people. If you can, take a trip to a place you’ve never visited before.

Breakups are one of the great universal human experiences. I wish that I had a simple silver-bullet solution for the pain they cause, but I don’t.

Personally, I think that enduring a difficult separation is an experience that we can learn from—and a way to increase our chances for doing better the next time around.

Maybe it would help to look at the pain as a byproduct of learning.

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Dear Dan,

People today are far more aware of the dangers of obesity—we even hear about a public war on it. But we keep eating and eating. I certainly do, and I don’t know how to change. What’s our problem?

—Dror 

We aren’t focusing on the right things. We’re fighting the obesity epidemic by providing people with education and nutritional information—based on the assumption that knowledge will encourage us to make better decisions. But that’s not how people behave.

In an experiment led by my former Duke University colleague Janet Schwartz, our team went to a Chinese fast-food restaurant to try to see what effect providing nutritional information and calorie counts would have on diners. Some days, we placed that information next to each dish; other days we hid it.

The effect? Nothing. The knowledge that some dishes were much less healthy than others made no difference whatsoever on customers.

The British chef Jamie Oliver recently made a similar point. He showed children all the gross bird parts used to make their beloved chicken nuggets—bones, tendons, skin and worse—then ground the disgusting mix into a paste and fried it in breadcrumbs. When he took the nuggets out of the pan, the kids still all wanted to eat them.

If we forget what we’re eating so quickly, what hope does health education have?

The upshot, I’d argue, is that if we want to change eating behavior, we need to ditch the failed educational approach.

For example, instead of allowing people to buy a 64 oz. soda while providing them with calorie information that we hope will make them decide on a healthier option, why not simply limit the size from the start?

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Dear Dan,

Volkswagen recently admitted to cheating on emissions tests in its diesel-powered cars. What’s your take?

—Maya

As the owner of a VW Golf myself (not diesel), I’m deeply offended by the company’s emissions fixing, and I haven’t been able to look at my car in the same way since. Time will tell whether we can patch up our relationship.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.