Ask Ariely: On Damaged Trust, Strategic Styling, and Poor Placement

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,

Recently, our babysitter asked to borrow my car—then had a minor accident that cost about $1,000 to fix. Should I charge her for the repairs?

—Neta 

You shouldn’t, for two reasons. To view this problem through a more general mindset, let’s assume that the culprit wasn’t your babysitter and that the object in question wasn’t your car—instead, let’s imagine you’d loaned your neighbor your electric drill and it broke while he hanging a picture. He might offer to pay for the drill, but if he didn’t, would you ask him to pay for it? Probably not. You’d understand that wear and tear happens, that the breakage probably wasn’t your neighbor’s fault and that the drill would have broken anyway. In contrast, when someone has a car accident, we’re quick to blame them—but from time to time, accidents just happen through no fault of the driver’s. Maybe this is a good opportunity to accept the accident as part of wear and tear on the car.

Another reason why you shouldn’t ask the babysitter to pay: They’re your babysitter, and while they might be a very trustworthy teenager, you were the one who decided to lend them your car. Best to own up to that responsibility.

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Dear Dan,

I’m planning to hire a professional clothing stylist to study my body type and style and advise me on which clothes to keep and which to give away. I’m considering two options: first, asking her to take all the clothes she doesn’t approve of out of my closet, and second, to first take everything out and then put back the things she thinks pass muster. Which approach would you recommend?

—Maria 

You’re right to suspect that the two methods will probably result in different outcomes. The reason is the “status quo bias”—the tendency to leave things as they are. If you start with all the clothes in the closet, the effort required to keep items there is lower than the effort required to take them out, which means that fewer clothes will end up being given away. On the other hand, if you start with all your clothes out of the closet, the lower-effort course involves leaving clothes where they are, which means more things will end up being given away.

But you’re unlikely to apply the status quo bias evenly to your whole wardrobe: The clothes that are clearly great will probably stay with you regardless of your method, and the clothes that are just awful will probably be given away either way too. The difference will come from the “Goldilocks clothes”—the ones that rest somewhere between those two clear categories. The real question is how many of these Goldilocks clothes you want to keep.

Two more points: If you don’t fully trust the stylist, you might start with the “all clothes in” approach, take fewer risks and keep more of the Goldilocks clothes. Also, some clothes will have sentimental value even if someone else thinks they look awful on you – so keep these. After all, we dress for ourselves, not just for other people.

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Dear Dan,

What is the best example of human irrationality?

—Bill 

I must admit I’ve never understood why the most important medical center in the world, the Mayo Clinic, is conveniently located in balmy Rochester, Minn. I’ve benefited enormously from their care—but it’s a long trip.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.