Ask Ariely: On Room Rules, Labors of Love, and Double Dares

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,

We recently invited two couples to spend the weekend with us at our cabin. We have two guest bedrooms, one larger and more comfortable than the other. When the first couple showed up, we suggested that they wait until the other couple arrived to discuss who would get which room or perhaps to toss a coin. But the first couple said that, since they had arrived first, they deserved the better room. I disagreed but didn’t want to argue, so they ended up taking the larger bedroom. Were they right to argue that taking the better room was fair?

—Shimon 

The first couple demonstrated what’s commonly known as “motivated reasoning.” There are many possible rules of fairness: first-come-first-served, weighing needs, flipping a coin and so on. For self-serving reasons, this couple adopted the first-come-first-served approach, and instead of simply admitting that they wanted the larger room, they justified their selfishness by advocating a fairness rule that happened to lead to their preferred outcome.

But you didn’t announce the first-come-first-served rule in advance, so it isn’t fair to use it: The other couple didn’t know that they were in a competition. Because both couples are your friends, I wouldn’t have used any fairness rule that depended on human judgment about who’s more deserving. Better just to toss a coin. Next time, it would be better to announce in advance the fairness rule that you want to use.

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Dear Dan,

I’ve been struggling recently to understand why childbirth is so painful. In principle, I suspect, nature could have made childbirth painless—so why did it “choose” to make it agonizing? Your research shows that the more labor we put into things, the more we love them. Could that explain why nature choose this approach—simply to make mothers value their children more?

—Tom 

I’ll leave the evolutionary biology to others, but my research group’s findings are indeed consistent with your interpretation: The more one is involved with creating something and the more difficult and complex the task, the more we end up loving it. We call this the IKEA effect, because of people’s increased pride in furniture they’ve put together from a kit. But Mother Nature seems not to have fully read our work: We found that just a bit of involvement would achieve the IKEA effect, so much less pain at childbirth would have sufficed.

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Dear Dan,

My son just turned 13, and he and his friends are starting to dare each other to do all kinds of stupid things. Some dares involve eating very spicy or disgusting foods; others involve jumping from high places; some involve asking girls out. I don’t get it. Why would someone suddenly be willing to do something just because the word “dare” is invoked?

—Manny 

Let’s consider two different types of dare. The first type is meant to help the person carrying it out. Imagine, for example, that your son has a crush on a girl but is too shy to tell her. If his friends dared him to ask her out, the social embarrassment would decline, and your son might be prodded into getting a fun date.

But there is a second type of dare—for instance, goading someone to eat jalapeño peppers or to jump off a wall. This category isn’t about the immediate well-being of the person doing the dare; it is about his or her place in a social hierarchy. The more impressive the dare, the higher their social status rises.

I hope that this helps you to see some of the beauty of dares—and maybe even to try out a double-dare yourself.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.