Ask Ariely: On Casual Courtesy, Inconvenient Inheritance, and First-Hand Filing

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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Hi Dan.

At a “fast casual” restaurant without table service, the payment screen offered me a “No Tip” option or tips of 15%, 18% and 20%. I felt these were too high, since I had stood in line and was carrying my own food. I gave the minimum 15%—still a lot more than I have ever tipped in a fast-food place. I felt manipulated by the screen and wonder if this system prods people to tip more.

—Robert 

Yes, such screens boost tips through a design principle called “active choice.” Many fast-food restaurants simply have an easily ignorable tip jar. But with the screen, neglecting to tip feels much worse, like a rejection of the staff. On the other hand, please remember that the people working at fast-food places work just as many hours as standard servers, for less money. Many may not be making a living wage. Helping them out a bit is a good thing to do.

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Dear Dan,

To my surprise, I learned that my recently deceased grandfather owned mineral rights to some land highly coveted by an oil company. The acreage seems to be perfect for extracting oil from shale rock, or fracking. I’m named in my grandfather’s will, and when I heard that some of his other heirs had been negotiating with the oil people for a sale, I was giddy imagining profits that could change my life as well as my family’s. But that didn’t last long. I consider myself an environmentalist and have voted against fracking in my home state. Should I protest the sale right now, wait and see the size of my potential gains or commit to putting all or part of my share into a conservation charity?

—David 

It’s harder to be an environmentalist when it means that you really have to give up something. In your case, it’s admirable that you are serious about giving up something that is potentially of great value.

It makes sense to commit to a course of action before you have all the information, like how much money is at stake. Acting under what’s sometimes called “the veil of ignorance” is often a very good way to make such decisions. If your share of the proceeds really was enough to change your family’s life—say, $800,000—you would have a good reason to question your moral convictions. Here’s another strategy: Keep the money, estimate the dollar cost of the environmental damage from digging up the land, commit 110% of that amount to conservation efforts and try to persuade your relatives to do the same. Good luck.

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Dear Dan,

My wife and I often argue about infrequent but time-intensive and complex administrative tasks like filing taxes. She’s very sensitive about money and thinks that since we save some by doing these tasks ourselves, I should spend a day or two on them. I think my time is worth some money and would rather pay an expert to take things off my plate. How can I convince her?

—Michael 

In general it’s easy for us to discount someone else’s annoyance. So, for the next few of these irritating administrative tasks, why not ask your wife to do them herself (or at least do them together with you). After experiencing the pain of these tasks first-hand, she will most likely change her mind and see the rationale of paying a professional.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.