Ask Ariely: On Dishonest Domains, Warm Rewards, and Sweet Celebrations

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,

I recently found out that a friend of mine has been having an affair behind her husband’s back for the past four years. She seemed like a person of high integrity to me, but now I’m worried that if she could be so dishonest with her husband, maybe she is also dishonest with me. If a person lies in one area of life, does that make them more likely to lie in general?

—James 

The good news for you is that dishonesty in one area of life—such as work or relationships—doesn’t necessarily predict dishonesty in other areas of life. My colleagues and I published a working paper on this topic in 2018, in which we asked participants about their propensity to be dishonest across eight different domains. We found that most people had different standards for moral behavior in different areas of their life. Cheating on financial reports in the office, for instance, did not predict cheating in a poker game with friends.

But being dishonest in one particular area of life did predict other immoral behavior in that same area. With that in mind, I would be careful about getting into a romantic entanglement with your friend.

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Hi, Dan.

I read that Denmark’s Environmental Protection Agency is offering Danish citizens a $300 reward to scrap their old wood-burning stove and buy a new wood burning stove, in order to reduce particle pollution and improve air quality. But I think people should be willing to take such measures without being paid for it, for the sake of the common good and the longevity of the planet. Do you believe people need a financial incentive to help the environment?

—Esben 

In this particular case, I think an appeal to the common good would be more effective than payment. By offering citizens cash to replace their stoves, Denmark is encouraging them to think about their decision in financial terms. This means they will ask questions about the cost and efficiency of a new stove and wonder whether it is worth the investment. With only $300 in the balance, a cost-benefit analysis is likely to lead people not to replace the stove.

On the other hand, if the appeal was made on moral grounds, people would have to think about what matters to society and what their duties are as citizens. In that case, the odds of making the change might be higher. Of course, if the government were offering a more substantial amount of money, say $1,000, that would change people’s calculations, but a token payment of $300 is likely to be less effective than offering no money at all.

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Dear Dan,

I will be moving to a new state after living in the same city for more than 50 years. How should I handle this transition?

—Warren 

This move will be a major change in your life, and the best thing for you is to acknowledge this and celebrate it. To do this, why don’t you throw a party for your friends and family to celebrate the time you’ve spent together. You can ask each guest to write you a piece of advice about how to create a new life in your new city. That way, the letters will both remind you of your old friends and, if their advice is any good, also help propel you into your new phase. Let the adventures begin.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.