Ask Ariely: On Tardy Travels, Past Prejudices, and Dangerous Drivers

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,

I am a frequent flier and I often have to deal with annoying delays, which can seriously affect my mood. What can I do to get less upset when a plane is late?

—Hailey 

Our happiness is largely influenced by our expectations; in the case of flying, that means our expected departure and arrival times. My friend Ory was once booked on a flight whose take-off was delayed for seven hours, leaving all the passengers upset and complaining. But when the flight attendants announced that the delay would actually only be five hours, people cheered: compared to what they were expecting, a five hour delay seemed like a good deal. So the next time you take a flight, add two hours to the expected length of the trip and write down the later arrival time in your calendar. If the delay ends up being less than two hours, you’ll be happy.

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Dear Dan,

Can behavioral economics teach us anything about Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s blackface scandal? I’d like to think I would never have worn offensive makeup, or done even worse things like owning slaves or joining the KKK. But how do I know what I might have done if I lived in another time and place? I don’t think I am a racist, but in a different society, would I too behave as a racist?

—Will 

One of the fathers of social psychology, Kurt Lewin, posited that behavior is always a function of two inputs: the person and the environment. Acts of racism, sexism and other types of harm usually don’t originate from a few “bad apples,” but from cultures that explicitly or implicitly support such acts. So while we shouldn’t excuse acts of hate, we certainly need to recognize the systemic forces that shape what we consider normal or acceptable. Ending racism is not just about getting individuals to change, but understanding how our environment and institutions uphold prejudice in both obvious and subtle ways.

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Dear Dan,

My grandfather is a bad driver. Everyone in the family knows this, but we have accepted it as a fact of life. Recently, I asked him to drive more carefully, while emphasizing that I really care about him. He told me that I have nothing to worry about, since he is an excellent driver! What can I do to make him drive more carefully?

—Limor 

Driving is the classic example of “the better than average” effect: almost everyone thinks that they are better than average drivers. This means that trying to convince your grandfather that he’s a bad driver is going to be difficult. Instead, I would start by trying to help focus his attention on the road and not on other things. First, try to get him to stop using his phone while he’s driving. You could also get him a GPS device that speaks directions out loud, so that he won’t have consult a phone or written directions when he’s driving. Finally, to encourage him to drive less, you or other family members could volunteer to drive him from time to time, or introduce him to one of the available taxi apps.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.