Ask Ariely: On Meaningful Meals, Ideal Interviews, and Quick Consequences

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,

My retired parents and I usually go out for lunch every other Sunday. We have been taking turns paying the check, but I know that I make more money than they do. Should I start paying for all the meals or at least cover the tip when they are paying?

—Andrew 

Since you’ve established a custom of taking turns paying for meals, I think you should continue on that basis. Think of these meals as gifts that you are giving each other: The purpose of gift-giving is to help strengthen relationships rather than a strictly financial exchange. If you are worried about potential strain on your parents, you can offer to pay some of their other bills or give them a yearly cash gift, but I would separate the issue of their finances from the weekly tradition that you have established.

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Dear Dan,

I am applying for a CFO role at a public company. I am competing for the job with several other candidates, and the interviews with the board of directors will take place over the course of a week. Should I try to schedule my interview early in the week, late in the week or somewhere in the middle?

—Eric 

There are two countervailing forces here. One is the exhaustion of the people interviewing you, which will likely increase over the course of the week. When people get tired, they’re more likely to make negative decisions. There’s a disturbing study on judges’ decisions to grant parole, showing that they are twice as likely to accept a prisoner’s application when they decide in the morning than at the end of the day. From that perspective, it’s better for your interview to take place on Monday.

On the other hand, the “recency effect” says that people are more likely to remember the most recent information. If the board is making its decision after the last interview, it would be to your advantage to be later in the week, so that you’ll still be prominent in their memories. The question is which force is going to be stronger. If you think the process is going to be exhausting for the people interviewing you, go early in the week; if not, try to go late.

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Dear Dan,

In general, what do you think are the domains where we make our best and worst decisions?

—David 

People are generally better at making decisions about the physical world than they are when it comes to the mental world. That’s because when we make physical mistakes we see the consequences right away—think about the consequences of bad driving—while mistakes that we make in the mental world take much longer to appear—such as the consequences of making bad choices in elections.

This difference came home to me on a recent trip to London. The British have been able to create a material environment that is just amazing, from the beauty of the buildings to the quality of public transportation. Yet the political crisis in the U.K. suggests that when it comes to making decisions about the future of their country, they are finding things much tougher to manage.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.