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Ask Ariely: On God’s Image and Marriage Money

Mar 15

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,

Why are there so many religions, all of which suggest that God is on their side and holds the same values that they do?

—Moshe

One answer comes from a 2009 study by Nick Epley and some of his colleagues from the University of Chicago, which asked religious Americans to state their positions on abortion, the death punishment and the war in Iraq. (This study is described in Dr. Epley’s recent book, “Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want.”) Participants were then asked to predict the opinions of a few well-known individuals (such as Bill Gates), President Bush, the “average American,” and—and uniquely to this study—God on these issues.

Interestingly, the respondents were rather objective about predicting the opinions held by their fellow humans, but they tended to believe that God had similar opinions to their own. Conservatives believed God was very conservative; liberal believers were certain that God was more lenient.

To find out why we can view God so flexibly, a follow-up experiment asked another group of participants to take the position on the death penalty diametrically opposed to their own and argue this viewpoint in front of a camera. A large body of research on cognitive dissonance has shown that people who are forced to argue for an opinion opposite to their actual one feel so uncomfortable with the conflict that they’re likely to change their original opinion. After giving their on-camera speech, participants were again asked to express the views on these hot-button issues of the study’s famous individuals, President Bush, the “average American” and God.

The results? After expressing the opinion opposite their original one, individuals became more moderate. Those who disliked the death penalty became less opposed, and those who were for it became less so. But there was no such shift in participants’ predictions of the opinions of the well-known individuals, President Bush or the “average American.” And what about their predictions about God’s views? Participants tended to attribute the same position as their own new, more moderate viewpoint to God.

God, apparently, is something of a clean slate on which we can more easily project whatever we wish. We subscribe to the religious group that supports our beliefs, and then interpret Scripture in a way that supports our opinions. So if there is a God, I believe—no, I’m sure—that that (s)he thinks the way I do.

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Dear Dan,

My partner and I will soon be married, and in honor of the event, his parents have promised us some money. Now my parents have offered us double that amount. How can I tell my partner without making him feel uncomfortable?

—Nikki

Congratulations—I hope you’ll have a lovely wedding and a good life together.

As for your question, the problem is not just that your future husband and his parents will feel uncomfortable; it is also that your dynamics as a newlywed couple will proceed from an uneven starting point. I am not suggesting that every time that the two of you fight, you will remind your husband that it was your family’s money that let you buy a new house. But even small inequalities at the start of a marriage can have long-term effects.

If I were in your shoes, I would ask your parents to give you the same amount now that your fiancé’s parents are giving—then give you the second amount in a year, once the marriage is more established. (If you’re not sure you will stay together, maybe ask them to wait five years.)

Incidentally, since weddings are irrational in so many ways, I recently obtained a license to perform weddings through some online site—and now I’m waiting for the first couple to ask me to conduct their nuptials (hint hint).

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

A Documentary about (Dis)Honesty

Mar 11

It is my greatest pleasure to announce a documentary that I have been working on with Yael Melamede of Salty Features.

Dishonesty - The Truth About Lies

Today, we launch a Kickstarter campaign that will help us finish the film and build its presence in the world.

Please visit our Kickstarter Page to learn more about (Dis)Honesty and to become part of this special project.

Then, share the project with all your family members, closest friends, acquaintances, the cashier at your local grocery store, that guy you bumped into on the way to work, the lady whose wallet you found on the street and returned…everyone!

Thank you for your support, and I look forward to working with you along the way.

(Dis)honestly Yours,

Dan Ariely

P.S. Like The Dishonesty Project on Facebook!

And follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dishonestyproj

Sign up for “Irrational Behavior”

Mar 04

Behavioral economics is the study of humans and their (occasionally irrational) interactions with the world. Starting on March 11th, I will teach “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior,” a glance at the peculiar mechanics of the mind. Join me for the most riveting 8 weeks of your life, and you never know — you may just end up the next CEO of the world.

Courseracartoonfullsize

Sign up here!

 

 

 

Ask Ariely: On Weather Delays, Time Delays, and Garlic Cologne

Mar 01

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 was recently stuck overnight in a strange city due to a canceled flight. Because the airline blamed the cancellation on “weather,” no one helped me find a place to stay or pay for it. Meanwhile, I saw other flights leaving the same airport. Is “weather” just a term airlines use when they try to consolidate flights, not compensate their customers and avoid blame?

—Kelly

I am sure that sometimes the weather really is at fault, but I have no idea whether the airlines use the weather excuse promiscuously when it’s to their financial advantage. It would be difficult to make such a judgment call (should we call the reason for the delay the weather or technical issues?) while completely ignoring the economic incentives involved. And blaming all kinds of things on the weather is a very useful strategy for the airlines because trapped fliers don’t directly blame the airlines for it.

But let’s be honest here: Many of us also sometimes blame our own tardiness on traffic or the weather. And I suspect many of us would blame the weather even more frequently for all sorts of lapses if we just had the opportunity.

To my mind, the weather excuse (as the airlines use it) has one major problem. The airlines’ logic is that bad weather is an act of God, which releases the airline from responsibility. But isn’t the airlines’ behavior probably the reason God is angry to begin with?

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Dear Dan,

How can I enjoy life more? Every year, time seems to go by faster; months rush by, and years just seem to disappear. Is there a reason for this, or is the memory of time passing more slowly when we were children just an illusion?

—Gal 

Time does go by (or, more accurately, it feels as if time is going by) more quickly the older we get. In the first few years of our lives, anything we sense or do is brand-new, and a lot of our experiences are unique, so they remain firmly in our memories. But as the years go by, we encounter fewer and fewer new experiences—both because we have already accomplished a lot and because we become slaves to our daily routines. For example, try to remember what happened to you every day last week. Chances are that nothing extraordinary happened, so you will be hard-pressed to recall the specific things you did on Monday, Tuesday etc.

What can we do about this? Maybe we need some new app that will encourage us to try out new experiences, point out things we’ve never done, recommend dishes we’ve never tasted and suggest places we’ve never been. Such an app could make our lives more varied, prod us to try new things, slow down the passage of time and increase our happiness. Until such an app arrives, try to do at least one new thing every week.

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Dear Dan,

My daughter recently persuaded me to start eating two cloves of garlic every day. I feel more energetic and less stressed. Is it the garlic, or is it a placebo?

—Yoram 

I am not sure, but have you considered the possibility that the reason you feel so much better is that people are now leaving you alone?

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

“A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior,” Take 2

Feb 27

You make decisions all the time. What should you eat for breakfast? Which route should you take to work? How much are you willing to pay for local, pasture-raised beef over factory farmed, corn-fed meat? Should you go for a run, jog, walk, or finish watching the last season of Breaking Bad?

Some of these decisions might be great, while others … not so much. For example, take the mind-boggling case of someone winning a chess championship one minute and texting while driving the next. Playing chess (competently, at least) requires thinking many steps ahead, considering multiple scenarios and outcomes — whereas texting while driving is a complete and utter failure of the same kind of forward-thinking. The gap between how amazing we are in some respects and completely inept in others just highlights the invaluable nature of studying how humans think and interact with the world.

So, when do we make good decisions, and when and why do we fail? Fortunately, behavioral economics does have some answers. In “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior,” you will learn about some of the many ways in which we behave in less than rational ways, and how we might overcome some of our shortcomings. You’ll also find cases where our irrationalities work in our favor, and how we can harness these tendencies to make better decisions.

You will explore topics such as our “irrational” patterns of thinking about money and investments, how expectations shape perception, economic and psychological analyses of dishonesty by honest people, how social and financial incentives work together (or against each other) in labor, how self-control comes into play with decision making, and how emotion (rather than cognition) can have a large impact on economic decisions.

All of this, packed into just 8 weeks! Join our modern crusade to improve decision making, and hopefully learn some things on the way. Sign up now (class starts on March 11th): https://www.coursera.org/course/behavioralecon

Irrationally Yours,

Dan Ariely

Small Savings, Big Difference

Feb 20

What’s the best way to help low-income families improve their financial lives? One approach is “microsavings,” which are small deposit accounts that can be an incentive to save more for future goals. Research shows that these small, long-term accounts not only build assets but also promote the social and intellectual development of low-income children. In this podcast, I talk with Professor Michael Sherraden of Washington University in St. Louis about another concept of savings accounts called Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), and their potential impact on poverty in the U.S.

Listen to the podcast here.

Feb 19, 2014: Happy Anniversary

Feb 19

Six years ago, an orange-and-blue book was first set free into the world. It was the beginning of an amazing journey — not only for the book, but also for me. This book traveled to all parts of the world, translated into ~40 different languages, and I traveled with it. To this day, I still find myself in the far regions of the earth, meeting new people, having interesting conversations, and understanding the world in a different way.

As I reflect today on these last six years, what is amazing to me is the degree to which this book was a starting point for the rest of my life. And the journey continues.

Happy Anniversary,

Dan

Ask Ariely: On Quick Cleaning, Misery’s Company, and Traveling Torture

Feb 15

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,

Why do I clean my cell phone many times a day but don’t care that much about the cleanliness of my car or my house?

—Sara 

I suspect that this is about your ability to reach your end goal. You probably don’t really think you can ever reach your goal of getting your house 100% clean—maybe 80%, tops. The task is just too large, and others in your household can mess the place up faster than you can clean it. But when it comes to your phone, perfect cleanliness is within reach, and this achievable goal spurs you on.

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Dear Dan,

I recently met up with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen for a very long time. I had been eagerly looking forward to our lunch, but I left very disappointed. All she did for more than two hours was complain—mostly about her husband, with some breaks to complain about her kids. It was just negative and depressing. Why do people complain so much? Could she really think this was a good way to spend time with an old friend?

—Andrea

People complain for many reasons, and we should to try to figure out your friend’s. For one thing, misery often does make us closer to one another. Imagine that you meet a friend—and either tell them how annoying traffic was along the way, or give them the same level of detail about how wonderful your drive was and how easy it was to find parking. Under which case would your friend like you more?

Also, when we complain, we often are looking for reassurance—hoping others will tell us that everything is OK and that what we’re experiencing is just part of life.

So your friend might have been looking to reconnect through shared misery. In this case, you should have indulged her efforts to strengthen your bond. But your friend might also have really wanted you to tell her something like, “You think your husband is a schmuck? Let me tell you about my prize”—thereby assuring her that her life is actually more normal than she might think.

Either way, complaining can actually be pretty useful. The next time a friend starts complaining, go with it.

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Dear Dan,

I travel a lot for work, and I’ve been getting increasingly annoyed with the U.S. way of flying: the waste of time, the disrespect shown to passengers and the lame excuses for delays that the airlines make. Why are we putting ourselves in this horrible situation?

—David

I’m not sure, but here’s what helps me. First, every time I’m stuck on a runway, I try to think about the marvel of flight and remind myself how amazing the technology is. Second, I try to see the experience of travel misery as evidence of our common humanity. Security guards and airline staffers are just as rude and inconsiderate all around the world, suggesting that once you put people in the same situation (in this case, the same tiring, trying and thankless service job), we all turn out to be more or less the same. And as more people travel and see our deep similarity, we will all come this much closer to world peace. Anyway, that’s what I tell myself—and it helps.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

A post for Valentine’s Day

Feb 14

I  asked one of my favorite thinkers — Rory Sutherland who always has interesting opinions — to reflect on Valentine’s Day.

Watch it to learn how London cabbies are a lot like the ideal boyfriend.

V2 of my online course (Free!)

Feb 11

About a year ago we had a course called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” on coursera.org

Creating the course was a lot of work, but it was also tremendously rewarding to create a community that was so involved in the exploration of human nature, and how to improve the decisions we all make day to day.

In about 4 weeks (March 11th) version #2 of this course will start.  This course will be based on some of the same materials from V1, but it should be an improved version given that in the meanwhile we learned a lot about the nature of online courses.

So, if you are interested, or know someone else who might be interested please pass along this link:  https://www.coursera.org/course/behavioralecon

Looking forward to another exciting course

Dan

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