The Blog

Ask Ariely: On Tipping Out, Question Quality, and Stockholm Syndrome

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.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Some restaurants have made news recently by eliminating tipping. But will the long-term effect be worse service?

—Phil 

I wouldn’t expect a decrease in the quality of service. I’m not sure that tipping is a particularly motivating reward to begin with. For one thing, tips in many restaurants are often pooled among employees. That means that the gratuities are averaged across workers, so individual waiters won’t immediately or strongly experience the benefits (or punishments) that stem from superb or lousy service. Furthermore, statistical modeling by Ofer Azar of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found only a small relationship between tips and service quality. He concluded that other factors had more influence on the type of service that you’re likely to get.

If anything, I suspect that eliminating tipping and giving waiters a stable, living wage would improve the quality of service. Without the vagaries of tips, restaurant employees would have a consistent, dependable income—and, perhaps, higher job satisfaction. That would help lower employee turnover and raise profits for the restaurant. These are all fine reasons why more restaurants should get rid of tipping.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I’ve found that the most interesting people to talk to are often obsessed with a topic, whether it is food, music or economics. How can I increase my likelihood of meeting this type of person? What questions can I ask to uncover people’s passions when I meet them?

—Riley 

When we meet someone new, most of us have a puzzling tendency to start the conversation as if we are exchanging resumes. We typically don’t go beyond questions like “What do you do?” and “Where are you from?” But the key to a good conversation isn’t meeting the right type of person; rather, as you suggest, the trick is asking questions that allow almost anyone to reveal who they are, what they have experienced and what they are passionate about.

Often, the questions that can help put a bit more depth into our conversations are more complex than the standard “What do you do” approaches. They also require more openness, effort and daring from the person asking the questions. Think of asking new friends about their ideal dinner companion, living or dead, or about the heroes they most admire or about the aspects of their life for which they’re most profoundly grateful. It may be a little unfamiliar, but such questions do get conversations going in very different directions.

I know from personal experience that starting conversations by asking nonstandard questions isn’t always easy. But as you get more used to asking such questions, your discussions will become more interesting. We all want lives filled with meaning, so we should get beyond the default of vacuous conversation-starters.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I recently learned about the Stockholm syndrome, in which captives develop sympathetic feelings for their captors. I know that the parallel isn’t exact, but does this dynamic operate in marriages too, with both partners (in a metaphorical and emotional sense) seeing themselves as imprisoned in a way and the attraction to the person “capturing” them creating a stronger relationship?

—Abhinav

Sorry, but the Stockholm syndrome just isn’t a sensible way to think about marriage—not least because marriage lacks the glaring power difference between the person doing the capturing and the person being captured. But now that I think about it, maybe the syndrome is a good way to think about spending the holidays at your in-laws, and perhaps this glue helps keep families together during those trying times.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Finding Fondness, Counting Calories, and Regifting Rules

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.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Yesterday, I lost my phone in the woods and spent hours looking for it. Many hours later, with the help of my mother and the “Find My iPhone” app, we found it in the snow. It was a lot of effort—the hardest scavenger hunt we’ve ever been on—but I’ve never had so much fun or appreciated my phone as much as I did that day. I know that, in general, making a major effort leads people to love something more when they create it (as you have argued with the “IKEA effect”). Does this principle apply to finding a lost item too?

—Niv 

Yes. Our appreciation for an item isn’t just about creating it; it is also about the connection we make with it. Every time you invest effort in some object (as in your hunt in the woods), you strengthen your link with the item, and you like it more.

But before you start losing items on purpose, let me point out two limits to your exciting discovery. First, the joy and increased attachment that you experienced was probably yours alone. I can’t imagine that your mother felt the same affection for your phone after rooting around in the snow. Second, the surge of fun and fondness about this particular item isn’t something you’d want to experience multiple times a year—so hang on to your phone.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

 I’ve been reading that chain restaurants with many branches are now required to post calorie information. Do you think this will push people to eat better or not?

—Paul 

Probably not. The experiments that we’ve done on the impact of this sort of calorie information on eating behavior have shown scant effects on what people order. There seems to be a gap that prevents us from translating knowledge into action, and just giving people the data clearly doesn’t do the trick. People often tell me that knowing a menu item’s calorie count influences their ordering, but the research data on this suggests that such effects are very small at best.

There may also be a downside to posting the calories: We know that the presence of “healthy” side dishes can make people feel entitled to order “unhealthy” entrees. Darren Dahl and his colleagues have shown, for example, that the simple presence of a healthy item on a menu increases the likelihood that customers will order the least healthy options. The basic principle is called “licensing”: When we do something that we think is good (like ordering a small salad), we feel that it balances out a subsequent “bad” action (like eating a double cheeseburger).

Given these findings, I predict that we will see more calorie listings on menus, with more items such as side salads as healthy options. People will order these salads—often with gloppy and highly caloric dressing—and continue eating other high-calorie items. Don’t expect it to help our waistlines.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Is regifting OK? Over the years, I’ve received plenty of gifts that I didn’t want, and I’m thinking about getting rid of them this holiday season. Can I tell the people that I’m regifting what I’m doing?

—Beth 

In general, I consider regifting a wonderful practice. So long as the present that you are regifting is something that you think the new owner will appreciate, you aren’t just giving them something that they will like; you are preventing waste and saving money.

As to whether you can tell your friends and family that you’ve regifted them a present, sadly, we still aren’t a sufficiently enlightened society. So for now, I would slap on fresh wrapping paper and keep the history of the gift a secret.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Trust — a new talk

Trust is one of the most important, yet least understood, forces. it is a force that can drive society forward, and in the case of mistrust backward.  Here is a quick talk I recently gave on the basic elements of trust and how to build trust.

 

Ask Ariely: On Treating the Teacher, Perceiving Pain, and Realizing Resolutions

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.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I always agonize this time of year over getting the right gift for my children’s teachers. I hate gift certificates, which feel so thoughtless and generic. So what should I give?

—Raquel 

You’re absolutely right about skipping the gift certificate. A present for a teacher shouldn’t be a financial transaction; it should foster connection and express gratitude. Gift certificates get spent or forgotten.
For that matter, flowers die, and apples get eaten. You’re much better off with a nonperishable gift that will strengthen the relationship between your family and the teacher. Consider giving a funky little piece of art (such as a decorated planter) made by your child, inspired by something he or she learned from the teacher. Or you could get something that the teacher would enjoy but might feel guilty spending too much on, such as a fancy fountain pen or even a lovely notebook with superb paper—and a heartfelt note from your child on the first page.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

How do expectations influence our perceptions of pain? Several months ago, I underwent serious but elective surgery on one foot. Many friends told me that they had heard how long and painful the recovery process would be. I have a very low tolerance for pain, so I worried and imagined the worst. Still, I went through with it, and to my surprise, the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. It has been a long and uncomfortable recovery but far less painful than I’d anticipated.
I used to think that a positive outlook would serve me better, but now I wonder if my negative expectations might have worked in my favor. What do you think?
—Stacy
 
Your experience highlights an important concept in decision-making, known as “affective forecasting errors.” We turn out to be notoriously bad at predicting how we will feel after major life events, even life-altering experiences such as losing a limb or winning the lottery. Both positive and negative milestones often affect our long-term happiness much less than we expect.
As for your experience, I am happy that it wasn’t as bad as you’d feared, but I wouldn’t conclude that your dour expectations were the reason. The academic literature on pain (for example, the 2005 studies by Tetsuo Koyama and colleagues at Wake Forest University School of Medicine) shows that when we expect decreases in pain, our subjective experience of pain also decreases, and so does the activation of brain regions responsible for pain.
In other words, our expectations about pain help to shape the neural processes underlying the physical experience of pain. That can bring the reality more in line with our expectations. As such, I wonder whether you might have experienced even less pain had your friends underestimated your postoperative pain.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

As we enter December, I wonder whether I should make any New Year’s resolutions. I have been making them for years, and I inevitably fail to keep them, which is pretty frustrating. Should I give up or give it another go?

—Jamie 

Don’t give up. Even if you stick to your resolution for, say, three or six months, you will be better off than you would have been if you had done nothing. And you might do better if you make New Year’s resolutions that are more limited and achievable. For example, what if instead of promising yourself that you will exercise three times a week for the whole year, you pledged just to work out for six weeks? That goal would be far easier to grasp, and maybe by the time you reach it, you will want to keep going.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Sound Sleeping, Conserving Commitments, and Giving Goals

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.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

At night, I find myself procrastinating when I should go to bed. I stay up watching TV and, inevitably, wind up falling asleep on the couch and dragging myself to bed two hours later. How can I nudge myself to skip the TV phase and just go to sleep? (One obvious answer would be to put the TV in my bedroom, but I don’t have space for that.)

—Bram 

Moving your TV into your room certainly won’t help you get a better night’s rest. Experts in “sleep hygiene” have shown that it’s best to associate the bed with sleep and romance and not with activities like reading or watching TV; exposure to screens before bedtime isn’t helpful either. Answering email, checking Twitter or watching Netflix in bed will mean that you’ll take more time to nod off and won’t sleep as soundly.

I would put your TV on a timer that goes off every night at, say, 10 p.m. Of course, you could override the timer, but it would still remind you that you had committed to go to bed then, and the extra work to override it might prevent you from falling back into your old habits.

If you want some extra motivation, look for someone who can hold you accountable. A firm partner would do fine, or you could ask a close friend to be your “sleep cop” and promise to send him or her a picture of you in pajamas every night at 10.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

How should we deal with people who make a run on gas every time the supply is disrupted? We often hear that no significant shortages will occur if people keep up their normal patterns of consumption, but some people take news of a disruption as their cue to top off their tanks more frequently—thus contributing to the shortage and causing long lines. Is there any way to discourage this and restore some measure of order?

—Bo 

When a resource is in limited supply, we are often willing to hurt the public good (by creating longer lines at the pump) for our individual advantage (by keeping our own tank full). This behavior is tempting if you view things in terms of your personal short-term gain, but of course, it is devastating for everyone in the long run.

Since it isn’t easy to get people to care about the collective at moments of scarcity, maybe we should ask ourselves how we can harness selfishness for good. We don’t need to influence everyone; even reducing the number of people who stock up on gas by 10% could make a big difference. So how can we get some people to be selfish in a more societally useful way?

One idea: What if people started asking their friends on Facebook to make a commitment not to refill their gas tank until it is less than a quarter full, and what if we “liked” such posts to praise their commitment to the common good? This kind of approach probably won’t sway everyone, but for some, it might replace one benefit (a full tank) with another (an enhanced reputation).

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

As the holiday season arrives, I have been weighing the joys of getting things for ourselves against the joys of helping others and giving them gifts. Are we happier when we do something nice for ourselves or for others?

—Jennifer 

As Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton have shown in their book “Happy Money,” we often think that we maximize our happiness by indulging in a treat for ourselves, but our long-term happiness has more to do with the kindnesses we do for others. This is a fine season to start acting on that lesson.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.