The Blog

Ask Ariely: On Mug Matters, Smoking Stoppers, and Pregnancy Preferences

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,

In the kitchen at work, my colleagues often leave piles of dishes and mugs in the sink, right in front of the sign asking everyone to clean up their things and put them away. How would you get more of my co-workers to deal with their own dirty dishes?

—Rosie 

Use transparency—that is, try to make it possible to tell exactly who’s following the clean-up rules and who isn’t. When we feel anonymous, it’s much easier to commit minor infractions like leaving a dirty cup or dish behind. Eliminating the anonymity would make your coworkers feel more accountable.

At our lab at Duke, we had the same problem. As soon as there was a single dirty mug in our sink, people thought it was OK to add more. Soon the sink would be full. So we bought everyone a mug with his or her name on it and got rid of the old nameless mugs. Now it’s clear who the mug offenders are, and this solved the problem.

I would suggest asking everyone to bring in personalized dishware. For those who don’t comply, get a permanent marker and write their names on the back of dishes. As long as people see that their less-than-desirable actions are evident to everyone else, the pile of dirty dishes won’t come back.

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Dear Dan,

Two cigarette manufacturers in the U.S. recently had to start airing TV and newspaper advertisements explaining the negative effects of smoking as well as the addictive properties of their products. Will these ads have any effect? It strikes me as a naively rationalistic approach of the “if people only knew, they would change their behavior” variety. This strategy has existed for decades—and it has not made a difference. Do you think that the new ads will actually reduce smoking?

—Steve 

I suspect that you are correct and that this is going to be a very costly, ineffective way to curb smoking. By now, it’s common knowledge that smoking causes cancer and other serious health problems—no one will be surprised by what’s in these ads. In general, information about health risks has done little to promote healthier behavior. Just think about the many ignored pleas to wash hands, to pay attention to calorie labels or to stop texting while driving.

If it were up to me, I would try an emotional approach that focused on some immediate negative effects of smoking like body odor or yellow teeth. A more extreme approach, which uses moral outrage, would be to tell people that if they smoke they are simply slaves of the cigarette companies, the same ones that for years have deliberately and knowingly harmed their customers.

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Dear Dan,

My boyfriend doesn’t want to have children, but I do. What can I do?

—Amy 

There is an interesting psychological reflex called the endowment effect. Basically, once we become the owners of something, we start looking at it from a different perspective. In particular, we begin to look at what we own as more valuable. Here’s where your question comes in: The endowment effect would suggest that someone who has not been that excited about the idea of having children starts looking at them more favorably if he learns that he is the owner (father) of a child.

So this weekend why don’t you ask your boyfriend to play a game called “spot the fake news.” Tell him a few things that are true and a few that are not, including the “news” that you are expecting. Before you end the game and reveal the truth, have another discussion about having children—and see if the new perspective gets him to see things differently. Good luck.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Mental Design at PopTech 2017

How can we use findings from social science to improve health, financial decision-making and overall quality of life? I gave a talk on the power of designing for the mental world at PopTech 2017.

Watch the video below and learn more about PopTech on their site.

Ask Ariely: On Ticket Troubles, Business Bonds, and Aging Attitudes

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,

Last week I went to a website to buy a ticket for a talk you were giving. When I saw that the ticket was $28 and that they charged an additional $7.50 processing fee, I balked. I ended up not going to see you. Ironically, I probably would have just bought the ticket if the original price had been $35.50. Would you call this rational behavior?

—Terry 

It’s irrational, for sure. Rationally, you should care only about the total price of the ticket—additional fees included. It should be irrelevant whether the charge is 100% for the ticket itself or partly for the ticket and partly for processing the transaction.

But, of course, we are not rational. The small outrage you experienced at the high processing fee is about perceived fairness, and it is very human. That $7.50 processing fee is more than 25% of the price of the ticket. If that same fee were slapped onto a $1,000 airline ticket, you probably would not give it a second thought.

Ticket sellers should recognize that this pricing strategy is clumsy and not in their best interests. They would do themselves a big favor simply by bundling the processing fee into the face price of the ticket. Then, next time, you might show up to hear me talk!

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Dear Dan,

In my job I meet lots of new people all the time, and I’d like to build trusting relationships with them as I advance in my career. What’s the best way in business to foster trust with others?

—Kayla 

One key strategy is to show that, even though you’re doing business, you care about the other person’s interests—even at a cost to yourself.

Imagine that you’re at a restaurant and order a pricey fish entree. One waiter tells you that the dish is sold out and suggests that you instead try the chicken, which is just as tasty and is also less expensive. A different waiter, by contrast, directs you to the caviar dish—which, you learn, is three times more expensive.

You will certainly put more trust in the first waiter than in the second one. The first has shown that he’s willing to accept a smaller tip (for a less expensive entree) because he wants you to have an enjoyable experience. And the next time you’re in the restaurant, you will ask for him. The best way to build trust is to show people that you have their best interests in mind.

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Dear Dan,

As I’ve aged, it seems to me that the people around me have become kinder and more thoughtful—and, in response to them, I’ve become more liberal and compassionate. What drives this change?

—Pete 

I’m not sure what explains your increased compassion, but it’s very much to your credit. I’ve seen the same thing with my aging father: He’s become a lot kinder. I could suggest that long experience breeds wisdom and appreciation, but another explanation keeps nagging at me.

Maybe it’s about hearing loss? Perhaps when we can’t hear everything people are saying, we fill in the gaps in an over-optimistic way and end up attributing more positive attributes to the person on the other side of the discussion.

Then again, I know plenty of other people who have gotten crankier as they have grown older—and perhaps that is related to hearing loss, too.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Getting people to agree: A TED experiment

In April Mariano Sigman and I (mostly Mariano) carried out an experiment at TED on how to get people to make better decisions and to agree!  Here is the video and the writeup describing this and other experiments on the topic of how to get people to agree on difficult questions.  An important challenge these days…..

The video:

And the ideas piece:

 

Ask Ariely: On Opposing Opinions, Feeling Failures, and Adjusting Activities

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 learned about research showing that when people hold extreme beliefs, giving them data that contradicts their basic opinions actually strengthens those beliefs! Does this mean that there is no way to change the beliefs of people with extreme opinions?

—Jordan 

Changing people’s opinions is indeed difficult, but there is hope. With people who hold extreme views, one paradoxical finding is that presenting them with even more extreme arguments in support of their beliefs persuades them to moderate. In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014, Boaz Hameiri and colleagues describe a citywide intervention in Israel where they used this approach in an ad campaign about the Israel-Palestine conflict. The ad campaign was designed to try to change the opinions of right-wing Israelis who oppose peace.

The ads presented the participants with absurd claims about the benefits of the conflict—for example, that it’s good for camaraderie and morality and helps to create the unique culture of Israel. The results showed that the campaign changed minds: From what they said and how they reported voting, those with right-wing views became more conciliatory and cut back their support of aggressive policies, compared with residents of a comparable Israeli city without the ad campaign. The researchers hypothesize that the intervention succeeded because the ads caused people to more deeply consider their own beliefs.

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Hey, Dan!

Why do we believe we can learn from our own mistakes but blame other people’s failure on their personalities and/or lack of sufficient skills? Has this “one-way street” phenomenon been studied?

—Darin 

You are describing behavior that falls under the heading of what social psychologists call the “fundamental attribution error.” In general, we tend to see good things that happen to us as the product of our own doing and bad things as the result of outside circumstances. Conversely, we tend to attribute good things that happen to other people to external circumstances and bad things to their own doing.

We believe that we can learn from our own mistakes because those mistakes aren’t really about us. We think they involve external circumstances that we can learn to handle better.

Can we learn to override this type of judgment? I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley recently, meeting with executives of startups and venture capitalists. I was struck by what often happens when a startup fails: People in Silicon Valley approach the setback much less negatively than the rest of the world does. Executives sometimes even look at their colleagues’ failure in a positive way, as a sign of experience and learning.

Can we generalize from Silicon Valley to the rest of the world? I’m not sure, but it seems to me that we can change the way we look at other people’s failures, and maybe even limit the blame we assign to them, as we would with our own failures.

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Hi, Dan.

Let’s say that your regular activities include things like playing poker with friends every week or gardening every weekend. How do you decide when to keep on going with these activities—or stop and try something new?

—Joanne 

Questioning the value of our routines is good, because it can help us to stop doing things we no longer enjoy. It’s bad, however, because such questioning gets in the way of whatever happiness the activity gives us. So I suggest that you question yourself—but only for a short time. Perhaps take the last week of December to evaluate how much pleasure you get from your leisure activities—and consider what you could do instead.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Creating Commitments, Simulating Stressors, and Tempting Turnips

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 at a very good lecture about global warming, and by the end of the lecture I was highly motivated to make real changes in my life and have a more positive impact on the environment. Two months later, I realized that despite my good intentions, I had done very little to change anything about my behavior. Why is it so difficult for me to take any action?

—Rachel 

This is very human and common. There are many cases in which we feel we should take particular actions, but then we don’t—such as exercising, eating healthy, washing your hands, practicing safe sex or texting while driving. I think that getting people to care about the environment is perhaps one of the toughest behavioral challenges we have. In some ways, it’s as if the issue were perfectly designed to maximize human apathy: The consequences are probabilistic and somewhere in the far future, and anything we can do is just a drop in the bucket. In short, all the elements that create human apathy are rolled into one challenge.

So how can you make sure that you’re acting on your beliefs? Come up with very specific rules (change the setting of your thermostat, eat less meat, etc.), write them down, tell other people that you have committed to them, and then try to follow them.

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Dear Dan,

As an oral surgeon, I encounter patients in pain (or anxious about possible pain) every day. I have a solution for many of them: intravenous sedation! Unfortunately, the cost (about $600) deters many patients and they prefer to suffer to avoid the payment. Do you have any advice about how best to guide patients who would benefit from IV sedation to pick it instead of suffering?

—Andrew 

Helping people figure out how they’ll feel in a future state, especially one that they’ve never experienced, is tricky. I would suggest that you try to create a comparison between the pain of the surgery and another type of pain. Suggest that your patients put their hands in a bucket with ice for three minutes (which is very painful), and when they are experiencing this pain, say: “Here is what surgery would most likely feel like without the IV sedation. The only difference is that the surgery will take about an hour. Would you rather pay for the IV sedation or do the surgery without it?” Now, the patients can make a more informed decision, and my guess is that many more will pick the IV sedation.

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Dear Dan,

I notice that at farmers markets, I am generally less worried about price and tend to spend more than I do in regular grocery stores. Does the presence of the crowd make me less concerned with the way I spend my money? I wonder if the same tendency is true for visitors to county fairs, flea markets, carnivals and other outdoor venues where lots of people gather in a temporary mini-community. Or is something else entirely going on in this context?

—Paul 

My guess is that it is the result of excitement, but the excitement is not with the crowd but with scarcity—with having a small window of time to buy, say, locally grown kale or handmade stuff. The knowledge that this window of opportunity will soon close and that we will not have a way to get back to our beloved kale makes us want the product more—and get it without paying much attention to the price.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Applications now open: Common Cents Lab Partnerships

We are looking for our next cohort of credit unions, tech companies, banks, non-profits, and government organizations to partner with, to find and test interventions that help Americans improve their financial well-being. Our open call is online now, taking applications until November 15th.
Each year, we collaborate with chosen financial services providers to custom design, test, and launch new features and products that aim to increase financial well-being for 1.8 million low- to moderate-income (LMI) households in America. Partners have the opportunity to work directly with expert behavioral scientists to design solutions to many of our toughest financial decision-making challenges. Click here for more information, or click below to apply.
Some social proof:
Common Cents Lab has not only taught us about behavioral economics and how we can help our members have better savings and use the credit union more, but also about a methodical process to test and design our products to better match member needs.
– Vicky Garcia, SVP Strategy and Risk Management, Latino Community Credit Union
“The Common Cents partnership was instrumental in helping us develop features that drive substantial savings for our customers,”
– Ethan Bloch, Founder and CEO of Digit.
“Common Cents had added rigor to the way we build new features that improve our users’ lives,”
– Jimmy Chen, Founder and CEO of Propel.
Some of our press:

We hope to see your application. Please visit: apply.commoncentslab.org

Ask Ariely: On Avoiding Admonitions, Bestowing Beverages, and Reaching Readers

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’ve read that gossip represents a huge proportion of people’s communication with each other. Why do you think gossip is so pervasive?

—Shelly 

The short answer is it’s titillating. But there is a deeper reason for why people dish about other people: It is society’s way of regulating behavior. We usually think negatively of gossip, but fear of being gossiped about can be beneficial.

A 2011 study by Bianca Beersma and Gerben A. Van Kleef about why people gossip illustrated this. They gave 147 participants lottery tickets and told them to allocate as many as they wanted to themselves or to others. Some of the participants were led to believe that the group would gossip about their decision. These subjects acted more charitably: They kept fewer tickets for themselves and gave more to the group.

While gossip isn’t fun for the person being talked about, it may be an effective way to keep each other in line.

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Dear Dan,

For 40-plus years I’ve given homemade Bloody Marys to friends over the holidays. Newer friends hear about them, so the list gets longer each year. I now make more than 60 one-liter bottles annually. I enjoy making them, but I’m sure that some recipients would prefer not to keep getting them. How can I separate those who really enjoy them from those who don’t?

—Bill 

Giving people an easy way out is helpful in matters like this. If you’re too direct—that is, if you ask people directly if they don’t want the gift—no one will want to hurt your feelings.

Given this, instead of asking who doesn’t want it, ask who does. Send everyone an email asking them to contact you to stay on the Bloody Mary list. And if you want to further control the number of bottles you make, tell them that you can only make 20, meaning that if they don’t really want your Bloody Marys, they would be taking one from a friend who does.

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Dear Dan,

I’m starting a neighborhood book club, but I want to make sure that only the most committed individuals join. So I considered having the club meet a bit outside of our neighborhood, or early in the day on Saturday. Would these methods ensure that I will only get the most dedicated readers? 

—Dylan 

I faced a similar dilemma when I started teaching. I wanted to get only the most dedicated students, so I decided to hold the class at 8 a.m. My logic was that only the most motivated students would sign up for such an early class. Two weeks in, though, I realized I was wrong. About half of the students weren’t showing up; many others were sleeping in class.

It turns out that my approach backfired: Instead of getting dedicated students, I got the ones who couldn’t wake up on time to register for classes that took place in a more reasonable hour.

This general problem is what is called adverse selection, where the process causes the people who join to be the ones that we want the least. So, while you think that your approach will recruit the most dedicated readers, consider that your method may instead land you people who have no friends or nothing else to do on the weekend. If you go ahead with this, let me know how it worked out.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Better Brews, Money Management, and Flirting Forays

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’m a fan of craft beers, and when I hear about an exciting new one, I’ll get a case or two and invite some fellow aficionados to share the experience. But as we crack open the new beer and sample it, I almost always find myself disappointed. Why does this happen so much?

—Ben 

Your latest beer may just not be that good, but I think something else is probably going on here: Your heightened expectations are working against you. Raised hopes can influence the way that we experience something, for good or ill, depending on the gap between expectation and reality.

Imagine, for example, that the new beer you just bought measures an objective eight on a beer connoisseur’s 10-point scale. It’s a good beer, but not an amazing one.

If you had been hoping that your new brew would be a nine, your expectations can “pull up” the way that you experience the beer, making it taste as if it really is a nine. Your heightened expectations would heighten your experience.

On the other hand, if you were expecting a 10 as you raised your glass, the gap between the beer’s objective eight-point quality and your 10-point expectations will be too large to bridge—so large, in fact, that you’ll be disappointed relative to your expectations and feel like you’re drinking a mere seven.

All of this means that the trick to happiness (with beer as with much else in life) is to tame your expectations. Maybe try telling yourself that your latest brew is unlikely to be a 10, or remind yourself that the odds that your next beer will be spectacular are very low—and then be ready to enjoy it if that first quaff surpasses your less-than-great expectations.

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Dear Dan,

I’ve set myself a weekly budget of $500, which should cover groceries, lunch, coffee and nights out. I used to put everything on my credit card and try to keep track of my spending in my head, but I inevitably wound up spending more. To fight this credit-card temptation, I started taking out $500 in cash every Friday and spending only that. This strategy leaves me more aware of my outlays—but I’m still running out of cash by Thursday. What else can I do?

—George 

Your dedication is impressive. Having a budget for discretionary spending isn’t easy, but it is the first important step toward better finances. It’s also good that you’re managing your weekly budget without credit cards, which are designed to make it hard for us to remember how much we’ve spent.

With that in mind, let me suggest two things. First, instead of using cash, switch to a prepaid debit card that you load with $500 a week. With cash, you tend to estimate how much is left just by looking at the piles of bills you have; the debit card can tell you after each transaction exactly how much is left in your weekly budget.

Second, start your budget week on Monday, not on Friday. With your current method, you’re giving yourself the largest amount of money to start the most tempting part of the week—the weekend—which leaves you more likely to overspend. If you start your budget week on Monday, you’ll be more likely to try to save some cash to have a fun weekend.

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Dear Dan,

What is the most effective pickup line?

—Janet 

A good pickup line should show some interest but not too much, and it should put the burden of proof on the other person. I’d suggest trying, “You don’t seem like my style, but you intrigue me.”

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.