The Blog

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.

Ask Ariely: On Tee Time, Quick Quizzes, and Leisurely Lifestyles

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,

Many CEOs claim to use golf to informally “get things done.” How much are they really accomplishing on the links?

—Paul 

I used to believe in the popular notion that golfing is an important business tool, but a paper published last year in the journal Management Science changed my view. Lee Biggerstaff, David Cicero and Andy Puckett collected golfing records for more than 300 CEOs from S&P 1500 firms from 2008 to 2012 and found that the more golf a CEO played, the more a firm’s performance and value decreased. When CEOs played at least 22 rounds in a year, they found, the mean return on assets was more than 100 basis points lower than for firms whose CEOs played golf less frequently. I’m inclined to think that the idea of golf as a business tool is a self-serving tale that CEOs tell themselves and us to justify spending time and money at play.

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Dear Dan,

I am an economics professor, and many of my students don’t complete their readings before class. That makes class activities ineffective and meaningful discussions impossible. I have tried incentives and punishments related to their final grades, but these haven’t done much. Any suggestions for nudging my students along here?

—Amarendu

This is a challenge. You’re right to think about offering incentives, but they have to be fairly immediate. Waiting until the end of the semester isn’t going to work. Your goals include fostering a love of learning that will endure long after your class, which means that your nudges shouldn’t be perceived as penalties but as ways to help your students do their best.

I recommend the following approach, which I use in my own courses. On the first day of class, I ask, “How many of you hope to do all the reading for each session?” They all raise their hands. Next I ask, “But how many of you will probably—particularly toward the end of the semester—sometimes not be on top of the readings before each class?” Again, they all raise their hands.

Then I say, “OK. To help you achieve your goals, we’re going to have a quick quiz on the assigned reading at the beginning of each class. The quizzes should take three or four minutes and will make up 10% of your final grade. And to be clear, they’re designed to help you be the kind of student you want to be.” This has worked for me, and I hope you’ll find it effective with your students.

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Dear Dan,

Is this column the best use of your time? For that matter, how should one decide how best to use one’s time, especially leisure time?

—Paul 

The way we spend our time, much like the way we spend our money, is mostly a question of opportunity cost. If you spend an hour reading, that’s an hour that you can’t spend training for a marathon.

People vary somewhat in what makes them happy, but the longevity expert Dan Buettner has found some general lessons. His research shows that the world’s happiest people, in an average day, spend less than 30 minutes watching TV, devote just 30 to 60 minutes to social media, listen to music for at least two hours and get six to nine hours of sleep. They also volunteer two to four hours a week, practice relaxation techniques, take at least four weeks of vacation a year, read a book at least every other month, engage in sexual activity (the more, the merrier, Mr. Buettner says), and have close friends who are racially and ethnically diverse.

All that may be too much of a lifestyle change for you, but try picking a few of the elements that seem simplest to implement—and over time, try to take on more.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Common Cents Lab Unveils Millennial Financial Regret Spending Report

New report seeks to measure whether spending can make you happy

SAN FRANCISCO, CA–(Marketwired – Sep 12, 2017) – and Durham, NC Common Cents Lab, a financial research lab at Duke University supported by MetLife Foundation, today unveiled its first ever Millennial Regret Spending Report.

“While it’s common to regret the last thing we ate, it may be equally common to regret the last thing we bought,” said Dan Ariely, Professor and behavioral economist. “The feeling of regret, while not pleasant, may serve as a teaching moment to help us understand what we enjoy and what we don’t enjoy. By systematically understanding the things people regret, we can design systems that encourage us to spend our money on things that make us happier.

Conducted in partnership with Qapital, a fintech app focused on helping people save and spend better, the new study surveyed 1,000 Americans between the ages of 20 and 36-years old to identify which purchases they regarded as either most regretful or most satisfying. Through this effort, the team of behavioral economists isolated four positive personal financial habits that others may emulate to improve financial wellness and fulfillment.

1. Put the Essentials on Autopay

Participants were asked to rate how satisfied they were about recurring versus nonrecurring expenses across a number of categories. Almost universally, millennials rated their regret roughly 10% lower for recurring items. Since most recurring items are paid automatically, the idiom “set it and forget it” may carry more meaning than we thought.

Like millennials, others can limit the angst of rent and insurance payments by placing them on autopay. At the same time, make the payments you’re most likely to regret more obvious by using cash or one-time payment methods.

2. Spend on Enrichment and Others

Millennials reported being most satisfied when spending on necessities (utilities, rent) or personal enrichment (community, education). The study also tracked what times of the week and year produced the most satisfying purchases. Seasonally, those purchases made near Thanksgiving and through the first two weeks of December produced nearly 90% satisfaction as compared to months like October and February that dropped below 50%.

The lesson is that guilty pleasures often come with a heaping of regret, and that the greatest fulfillment can be gained from purchases that enrich your own life or are made for others.

3. Limit Impulse Purchases

The data clearly shows a greater level of fulfillment (roughly 70%) for purchases critical to living such as rent, healthcare and groceries over impulse purchases (near 50%) like digital purchases, coffee shops, and fast food. Similarly, those purchases made on Wednesdays were nearly five percentage points more satisfying than those made on Saturday.

The takeaway is that decisions made independent of the pressure and the heat of the moment can improve your overall financial happiness.

4. Sweat the Small Stuff

That final tally for that $4 latte may be much more in the long run, according to the survey findings as Millennials tended to regret smaller purchases much more than larger ones. On average, respondents reported a high level of satisfaction for purchases taking up a larger portion of their monthly income.

“Individually, these lessons seem intuitive, but taken together as a lifestyle, they can provide a blueprint for living a much more satisfying financial life,” said Kristen Berman, co-founder of Common Cents. “Interestingly, these are lessons that can be applied regardless of income level as a guide to improved financial decision making.”

A full copy of the Millennial Financial Regret Spending Report is available by request or can be found at http://advanced-hindsight.com/millennial-financial-regret-spending/.

About The Common Cents Lab

The Common Cents Lab, supported by MetLife Foundation, is a financial research lab at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University that creates and tests interventions to help low- to moderate-income households increase their financial well-being. Common Cents leverages research gleaned from behavioral economics to create interventions that lead to positive financial behaviors. The lab is led by famed Behavioral Economics Professor Dan Ariely and is comprised of researchers and experts in product design, economics, psychology, public policy, advertising, business administration, and more.

To fulfill its mission, Common Cents partners with organizations, including fintech companies, credit unions, banks, and nonprofits, that believe their work could be improved through insights gained from behavioral economics. To learn more about Common Cents Lab visit www.commoncentslab.org.

About MetLife Foundation

MetLife Foundation was created in 1976 to continue MetLife’s long tradition of corporate contributions and community involvement. Since its founding through the end of 2016, MetLife Foundation has provided more than $744 million in grants and $70 million in program-related investments to organizations addressing issues that have a positive impact in their communities.

Today, the Foundation is dedicated to advancing financial inclusion, committing $200 million to help build a secure future for individuals and communities around the world.

To learn more about MetLife Foundation, visit www.metlife.org.

Find the original post here.

Behavioral Economist Seeks Post-doc

Hello hello,

I am looking for candidates for a joint post-doctoral position, to join me at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University in Durham, NC and with my colleague Panagiotis Mitkidis at the Department of Management at Aarhus BSS in Denmark.

To learn more about the position, click here.

Then, apply here by September 25th.

First review of DOLLARS AND SENSE

This is a review from Kirkus and they are not easy to please…

 

DOLLARS AND SENSE
How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter
Author: Dan Ariely
Author: Jeff Kreisler
Illustrator: Matt Trower

Review Issue Date: September 15, 2017
Online Publish Date: September 4, 2017
Publisher:Harper/HarperCollins

A lively look at how even the wisest among us are too often fools eager to part with our money.Most of us think about money at least some portion of each day—how to get more of it, how to spend less of it. However, cautions Ariely (Psychology and Behavioral Economics/Duke Univ.; Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, 2016, etc.), working with comedian and writer Kreisler (Get Rich Cheating, 2009), “when we bring money into the equation, we make the decisions much more difficult and we open ourselves to mistakes.” The better course, they urge, is to consider money not for its own sake—indeed, not to acknowledge its existence at all—but instead to consider the concept of opportunity cost: what do we give up when we make one choice over another? Is the forgone acquisition really the correct one? What if, instead of buying a big-screen TV or new clothes, we thought of what we might do with the hours we don’t have to work in order to procure them or of the other things we might buy in their place? Such counsel comes after consideration of other economic notions, such as the endowment effect, whereby we give more significance to things simply because we own them, and our generally risk-averse economic behavior, whereby the pleasure taken in gaining something is vastly overshadowed by the pain caused by losing it. Ariely and Kreisler, writing breezily but meaningfully, allow that money has its uses as a symbolic system of fungible, storable, accessible value. However, the real consideration should always be that “spending money now on one thing is a trade-off for spending it on something else,” a calculation that is not often reckoned simply because it’s more difficult than fishing out a credit card or some other means of delaying the recognition that spending money now has future, downstream effects. A user-friendly and often entertaining treatise on how to be a more discerning, vastly more aware handler of money.

Ask Ariely: On Denying Donuts, Car Conversations, and Curbing Confidence

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 often fight with temptation, and it usually wins. I want to eat better, exercise more, save a bit for retirement and in general consider the future when I make decisions. How can I resist temptation?

—John 

There’s no easy answer to this old problem. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “I can resist anything except temptation.” The endless stream of enticements throughout the day makes it hard to consistently make good decisions. Even if we resist an urge here and there, we tend to end up failing a lot.

That’s where personal rules can help. In effect, we make a one-time decision when we create a guideline, and from then on, we are just executing a pre-existing policy, which makes life considerably simpler.

Imagine that someone in your office brought in a box of doughnuts every day, forcing you to decide every day whether to indulge. You would probably be able to overcome the temptation from time to time, but you would also probably break down on other occasions. If you simply had a flat personal policy—no doughnuts during the workweek—you would bypass the daily decision.

Of course, even the strongest among us is likely to break such rules every now and then, but having a policy and declaring it to yourself will help to keep you from giving in.

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Dear Dan,

Studies have shown that talking on a cellphone while driving (even using hands-free technology) is about as dangerous as driving while intoxicated. But talking to someone sitting in the passenger seat is widely considered fine. Why is talking on the phone in the car so much more dangerous?

—Larry

Your question revolves around the social norms of conversation. When we drive, a passenger can see what’s going on around the car—a bus swerving, a pedestrian running across the street, a light turning amber—and with this shared knowledge, both the driver and the passenger adjust the conversation. They chat more intensely when the driving conditions are good, and they shut up when road conditions demand more attention. A pause in the conversation isn’t strange for the passenger, who can also see what’s going on.

By contrast, when we’re talking on the phone while driving, our interlocutor has no idea what’s happening in and around the car and keeps up the conversation whether we can afford to divide our attention or not. The driver, who feels social pressure to be polite and keep chatting, has less attention to devote to the road and winds up taking extra chances. We thus put ourselves at great personal risk just to avoid being rude.

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Dear Dan,

I work at a consulting company where a heavy dose of personal overconfidence is standard. Any advice on how to reduce it?

—Jeff 

I’m not sure this is a problem. Social progress often depends on overly confident people. Consider those who open restaurants: They are clearly fighting the odds, and if they looked objectively at their decision, they might not be ready to gamble. But would we want to live in a society where people avoid such risks? The food would certainly be worse.

Overconfidence has an upside as well as a downside. So before you try to decrease it, think about the benefits it brings to your firm—including more innovation and motivation—and only then decide whether decreasing overconfidence is really the way to go.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal  here.

Ask Ariely: On Helping Hands, Popular Posts, and Mischievous Motivators

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 struggling financially, and I’m considering asking some friends for help—perhaps seeing if they could offer a small amount every month until things get better. Is this a good strategy, or should I ask for more money upfront?

—Jordan 

Mixing finances and personal relationships is always risky. But if you have the right friends—understanding, compassionate and generous of spirit—and are determined to go this route, I would ask them for all the money upfront.

The issue here isn’t just asking them for help; it is their having to think about your request. When a friendship gets tangled up with personal finances, the best you can hope for is that all involved won’t have it in mind when they spend time together and will be able just to enjoy one another’s company. But if you have to keep asking your friends for more installments, everyone is more likely to be thinking about it. That will lead to more uncomfortable conversations, strain the friendships and add to your financial stress.

So the simplest route is to ask just once, for the full amount that you need, thank your friends sincerely—and not mention it again until you can pay them back.

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Dear Dan,

Why would people rather believe a viral social-media post over credible scientific information?

—Efrat 

Because we are cognitively lazy and want simple answers.

A fuller explanation would also concede that academics and scientists bear some responsibility for the difficulty that some feel in taking our research at face value. We tend to write in technical jargon, to add endless qualifications to our findings and to insist that every topic needs to be studied further—all of which makes it hard for nonspecialists to take guidance from us.

As for posts on social media, their believability has to do with what psychologists call “social proof.” That is, we instinctively follow the herd, without realizing that we are doing it. The algorithms that social networks use are designed to exploit social proof and to get people to spend more time online. When a post becomes popular, the social networks promote it even more heavily, targeting users who are likely to be sympathetic, with the goal of maximizing their use of the network. Of course, that means that more people will see the popular post, pushing the chance of something going viral even higher.

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Dear Dan,

My son, a fourth-grader, recently had another child’s progress report placed in his box by accident. That made me wonder: If children were “accidentally” sent a fake report card, along with their own, for another kid who was making slightly better progress in school, would it motivate them to work harder?

—Paula 

I like the way you think—slightly devious but very creative. You’re also right. Giving people (children included) the sense that another person is doing better increases their motivation—so long as it’s only slightly better. Setting unattainable goals doesn’t work well, but offering a reachable one can be a useful goad.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Interrupting the Internet, Involving Ideologies, and Admiring Air Travel

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,

We try to set boundaries on phone and computer use by our teenagers, who are supposed to stop using their devices by 9 p.m. But my husband stays on his phone long after that, researching vacations or kitchen appliances—which, to my mind, is a clear double standard. Am I right?

—Tina 

I’m with you: Setting a bad personal example isn’t a great way to encourage good behavior in your teens. I would pressure your husband to be a better role model.

Or you could just turn off the Wi-Fi router after 9 p.m., which would guarantee that nobody could go online. It is hard to resist temptation when giving in is so easy—in this case, when the internet is just a click away. By creating roadblocks, even small ones like turning a router back on, we can create a natural pause for reflection that should encourage better decisions.

The only downside is that, with all the free time your husband will now have, he might want to spend it with you. Are you ready for this?

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Dear Dan,

How can some people see global warming as a huge crisis facing humanity while others dismiss it as a big red herring? Why do Republicans and Democrats reach such different conclusions reading the same data? Can ideologies really lead to such strong biases in the way that we look at the world?

—Rachel 

Ideology can easily color our views, even on scientific data. In much the same way that Israelis and Palestinians can see the same clash and place the blame entirely differently, so too can political ideology taint almost everything we experience. And, of course, people with different ideologies don’t read the same information: We largely pick the information outlets that support our initial beliefs, making it even easier to become convinced that we are correct.

This sort of biased interpretation of data isn’t the end of it, though. As Troy Campbell and Aaron Kay showed in a 2014 paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “an aversion to the solutions associated with the problem” can color our view of the problem itself.

When the researchers exposed participants to solutions to global warming based on more government regulation, those who supported free-market ideologies were much less likely to acknowledge the hazards of climate change. On the other hand, when the researchers proposed solutions based on less government regulation and more autonomy for private enterprise, these same participants were much more likely to see the dangers of global warming.

That suggests one way forward: Don’t just shove more data in peoples’ faces and ask them why they won’t face up to reality, but work on solutions that align with a wide variety of ideologies.

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Dear Dan,

I fly a lot for work, and my annoyance with air travel is rising all the time. These days, I get upset the night before a flight just from knowing I have to head for the airport the next day. What can I do to reduce my distaste for flying?

—David 

Learn more about the physics of flying and the complexity of the operational side of managing a large airline. We are quick to take things for granted. We get wondrous new technologies such as Google and quickly stop being impressed; we get clean, running water in our homes and stop being amazed. By reminding yourself every time you get to an airport about the marvels of flight and the difficulty of running a big transportation company, you will focus on the full experience—and enjoy it much more.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

How Does Pocket Ariely Make Sense of Life?

Check it out at: http://danariely.com/pocket-ariely/

Have you ever been in a situation where you could really use my help? How about putting away that last cupcake? Or saving that extra dollar for retirement? Maybe getting things done at work without draining all your time and energy? Or, maybe, you just need to spend less time giving out likes and more time nourishing your brain with food for thought?

I know I’ve felt that way, and chances are… so have you.

I want to introduce you to Pocket Ariely, a digital library of my most relevant work in behavioral economics and the best cheat sheet to life’s most difficult issues in Finance, Health, Productivity, Morality, Romance, and so much more. With Pocket Ariely, you can access videos, podcasts, articles, and even games that will prepare you to make sense of life through social science insights.

What’s more, all profits from Pocket Ariely will be put toward the research being conducted at my lab, the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University. With your help, we will continue to advance the blossoming field of behavioral economics and continue the process of showing the world how irrational humans can be (sometimes), and ways to fix it.

The app is not free, but think about the monthly (weekly? daily?) $5 you spend on a Venti Caramel Macchiato at Starbucks, and skip one every other month in the name of science (your waistline will thank you too!). I promise you that we will keep working hard on some of humanity’s most pressing issues all for the cost of the occasional cup of Joe. Not a bad deal huh?

Download Pocket Ariely now

from the App Store and Google Play Store.

 

Irrationally yours,

Dan