The Blog

A survey about your apps

Dear friends,

There’s no question that we are becoming more and more dependent on our phones as a society. It’s less clear to me, however, what exactly we are doing on our smartphones, and how much time we are spending on each of these activities. If you would like to participate in a brief study, please answer a few questions about your app usage.

Take the survey.

Or copy and paste this link into your browser: https://duke.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_7Ny8PvEN8J15E8d

Thanks very much,
Dan

Research report on email use

First, I want to thank everyone who participated in this research.  Thanks

And now, for the results….

Email has become a mix of blessing and evil in our lives. Blessing because it has become a broad communication channel for everything—for our friends, family, work and businesses. Evil because it constantly interrupts us in our daily lives. Moreover, we end up at the mercy of other people’s timelines. It’s your list on your computer, but the order of that list and when it comes depends on when somebody else decides to send you something.

What if we could put emails on our own timeline? What if we could decide which and what kinds of emails we should receive at times that match our own schedules?

To find out, we asked over 1500 of your fellow readers to determine the ideal email timeline.

Currently, people receive 100% of emails immediately upon arrival with distracting notifications. So we asked people what percentage of their emails they wanted to see that quickly. It turns out only 11% of emails need to be shown immediately upon arrival with a notification to interrupt you.

What about the other 89% of emails? We took it a step further and asked when people needed to see the rest of their emails at various points in time: from increments of hours, the end of the day, week and month. In addition we asked what percentage of emails they would want automatically deleted and automatically archived.

We found that 31% of emails can handle a delay of 1 to 8 hours and importantly, without notifications. People need to see an additional 20% of emails by the end of the day, 11% by the end of the week and 3% by the end of the month. The remaining 24% of emails could simply be trashed or archived. 

With these email preferences in mind, imagine there was a magic email genie that would automatically categorize your messages into these various time categories. Which categories would be the most useful for everyone?

When we asked our participants, the top 4 categories people would want were emails to be divided by being send immediately (with notifications), by the end of the day, by the end of the week and — you guessed it — automatically deleted.

Right now the default of every major email service is to send notifications for emails immediately upon arrival. Roughly speaking, people only want to be interrupted for about 10% of their emails immediately upon arrival. This means that email services are hurting peoples’ attention in a counter productive way the remaining 90% of the time. How do we solve this conundrum? How can we get all the emails that people never want to see—out? Our results show that having a classification of different time frames and durations of when people need to deal with emails seem to be a useful idea. Instead of having one inbox that puts us at the mercy of other people’s timelines, maybe we need multiple inboxes that are sensitive to when something needs to be dealt with.

Improving Inboxes

Dear friends,
In thinking about how to improve email (something that gives us both joy and stress), I’d like to ask for your help.  I’m trying to understand how people use email and what we might be able to do better.  If you have a gmail account and have 5 minutes to spare, please complete this survey.
If you have an extra 5 minutes and want to be even more helpful, please complete this second survey as well.
Irrationally yours,
Dan
Daily Email Load

Ask Ariely: On The Carrot Law, Summer Season, and Sticky Situations

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,

This depressing election season has left me deeply disheartened by the current state of American politics. Do you have advice on how I can remain optimistic? Are there any politicians whom you admire?

—Alfredo 

My favorite politician, without question, is Antanas Mockus—a Colombian mathematician and philosophy professor turned unconventional pol who served some years ago as the mayor of Bogotá and made several unsuccessful runs for Colombia’s presidency. During his two terms in office (1995-97 and 2001-03), Mr. Mockus introduced lots of positive behavioral changes to his unruly, crime-ridden city. He reduced water usage, prodded Colombians to obey traffic laws and reduced violence.

Mr. Mockus rooted his unconventional, often theatrical mayoralty in a deep understanding of our social nature. One of his inventions was the 1995 Ley Zanahoria (literally, the “Carrot Law”—in Colombia, the word for the vegetable evokes nerdiness), which ordered bars and other late-night joints to close at 1 a.m., thereby cutting crime and car crashes.

Mr. Mockus worked formally and informally to cultivate honorable civic behavior—praising good-humored citizens who played by the rules and didn’t cut corners. By popularizing this standard and asking citizens of Bogotá to call each other out when they saw unseemly behavior, he invited his city’s residents to end vicious cycles and reinforce virtuous ones. He led the way in establishing better, stronger social norms.

Mr. Mockus also had an unconventional way of saving water. As a World Bank report noted, he was once shown “in a TV ad taking a shower with his wife”—demonstrating how to get clean with less water while having more fun.

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Dear Dan,

As the school year comes to an end, I am starting to think about summer activities for my children—ages 10 and 13, both relatively good at music and interested in theater and dance. Would sending them to a camp for the performing arts be a good way for them to spend the summer?

—Vanessa 

First, kudos to you for being so thoughtful about your kids’ summer plans. One of the most interesting (and depressing) lessons we have learned about education is that, without summer enrichment programs, kids tend to forget a great deal while school is out.

Here’s the real question about your choice: Would your children be better off improving their skills in activities that already engage them (music, acting and dance), or would they be better served by learning skills that they haven’t yet cultivated?

Since your kids are very young and their tastes and talents haven’t yet matured and stabilized, I would suggest using the summer as an opportunity to expand their horizons by getting them to try things that they usually don’t get to explore. Maybe send them to a camp that focuses on creative writing, science or hiking.

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Dear Dan,

For a few years now, I’ve been trying desperately to overcome my addiction to pornography, without much success. Are there any techniques that can help to break such stubborn bad habits?

—Zain 

One thing we know about addiction is that staying in the same environment makes it very hard to quit. When we remain in the same spaces where we have engaged in addictive behavior, the environmental cues substantially increase our cravings—making it very hard to resist our desires. It is important for heroin addicts, for instance, to change where they live and the people whom they associate with.

With your pornography addiction, changing the environment is more complex—but try to replace your phone and computer so that you can have new devices that won’t evoke memories of your past behavior. Good luck.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Allowances for Appearance, Desirable Drafts, and Too Many Tasks

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 young woman who works at a Fortune 500 company, and I feel pressure at work to dress up. Between hair, makeup and a different, interesting outfit every day, I’d estimate that the extra effort takes about an hour a day and costs more than 10% of my income. So shouldn’t women be allowed to come to work an hour later than men and get paid 10% more?

—Maria 

You’re quite right that the different standards we have for men and women in the workplace create lots of inequalities that, as a society, we need to fix. But your modest proposal is inherently flawed. If we followed it to its next logical steps, we would give raises to people with strong body odor who need to spend more time in the shower. Would we make bald men work longer because they don’t need to spend time washing their hair? And what about women who worry less or more about their attractiveness? Would your “dressing-up allowance” of time and money be provided only to those who focus on such things? You are basically proposing that we overcome sexism with reverse discrimination, which usually creates new and sometimes more complex problems.
Still, even if we agree to disagree over whether women as a class should make more than men, I hope we can agree that equal pay for equal work would be a key step forward.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a college professor, and every year, I have a few wonderful students who work and work on their papers to make them better and better. They almost always miss their deadlines and get penalized. What can I do to get them to be less perfectionistic and more punctual?

—Howard 

Perfectionists don’t have it easy. They feel so bad about submitting subpar work (and of course, nothing is ever perfect) that they are willing to pay all kinds of costs in their struggle for perfection—including being late and getting lower grades.
To overcome the perfectionists’ problem, what if you asked your students to write their papers using Google Docs and to share their drafts with you? You would then have access to their work every step of the way, and the students—including the perfectionists—would know that you’ve been exposed to various versions of their less-than-perfect paper.
Alternatively, you could ask your students to submit their first drafts by the middle of the semester. You could explain that you expect these papers to be half-baked and encourage them to keep on improving their drafts by handing you an updated version every week. This approach would also make the students submit an imperfect paper, and once they did, they might be more relaxed moving forward.

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Dear Dan,

Children today are continuously exposed to multimedia on their cellphones and other devices. At a sporting event a few weeks ago, I saw some kids who were watching the live game in front of them while also playing a videogame on their phones. I’m amazed by such versatility. Are they more able to handle multiple tasks at the same time than us dinosaurs?

—Rob 

Kids these days certainly do a lot simultaneously, and they certainly think that they can handle multiple tasks—but they have the same limited attention span as the rest of us. The sad outcome of their overconfidence in their multitasking capacities is that they listen to a lecture while scrolling through Facebook, play a videogame while watching a movie and text while having a family dinner—and don’t really benefit from any of these activities.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Life Changes, Valuable Visits, and Killer Odds

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,

Should I get a tattoo or a dog?

—Jeff

Since you are asking me, I’m guessing that you don’t have much experience with either. So my advice would be to experiment first.  In general, when we ask questions about the future, we are trying to simulate how our future will look with the changes that we have in mind and how happy they will make us. The problem is that it is very hard to replicate things in our mind (including your potential life with a dog or a tattoo), which is where experimentation can help. Put on one of these ink tattoos for a few weeks, then take care of a friend’s dog for a few weeks and see which experience gave you more pleasure.  My guess is that by the end of the experiment, you will wonder if you should be making some other life change altogether.

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Dear Dan,

Many museums have taken to offering free-admission days, but accumulating evidence shows that this tactic doesn’t do much to encourage short- and long-term attendance from folks who aren’t already familiar with museums. The museums’ idea was that free days would attract new audiences who would become more regular museumgoers. Not only hasn’t this approach worked, but now some patrons who would have made a return visit anyway simply choose to do so on the free days. Why isn’t this working?

—Carter 

In general, free as a strategy rarely turns people into long-term users. The basic logic of a free trial is that by (temporarily) removing the price, all barriers to try the product or service are eliminated, and once people try it, they will realize how empty their lives had been up to that point—and promptly become loyal users.  

This approach can work in a few very specific cases—mostly where the service or product is unquestionably amazing but people don’t realize just how amazing it is. A free-trial approach also works well for addictive products such as heroin, where a dealer just needs to get people to try it once. Museums don’t fit in these categories.  

My suggestion? Instead of offering free days (which also means shifting existing patrons from paying days to nonpaying days and undermining the perceived value of the museum), think about new types of value-added experiences that would make your museum more appealing to broader audiences.

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Dear Dan,

I recently read a story about lottery winners who get robbed and sometimes killed. That left me wondering whether people find it more morally justifiable to rob and kill people who won the lottery compared to people who receive a similar amount of money as a year-end bonus at their jobs. Any insights?

—Damjan 

I don’t think that this type of difference in morality is what drives the robbery and murder of lottery winners—but I do think that, as in many of our other behaviors, that salience and convenience play crucial roles.

First, on salience, we simply hear and know a lot about lottery winners. They are in the news, and their stories command a larger part of our attention. Second, in terms of convenience, lottery players often come from low-income neighborhoods, where the crime rate is likely to be higher and the perpetrators can more easily execute their plans.

More generally, I find state-sponsored lotteries immoral because they largely take money away from the poor citizens who buy so many of the tickets. Maybe this is another reason to take a closer look at the social effect of lotteries—and cancel them.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Work as Play, Volunteer Value, and Shower Scheduling

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,

Any tips for encouraging kids to view their homework as play?

—Gordon 

Not really. You can get kids to enjoy homework more or hate it less, but play is a different matter. A few years ago, some nonprofit groups came up with the idea of “PlayPumps”—merry-go-round-style systems hooked up to water pumps in rural parts of Africa that needed more drinking water. As children whirled about on the merry-go-rounds, their motion would pump groundwater up from below, whereupon it could be stored for later use.
The idea of PlayPumps seemed promising at first, but the results have been underwhelming. It turns out that when you take a play activity and force children to do it, you change the activity from play to work, and the fun goes away. Having to do something on command and on a particular schedule just isn’t play, and that isn’t ever going to change.
If you really want kids to view their homework as play, you need to change the way they view school. If school had more autonomy and choice, if students had more say in their daily routine there, education as a whole might start to become more playful. Sadly, in my experience, the only time in the educational journey when learning is genuinely self-directed is the dissertation phase of a Ph.D., but we should certainly try to introduce elements of play far earlier.

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Dear Dan,

I no longer enjoy my job, and I am considering quitting and volunteering for a few years at a local organization that does great work. Will my self-worth drop if I no longer have a job?

—Sabrina 

Sadly, I suspect it will. By trading a salaried job for pro bono volunteering, you are probably going to stop thinking about yourself as someone who has a career and generates income. Right now, both of these factors seem to contribute something to your sense of self, and they won’t be replaced. The wonderful organization you’ve found will surely offer you other sources of fulfillment and meaning, but the loss of self-worth will be there as well.
Organizations that rely on the goodwill of volunteers can take a few steps to help mitigate these problems. They can give volunteers titles that suggest a long-term view and offer a sense of making progress, such as “community manager” or “social dreamer.” They could even use the American Express trick of writing down the year that you started at the group and hailing someone as, say, a “Member Since 2012.” These small touches won’t turn volunteering into a career, but they might help the volunteers see their efforts as lastingly important.
All this still doesn’t address the problem of your lost salary. But what if nonprofits gave people a generic pay stub that recorded the impact that they had made for the organization? Such a pretend pay stub wouldn’t be the same as money, but it could give people a more concrete sense of contribution and worth.
One final point: I suspect that many new stay-at-home parents face an even worse crisis of self-worth. That is an occupation in which people have no prospects of career progression or even a faux salary, so maybe we also should think about ways to recognize how much their efforts matter.

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Dear Dan,

Is it better to shower at night or in the morning?

—Rachael

No question about it: at night. We get dirtier more quickly when we interact with the outside world, so showering first thing in the morning means that we will spend the rest of the day and all night in a grimy state. But if you shower at night, you will be clean while you sleep and thus maximize the number of cleanliness-hours per shower—clearly a better approach.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Trump Supporters & Small Penises?

Was my previous post about Trump supporters having small penises an April Fool’s joke?

Partially.

While we did, in fact, conduct the research, and the results are true, the data isn’t about the relationship between real size and skills. It’s about what people think about this relationships. For example, this means that Donald Trump supporters don’t necessarily have small penises (they might, we never checked), it’s just that people think they do.

The same logic applies to the rest of the findings I described in the blog post (http://danariely.com/2016/03/31/trump-supporters-linked-with-having-small-penises/).

Yet, it is interesting what people think that penis size is so linked to so many attributes such as confidence, ability in math etc.

Irrationally yours

Dan

Yesterday’s News

Dear readers, while the World Bank tackles many problems from many directions, basic failings of human relationships is not in fact currently among them.

Have a great April 2nd!

New World Bank Initiative to Tackle Human Relationships

WASHINGTON, DC, USA, March 30, 2016

After decades of attempting to tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems, such as poverty, conflict, and economic mismanagement, the World Bank announced today that it will now tackle the principal cause of human misery.

Under the leadership of the Bank’s president Jim Yong Kim and the Bank’s new Global INsights Initiative (GINI), the World Bank’s analytics have become more penetrating and its operational agenda far more daring.

“We are excited by the opportunity to address the root cause of the world’s greatest conflicts,” said Kim, the bank’s president. “People, and how they just can’t get along.”

Fractured relationships have been increasing monotonically for several decades. The frequency of marital fights, rising divorce rates, and the substantial increase in short term relationships – facilitated by apps such as Tinder – make this initiative a necessary next step for the Bank and the world, claims Varun Gauri, who is the lead for the new task force.

“Within five years,” said Gauri, “The team will provide a definitive answer to why couples fight so much.”

This five-year initiative will include educating the public in various topics pertaining to effective relationships, piloting different family structure arrangements, and conducting randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of new marriage contracts. Among the many topics that the task force is expected to study are: Teen dating decisions (i.e. who to date, who not to date, how to roll your eyes at your parents advice), timing marriages, correct strategies for marital fights (i.e. how to argue effectively, things to fight about, how to make sure the couch is comfortable after those fights), money management in the home, techniques for effective and productive makeup sex, and how to properly raise children.

There will be a social accountability component in which individuals dissatisfied with their marriages will be able to call the World Bank. There will also be a worldwide dating app on the World Bank website.

“It is not as if men are really from Mars and women from Venus,” said Kim. “But let’s just say that when men try to meet women halfway, on Earth, they usually get lost and don’t stop to ask for directions.”

The initiative is being supported by a $38.2 million grant from the Hallmark Corporation a $7 million grant from the Gates foundation, and a $20.7 million grant from the Swedish government.

“Everyone who’s ever been in a relationship agrees that this is a very good use of resources,” added Gauri. “They say money can’t buy you love, but it can help us figure out why it’s so hard to make relationship work.”

The World Bank plans to complete this initiative by the year 2021.