The Blog

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

A Young Boy’s Story, Through the Eyes of Artists

On November 15th, my TED book Payoff will be released. I shared the story with two artists, Brian and Jessica. Below is Brian’s artistic depiction of the story. I will post the art by Jessica in a few days.

If you read the introduction to the book, come back and look at this image. See how you feel about this depiction. For me, it captured a lot of my emotions and the complexity of the young boy’s experience. It helped me think differently about the story.

untitled

After reading the introduction to Payoff, come back to this and see what you think of these depictions. For me, they added extra richness, nuances, and even a bit more sadness.

Ask Ariely: On Swift Sales, Debt Distortions, and Beauty Beliefs

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,

A European online retailer recently changed its delivery policy from offering multiple delivery times to offering free one-day delivery on all purchases. Before the change, one-day delivery was available but cost 10 euros. Is this retailer smart to shift to this quicker, cheaper delivery arrangement?

—Thilo 

Many businesses are trying to deliver their wares more quickly, but it isn’t always a good idea. When we want something, we usually think that faster is better and now is ideal. But imagine that you had the choice of attending a concert by your favorite band either tonight or in two weeks. The vast majority of people would prefer to wait the two weeks. We recognize that the concert itself is only one part of the experience: Not only will the anticipation be fun, it also will help us to enjoy the performance more.

In the new delivery approach you describe, the retailer is basically forcing everyone to pay for faster shipping (the list price of your goods will necessarily include the cost of faster shipping) and forgo the joy of waiting. Neither is ideal, especially if your purchase happens to be an exciting treat rather than a dreary necessity. Many online retailers would do better to help their consumers savor the anticipation rather than deliver so quickly that we lose some of the fun of our purchase.

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Dear Dan,

I’m attending graduate school in famously pricey New York City. I’ve been living with my husband in a small studio apartment, but a huge, gorgeous one-bedroom just opened up next door for my final year of school. Of course, this perfect apartment costs considerably more than we can afford; we would have to take out more loans to cover the extra rent.

So is the difference between $150,000 in student loans and $156,000 in loans (a 4% additional expense) significant enough for us to remain in our underwhelming apartment—or, down the road, will any concern we feel about the financial difference matter less than our excitement about our great new place?

—Andrew 

The way we ask ourselves questions about spending money influences our answer. You could have asked whether this move is worth $6,000 or if it is worth the difference between $150,000 and $156,000—which, sensibly, keeps the focus on the absolute amount of $6,000. But your choice to frame the extra expense as a percentage difference suggests that you really want to move. And if you’re so eager to move that you are willing to distort your economic reality to feel better with the answer you want, maybe you should go for it.

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Dear Dan,

What is the essence of what we perceive as beauty? And what would it be if you were in charge of such things?

—Sinclair 

Our brain is largely attuned to changes, and that, I suspect, includes beauty. We often find beauty in shifts or transitions that are smooth but not too smooth: the way a melody changes, the arc of your beloved’s raised eyebrow, the imaginary line at the beach where the waves strike and retreat, the place where the mountains curve and the cliffs abruptly depart from the ocean.

But since you asked what I would want the definition of beauty to be—it would be slightly balding, slightly chubby, middle-aged university professors.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.