Ask Ariely: On Nighttime Activities, Alibis, and Political Dishonesty

September 16, 2012 BY danariely

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week — and if you have any questions for me, just email them to askariely@wsj.com


Dear Dan,

My husband and I are childless. We’ve lived in the same house in the same town for 17 years. Each day he comes home and says, “What do you want to do tonight?” I think we’ve tried every restaurant in a five-mile radius. Neither of us enjoys shopping or watching movies at a theater. His hobby is aviation, and I don’t fly. I work from home and would love to go somewhere in the evening occasionally, but we usually end up watching TV. And we don’t even like TV! Can you shed some light on this problem?


The basic challenge you are facing is what economists would call a problem of coordination, where both you and your husband have to agree on a course of action. This is no easy thing to do when your preferences don’t align. On top of that, you have the suboptimal default option of watching TV—something that neither of you enjoys but is a simple resolution to your coordination problem.

One approach is to switch from a simultaneous coordination issue to a sequential one—that is, agree up front on a plan that will make only one of you happy on a given night but, ultimately, will let both of you do more things you enjoy. On a set of cards, write down activities that each of you wants to do, mix the cards and draw one card every evening to pick that night’s activity. This approach should lead to higher enjoyment overall. After all, it’s better to have some enjoyment on some nights of the week than to have no joy on every night.

Here’s one final suggestion: Add a few wild cards into the mix (singing, poetry, pottery, volunteering, square dancing, etc.), activities that you aren’t sure you will like (or even things you suspect you will dislike), and you both might just find some new activities that you enjoy.


Dear Dan,

I recently stumbled upon a website offering customers help with creating alibis—and even manufacturing corroborating “evidence” for their absences (for example, to reassure your wife when you were really with your mistress). Other sites offer married people help finding paramours for extramarital affairs. Do you think these sites are increasing dishonesty?


The basic answer to your question: Yes. I think that these websites do increase dishonesty.

Many of these websites are constructed to look like any basic service provider. In one case, there are pictures of smiling people with headsets, waiting to fill your order, and tabs for services ranging from producing and sending fake airline tickets, to impersonating hotel reception. The testimonials are positive and very general. And the slogan—”Empowering Real People in a Real World!”—is downright uplifting, until you realize that by “empowering” people, they mean lying on their behalf.

I suspect that all these trappings help people to rationalize their actions as socially acceptable. And with all the testimonials from so many regular people, why not you?

I also think that the “real world” rhetoric may further lull people’s objections; the idea is that this is how things work in the real world, not a fairy-tale land of perfect honesty.

For my part, I’m left feeling a little worried about what kinds of ads might pop up in my browser after looking at this page…


Dear Dan,

Is there any correlation between political party affiliation and whether someone is more or less honest?


Of course. The politicians you and I support are much more honest. You can’t even compare them to the crooks on the other side of the aisle. How can they even say those things with a straight face?

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.