Ask Ariely: On Apologetic Accomplishments, Polling Plans, and Donation Dollars

October 17, 2020 BY Dan Ariely

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.


Dear Dan,

I’m about to meet my girlfriend’s parents for the first time, and I want to make a good impression. How can I tell them about my accomplishments without coming across as conceited?


People want to be liked and respected, but our instincts about how to impress others can be wrong. One popular technique is to balance self-promotion with humility by using “humblebragging”—for example, “For some reason, I keep on getting asked to lead all the innovative projects at my company.” You might think this is a good way to convey to your girlfriend’s parents that you are accomplished but not arrogant.

According to a 2018 study, however, humblebragging usually makes people like you less than straightforward boasting, because they see it as insincere. So I humbly suggest that when you meet the parents, you mention just one or two things you’re proud of, but do it directly and unapologetically.


Dear Dan,

I’ve been voting in presidential elections for decades, but this year is the first time I’ve been bombarded with emails and social-media posts telling me to “make a plan” to vote. Why are organizations spending so much to get this message out? Don’t most people already know how to vote?


Whether the issue is saving money, exercising more often or voting in an election, good intentions don’t automatically lead to action. The message to “make a voting plan” stems from social science research showing that people are more likely to follow through when they are prompted in advance about logistics and contingencies.

The power of prompts was demonstrated in a study conducted by David Nickerson and Todd Rogers during the 2008 Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. One group of citizens got a standard “get out the vote” phone call encouraging them to vote, while a different group was asked. “When will you vote? Where will you be coming from? And how are you going to get to your polling place?” People who were asked to make a plan ended up being twice as likely to vote as those who got the standard phone call.

It’s great that you have every intention of voting, but if you make a plan now, it’s more likely that you will end up actually doing it.


Dear Dan,

The pandemic has hurt many people financially, making charities that provide food and shelter more important than ever. But people aren’t contributing to charities as much as they used to because of their own financial hardship. What can be done to break this vicious cycle?


When people evaluate their financial well-being, they tend to compare their current income with what they made in recent years. But even if your income has declined this year because of salary cuts or furloughs, you might still be well-off compared with other people in real need. For charities, reminding people of their relative privilege can be a powerful tool. The Royal Australian Mint, for example, is releasing “donation dollar” coins with a special design. The coins are legal tender, but they are intended to be given to a charitable cause. The idea is that the coins will remind people of their relative wealth, leading them to donate more than just the symbolic dollar.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.