Ask Ariely: On College Conflicts, Horrible Haircuts, and Timely Tasks

March 27, 2021 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,

My brother and my fiancé are rooting for rival teams in the NCAA basketball tournament, and they’re such passionate fans that it’s become hard for them to get along. What can I do to reduce the conflict?


To understand people with opposing views, researchers have found that it’s helpful to ask ourselves how our own views would be different if we had grown up in a different environment. In one study, researchers asked gun-control advocates to think about how they might feel about guns if they had grown up in a hunting family; advocates of gun ownership were asked to imagine they had grown up in a community that suffered from gun violence such as the Columbine school shooting. This simple thought experiment reduced the hostility participants showed toward the other side.

With that in mind, try asking your brother and fiancé to imagine how growing up in a different family or attending a different college, might make them cheer for a different team. That should help them understand one another better.


Dear Dan,

In an effort to save money, I asked my housemate to cut my hair. It didn’t turn out well and now I don’t even want to go outside. Besides waiting for my hair to grow back, what can I do to feel less embarrassed?


You might think your haircut is bad enough to stop traffic, but the reality is that we pay a lot more attention to ourselves than other people pay to us. This is referred to as the spotlight effect: We tend to think there’s a spotlight shining on us that attracts attention and makes our flaws obvious. Thomas Golivich and colleagues demonstrated the spotlight effect in a 2000 study where they asked college students to go to a party wearing embarrassing Barry Manilow T-shirts. The students wearing the shirts were convinced that everyone was laughing at them, but afterward, when the partygoers were surveyed, it turned out that almost no one noticed the shirts at all. So don’t worry about your haircut getting stares, and after a few days you’ll forget about it yourself.


Dear Dan,

To get motivated for some large projects that I have at work, I tried breaking them down into more manageable subtasks with their own deadlines. Unfortunately, I ended up missing almost all of my self-imposed due dates. Should I give up on deadlines as a way to motivate myself?


Self-imposed deadlines are harder to stick to than deadlines set by others, for two reasons. First, we tend to underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete the task at hand, so we usually set a deadline that’s too optimistic. Second, we tend to prioritize deadlines set by others over self-imposed ones to avoid letting other people down. For your next project, then, try to think more realistically about how long each subtask will take and allow extra time for unforeseen challenges along the way. And tell a colleague about your self-imposed deadlines to create more of a sense of accountability.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.