Ask Ariely: On Electronic Etiquette and Performance Practice

August 28, 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,

After so many months of isolation, I am bewildered to observe that many people experience the compulsive need to check their phones at cafes or restaurants, completely ignoring their friends and family. Why do people engage in such rude behavior?


The phenomenon you are describing—using one’s smartphone during face-to-face interactions—has been termed phone snubbing or “phubbing.” Most people perceive it to be rude, and it can have serious repercussions for the level of satisfaction in a friendship. But it often has more to do with the phubber’s personality than with lack of interest in the conversation.

In a 2021 study of young adults, the authors found that depressed and socially anxious people are more likely to phub their friends. This is likely explained by the fact that people with social anxiety find online communication less uncomfortable than in-person conversations. On the other hand, phubbing is less common among people who score high on “agreeableness,” which psychologists defined as striving to avoid conflict. Agreeable people make an effort to be polite and friendly in order to maintain social harmony.

If you find it hard to resist looking at your phone even while in company, what can you do? An easy solution is to turn off your text and email notifications, so you won’t be tempted to look at each incoming message. Even better, put your phone on airplane mode. If you want a polite way to suggest that a meal should be phone-free, deliberately place your phone with the screen down in the middle of the table, signaling to the other people in your group to do the same.


Dear Dan,

My teenage daughter spends a lot of time watching dance videos on Tik-Tok. Last weekend we were at a fair, and she saw a group of teenagers doing a dance she had watched hundreds of times on her phone. She excitedly ran over to join them and told me to take a video, but right away she stumbled, stopped dancing and insisted I delete the video from my phone. How did she go from being so excited about dancing to feeling so frustrated?


After watching the same dance routine so many times, your daughter had a lot of confidence in her ability to replicate it. It’s the same feeling of “I could totally do that” that people often have after watching cooking or home improvement shows on TV. But it’s a mistake to think that watching someone else doing something is the same as actually learning a skill.

In a 2018 study, participants were asked to watch a video of a person playing darts and then to rate their confidence in their own ability to play the game. People who watched the video 20 times felt more confident about their darts skill compared with those who watched it only once. But when the participants actually played darts, there was no relationship between how many times someone watched the video and their performance. Similar results were found in studies looking at juggling, moonwalking and performing magic tricks.

The lesson for your daughter is clear: If she wants to learn a dance, there’s no substitute for practicing.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.