Ask Ariely: On Favorite Flicks, Cosmetic Complications, and Expert Exchanges

January 5, 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 friends and I are huge fans of action movies, and before the pandemic we used to gather once a month at someone’s house to watch a film. We’ve tried to keep the tradition going by picking a movie for everyone to watch on their own schedule and then getting together on a video chat to talk about it. I enjoy the discussions, but why don’t I seem to like watching the movies as much anymore?


Research has shown that when people do something together, shared emotions are amplified, making the activity feel more intense and engaging. That’s especially true if there’s an exciting or emotional component to the activity, as with an action movie. To bring back some of the experience you’re missing, try organizing a watch-party where everyone streams the movie at the same time. Knowing you’re part of a group experience, even in virtual form, can bring back some of the excitement until you can start meeting in person again.


Dear Dan,

Earlier this year my brother decided to have cosmetic surgery. He understood that there was some risk involved, although it was low. Unfortunately, there were complications during the surgery and he ended up even more dissatisfied with his appearance than before. Now he’s considering a second surgery to correct the first one, but he’s worried that he’s making the same mistake twice. Do you think he should go ahead?


Learning from past decisions is important, but it’s tricky to be sure we’re learning the right thing. In your brother’s case, the fact that his decision to have surgery led to unfavorable results doesn’t necessarily mean the decision was wrong. It’s easy to be swayed by “outcome bias”—using our knowledge of how a decision turned out to judge whether it was right in the first place. Based on the available information at the time, having the surgery could have been the right decision even if it turned out badly.

Likewise, your brother has to decide about a second surgery based on the information that’s available now, not knowing what the future will bring. My advice is for him to talk to his surgeon and learn everything he can about the probability of new complications. He should only go forward with the surgery if he’s willing to live with that risk, knowing that it can be reduced but not eliminated.


Dear Dan,

My family did a Secret Santa gift exchange this year, and I was assigned my sister’s new boyfriend, whom I hardly know. I ended up getting him a book, but I have no idea whether he liked it. What’s the best way to buy a gift for someone you don’t know well?


Rather than trying to figure out what the recipient likes and risk getting it wrong, why not give them an experience they’ve never had before, like trying a new kind of cuisine? That way, even if they end up not loving the gift, at least they will have something new and unexpected to look forward to.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.