Ask Ariely: On Healthy Handshakes, Bus Behaviors, and Diet Defenses

March 14, 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 know that because of the coronavirus we are supposed to stop shaking hands. But when I meet someone I find myself doing it anyway, mainly because it would be awkward to suggest a different form of greeting. Any suggestions?


When you’ve just met someone, there’s no time for a discussion about the coronavirus before you shake hands, and you don’t want to imply that you suspect the other person might be infected. What we need now is a substitute—something we can all do without thinking too much about it or causing offense.
During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the Nigerian government discouraged handshaking to reduce the spread of the disease. Instead, they introduced the “Ebola handshake,” where people bend their arms and bump elbows. This approach recognized that it’s not enough to tell people what not to do; you also have to give them an alternative.

Now that technique is catching on in the U.S. Last week, Vice President Mike Pence was photographed greeting Washington Gov. Jay Inslee by bumping elbows. A video from Wuhan, where the pandemic originated, shows another approach: Two men say hello by tapping their feet together, a move dubbed “the Wuhan Shake.” If we adopt one of these new techniques in the U.S., however, let’s not call it the “coronavirus handshake,” because we might want to have it in store for future viruses as well.


Dear Dan,

My son is a high-school senior who frequently misses the bus. Every morning I try to wake him up several times, but I often can’t get him out the door on time. When he misses the bus and I have to drive him to school, I end up reprimanding him, which makes him angry. How can we solve this problem?


People learn behaviors by making associations, either consciously or subconsciously, between an action and a response. Even though you’re trying to help your son, your response when he oversleeps reinforces his bad behavior. Every time you wake him up and drive him to school, he is learning that he has a viable backup if he ignores his alarm clock. My recommendation is to stop helping him get to school on time: Don’t wake him up and don’t offer to drive him. After a few painful failures, he should learn that he needs to go to bed earlier and respond more diligently to his alarm clock.


Dear Dan,

I’m a committed vegan, but whenever I tell people they tend to have a negative reaction. Is there something about veganism that turns people off?


A recent study by Vlad Chituc, a doctoral student in psychology at Yale, found that people tend to dislike vegans because they give the impression of thinking that they are morally superior. Vegans can defuse this reaction, however, if they say they are avoiding animal products for health reasons rather than ethical ones. So next time the subject comes up with a new acquaintance, try emphasizing this aspect of your diet, at least to begin with.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.