Ask Ariely: On Ingesting Insects, Tracking Troubles, and Making Matches

October 1, 2016 BY danariely

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,

Many insects are edible, nutritious and even tasty, and they are consumed by millions of people world-wide. But when I try to eat one, I cannot get past the idea that bugs are, well, gross. Why?


For many in the West, thinking about insects, not to mention eating one, evokes a powerful feeling of disgust. Psychologists often think about disgust as a sort of mental immune system, a deeply ingrained emotion that we have developed for evolutionary purposes to help us avoid pathogens, poisons and other pitfalls. You can even observe disgust in babies when they narrow their nostrils, constrict their lips and close their mouths while trying to expel or reduce contact with a potential contaminant.

So how could you get over your revulsion here? One option would be intensive immersion with insects. You could perhaps spend a week surrounded by pictures of them and then spend the next week locked in a room with nothing to eat but bugs.

Another less extreme option: Buy some insect powder and ask a friend to sprinkle it randomly into your meals, without your knowledge, and only tell you the next day which ones contained insects. Once you realize that the food still tasted good, your disgust should decrease.


Dear Dan,

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for many young adults, using a personal monitoring device may not help them lose weight. Should I stop using my Fitbit?


When people start an exercise regimen, they often gain weight. The main reason: After we work out, we feel that we deserve a reward, such as a few scoops of ice cream. These extra calories can exceed those that we burn during our workout. I suspect that a similar phenomenon occurs when we wear tracking devices: We see that we’ve walked 10,000 steps or stood up 12 times during the day, and we feel justified in celebrating our amazing achievements. And of course, when we fail, we don’t feel that we need to deprive ourselves—so either way, it’s easy to wind up putting on pounds.

Still, you shouldn’t stop tracking your behavior. It is important to your health to understand when and how you become more or less active. Measurement can motivate you to become more active. And at the same time, you can work to discipline yourself not to expect a “reward” for hitting your daily targets.

You might also change the way that you measure success. What if, for example, you defined success not by making it to the gym on a particular day but by making it there on at least 80% of the days in a month—and only reward yourself when you clear that bar? If you move to such a system, I predict that tracking your health will work for you.


Dear Dan,

Like many of my friends, I love Tinder. The dating app provides a slideshow of potential romantic partners, and if two people “like” each other, Tinder tells them that they matched. How can such a simple app with so little information be so effective?


When we think that we’re compatible with someone, we behave accordingly. A few years ago, the dating site OkCupid told users who had been rated only a 30% match for each other by the site’s algorithms that they were actually 90% matches—and these users ended up liking each other more. In Tinderland, when both people learn that they “like” one another, their expectations change, the match seems more appealing, and the power of self-fulfilling prophecy takes over.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.