Ask Ariely: On Seeking Scares and Creating Connections

May 21, 2022 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 co-workers and I were discussing how we were going to spend our time off once a really stressful project wraps up. I was planning on going to a spa for a few days for some rest and relaxation, so I was surprised to learn that one of my colleagues was going on an adventurous rock climbing trip. Why would she want to engage in another stressful, albeit exciting, activity after so much work stress? Doesn’t she value relaxation?


Your intuition about which activities relax us—and which don’t—seems logical, but it might not be that accurate. Research has shown that voluntary stressful situations, such as rock-climbing, can actually reduce stress rather than increase it.

In order to better understand stress, researchers teamed up with an extra scary haunted house that specialized in such frights as locking people in coffins, administering electric shocks and confronting people with malevolent clowns. People who had purchased tickets for this haunted house were asked to report how they felt just before they went into it and again once they came out.

The results showed that on average, people felt better after experiencing the haunted house. Moreover, this improvement was particularly pronounced for the people who entered the experience the most stressed, tired or bored.

So it is possible not only that your colleague has chosen the more relaxing option, but that an adventurous trip would be the best thing for you as well. Of course, you could just watch a horror movie between massages and see if that minor stress improves your well-being.


Dear Dan,

I’m the owner of a small advertising agency. We’ve been working from home for the past two years, and most of my employees strongly prefer to continue to do so. Since this model has worked well for us, is there any reason to require more time in-person?


Yes, you should require more time in-person. This advice is particularly important for companies that need their employees to be creative—which I suspect is the case for yours. Recent research has demonstrated that teams generate fewer creative ideas when they meet by videoconferencing as opposed to interacting in person.

As part of an ideation workshop, engineers at a company were randomly assigned into pairs and asked to generate new product ideas for one hour. Some pairs were assigned to do so in-person, others by videoconferencing. After generating ideas, each pair had to select one idea to submit as a future product innovation for the company. The pairs that worked together virtually not only generated fewer ideas, but the ideas were also rated as less creative.

The researchers found that these effects were determined less by the positive effects of social connection and eye contact among the in-person pairs than by the negative effects of focusing on a screen among the videoconferencing pairs.

If your team can’t manage more in-person interactions, you might at least consider arranging in-person days expressly for pursuing collaborative and idea-generating tasks.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.