Ask Ariely: On Selfies, Saving Strategies, and the Scarcity of Attractive Males

December 6, 2014 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,

I’ve noticed more people taking selfies. Some are even walking around with specially designed phone holders that help position their phones a bit farther away for taking better selfies. I’m not part of this selfie age group, and I find it all odd and somewhat annoying. Can you help me understand the fascination? Why can’t the new generation take pictures the good old way?


The selfies phenomenon is complex, but here are some highlights: Its starting point is those moments we want to capture, for our own memories or to share with others. Now, if we were to stop what we’re doing and ask a stranger to take our picture, we would be stepping out of the moment emotionally: We’d have to stand still while smiling artificially, wait for the picture to be snapped, then try to get back to whatever were doing and feeling.

Selfies solve this problem because we don’t step out of the moment. A selfie can even enhance the moment by getting us to stand closer to one another and look at ourselves together on-screen—a sort of celebration of the shared experience.

Another interesting thing about selfies: We always expect them to produce an awkward, low-quality picture. So those of us who always worry about how we look on camera don’t need to fret as much: Everyone looks bad.

Finally, there is an important interplay between language and decision making at work here: Once we gave a name to the activity of huddling together, looking up at a phone from an uncomfortable angle and taking a picture, it became socially acceptable.


Dear Dan,

Setting up automatic retirement savings mechanisms (where the default is participation but people can opt out) has been shown to increase savings rates in wealthy countries such as the U.S., Denmark and the Netherlands. But what can be done to raise savings rates in developing countries, where many people work in the informal economy, don’t get regular paychecks and lack access to sophisticated banking services?


A recent World Bank report offers some hope. In Kenya, according to the bank, many households report that a lack of cash often holds them back from investing in preventive health products such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets. To help Kenyans save for such needs, researchers provided families with a lockable metal box, a padlock and a place to write the name of the desired item. Simply by making these boxes available, researchers increased the purchase rates of these preventive health products by 66% to 75%, the report said.

The idea behind this approach is that people tend to allocate their funds through a process of “mental accounting” in which they define categories of spending and structure their outlays accordingly. The metal box, the lock and the label all helped people to put money in a separate account dedicated to preventive health products.

More generally, this is an example of the value of labeling for saving and spending—something that each of us can probably use when salting money away for vacations or a rainy-day fund and when grappling with how much to spend on groceries, going out and home renovations.


Dear Dan,

Broadly speaking, does the advantage of attractiveness differ across gender? Is it better to be attractive as a woman or as a man?


Some scientists theorize that babies look more like their fathers than their mothers so that nature can prove to the father that the baby is indeed his. Once the father is convinced, the baby can morph to look more like the mother. My own theory is that, since babies are often bald, wrinkled and far from attractive, they tend to look more like their fathers. As for your question: Given the rarity of attractive males, I suspect that the (very) few that fit the bill get a larger advantage.


See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.