Predictably Irrational is 16 years old

February 19, 2024 BY danariely

Predictably Irrational was published on this day (Feb 19th), 16 years ago — 2008. This was just the beginning of the financial crisis of 2008, when we were all trying to understand what went wrong and what are the limits of human irrationality. Predictably Irrational came out at a good timing to help us rethink human irrationality.

I suspect that the crisis of misinformation and polarization that we are facing these days is even more severe and with consequences that are even more dire. Although the damage that we have caused ourselves in this misinformation and polarization crisis (not with bad intention, just by not understanding our human nature) is much slower-moving and not as clearly observable. Which translates into a relatively calm nonchalant approach, where we are not yet in the panic mode we should be in. This time too, I just wrote a book about these topics – Misbelief.

I know that it might seem that my books predict important breaking points in society, but this is not true. I had a few books in between these two that did not coincide with any large-scale crisis.



I just made up a term — Anachronistic Prejudice

January 25, 2024 BY danariely

Anachronistic Prejudice is a term I recently made up to describe a situation where we use current norms to judge something that happened long ago or to judge someone who lived long ago. The other element of Anachronistic Prejudice is that while we use the wrong norms, we don’t fully realize that we are doing so.

In my mind, this is one of the worst biases of our time in terms of its negative impact on society and on individuals.

How might we fight such a bias?  Here is one way: When you find yourself judging people for something that happened five or more years ago, stop and think about how you behaved during that timeframe. For example, think about your sense of humor 15 years ago. Then think about how likely you would have been, in the same timeframe, to make the same mistake as you are judging them on. Next, add a 50% chance because you are likely to have an overly positive opinion about yourself.

Now go ahead and judge.

New Websites — one for each book

August 19, 2022 BY danariely

Hello to all,
After a lot of work, there is now a small but hopefully useful website for each of my books.

Hopefully, you will find these useful:

Predictably Irrational

The Upside of Irrationality

The Truth About Dishonesty

Irrationally Yours

Dollars and Sense


Amazing Decisions


A correction to Ask Ariely

August 3, 2022 BY danariely

In my last column, I mentioned the writing of Dr Groopman, but trying to save space, I did not make his main point clear.  I am sorry for that and below is a more detailed account on what Dr Groopman wrote and how I interpreted it.  Of course, any error of interpretation is mine.


Dear Dan,

I recently divorced after many years of marriage. Splitting our assets and accounts was a long and difficult process. Now I’ve discovered that my advance medical directive still has my ex-wife listed as my healthcare proxy. Should the situation arise, she can decide whether to keep me alive or disconnect me from life support. Should I find somebody else to take over this role or wait a bit, so as not to ruffle already hurt feelings or cause further practical headaches? What if I die in the meantime?


You should certainly keep your ex-wife as your healthcare proxy, and not simply out of convenience or a desire to avoid giving offense.

As the doctor and medical writer Jerome Groopman has observed in one of his New Yorker Columns “Sometimes, however, a doctor’s impulse to protect a patient he likes or admires can adversely affect his judgment.” Dr Groopman then continues to describe one of his own cases: “I was furious with myself. Because I liked Brad, I hadn’t wanted to add to his discomfort and had cut the examination short. Perhaps I hoped unconsciously that the cause of his fever was trivial and that I would not find evidence of an infection on his body. This tendency to make decisions based on what we wish were true is what Croskerry calls an “affective error.” In medicine, this type of error can have potentially fatal consequences.”

My interpretation of Groopman’s observation is that it is often better for doctors not to have special feelings for their patients. Why? Because as lots of research has shown that it is difficult to be objective in making decisions for people we are attached to. We make more judicious decisions regarding people we care about less.

In your case, your ex-wife doesn’t care much about you these days. And because of that, should you sustain a serious injury or illness, the odds are in your favor that she will make more rational decisions on your behalf than she would have done during the days when she loved you deeply. Even if you do end up getting remarried, keep her as your healthcare proxy. There is no substitute for the rational coldness that comes from having your ex-wife make decisions for you.

This being said, don’t tempt her too much: Make sure she is not one of the beneficiaries of your will or life insurance.

Ask Ariely: On Social Solutions, Date Decisions, and Prompt Payments

March 2, 2019 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.


Hi, Dan.

I work for an investment banking firm where 90% of the employees are men. I’m the only woman on my team, and ever since I joined, my teammates have treated me like the office plant. They make lunch plans without including me and say hello and goodbye to everyone except me. Generally, they pretend I don’t exist. I don’t think they are doing it to be hurtful—I just think they’re not sure how to befriend women. What can I do to change this?


Social isolation is difficult and painful, and I’m very sorry about your experience. Sadly, it is difficult to change the social norms of an entire group at once. An easier path would be to change the behavior of one colleague at a time; direct interactions will help them to see you as a whole person. Why don’t you try to invite one of your co-workers for coffee or lunch every week? In time, this will change the overall atmosphere in the office.


Dear Dan,

Every time I suggest an idea for a date, my husband questions whether I’ve picked the very best option. For instance, I once suggested that we dine at the Thai restaurant down the street. Instead, he perused Zagat until he found a “better” option. And a month ago, I suggested we go on a cruise using a company my friends like, but he insisted on researching alternative companies before committing. We still haven’t made any firm plans.

From my standpoint, I’d rather make a “good enough” decision and enjoy the experience, however imperfect. My husband points out that his research often yields objectively better decisions. Who’s right?


In social science terminology your husband is a “maximizer” (someone who tries to make the best possible decision), and you are a “satisficer” (someone who tries to choose from within a range of good options). Lucky for you, the research suggests that your strategy is the right one.

The psychologist Barry Schwartz and colleagues did a study in 2002 comparing the two types of decision-makers. They found that maximizers had lower levels of optimism, happiness, self-esteem and even life satisfaction. They were also less happy with their daily decisions, and they tended to regret the decisions they made more often. So while your husband may indeed be finding the best-rated restaurant, movie or cruise, in the process he’s probably taking away a lot of his and your joy.

Here’s what I’d suggest: Instead of making date decisions together, take turns being in charge. That way, half the dates will go smoothly—and in the other half, you will get to practice your patience.


Dear Dan,

I’m a scientist, and I recently volunteered to be part of my professional society’s membership committee. What is the most effective way to get people to pay their membership dues? Reminders? Guilt? Calling them up and begging them?


My guess is that your members are generally interested in staying members, but they just don’t want to pay “right now”—whether that means today, tomorrow or the next day. To fight this kind of procrastination, I would make it more tempting to pay now. For instance, host an attractive webinar that is open to paying members only. That would give your members a good reason to pay promptly.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Tardy Travels, Past Prejudices, and Dangerous Drivers

February 16, 2019 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.


Hi Dan,

I am a frequent flier and I often have to deal with annoying delays, which can seriously affect my mood. What can I do to get less upset when a plane is late?


Our happiness is largely influenced by our expectations; in the case of flying, that means our expected departure and arrival times. My friend Ory was once booked on a flight whose take-off was delayed for seven hours, leaving all the passengers upset and complaining. But when the flight attendants announced that the delay would actually only be five hours, people cheered: compared to what they were expecting, a five hour delay seemed like a good deal. So the next time you take a flight, add two hours to the expected length of the trip and write down the later arrival time in your calendar. If the delay ends up being less than two hours, you’ll be happy.


Dear Dan,

Can behavioral economics teach us anything about Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s blackface scandal? I’d like to think I would never have worn offensive makeup, or done even worse things like owning slaves or joining the KKK. But how do I know what I might have done if I lived in another time and place? I don’t think I am a racist, but in a different society, would I too behave as a racist?


One of the fathers of social psychology, Kurt Lewin, posited that behavior is always a function of two inputs: the person and the environment. Acts of racism, sexism and other types of harm usually don’t originate from a few “bad apples,” but from cultures that explicitly or implicitly support such acts. So while we shouldn’t excuse acts of hate, we certainly need to recognize the systemic forces that shape what we consider normal or acceptable. Ending racism is not just about getting individuals to change, but understanding how our environment and institutions uphold prejudice in both obvious and subtle ways.


Dear Dan,

My grandfather is a bad driver. Everyone in the family knows this, but we have accepted it as a fact of life. Recently, I asked him to drive more carefully, while emphasizing that I really care about him. He told me that I have nothing to worry about, since he is an excellent driver! What can I do to make him drive more carefully?


Driving is the classic example of “the better than average” effect: almost everyone thinks that they are better than average drivers. This means that trying to convince your grandfather that he’s a bad driver is going to be difficult. Instead, I would start by trying to help focus his attention on the road and not on other things. First, try to get him to stop using his phone while he’s driving. You could also get him a GPS device that speaks directions out loud, so that he won’t have consult a phone or written directions when he’s driving. Finally, to encourage him to drive less, you or other family members could volunteer to drive him from time to time, or introduce him to one of the available taxi apps.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Dishonest Domains, Warm Rewards, and Sweet Celebrations

February 2, 2019 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 recently found out that a friend of mine has been having an affair behind her husband’s back for the past four years. She seemed like a person of high integrity to me, but now I’m worried that if she could be so dishonest with her husband, maybe she is also dishonest with me. If a person lies in one area of life, does that make them more likely to lie in general?


The good news for you is that dishonesty in one area of life—such as work or relationships—doesn’t necessarily predict dishonesty in other areas of life. My colleagues and I published a working paper on this topic in 2018, in which we asked participants about their propensity to be dishonest across eight different domains. We found that most people had different standards for moral behavior in different areas of their life. Cheating on financial reports in the office, for instance, did not predict cheating in a poker game with friends.

But being dishonest in one particular area of life did predict other immoral behavior in that same area. With that in mind, I would be careful about getting into a romantic entanglement with your friend.


Hi, Dan.

I read that Denmark’s Environmental Protection Agency is offering Danish citizens a $300 reward to scrap their old wood-burning stove and buy a new wood burning stove, in order to reduce particle pollution and improve air quality. But I think people should be willing to take such measures without being paid for it, for the sake of the common good and the longevity of the planet. Do you believe people need a financial incentive to help the environment?


In this particular case, I think an appeal to the common good would be more effective than payment. By offering citizens cash to replace their stoves, Denmark is encouraging them to think about their decision in financial terms. This means they will ask questions about the cost and efficiency of a new stove and wonder whether it is worth the investment. With only $300 in the balance, a cost-benefit analysis is likely to lead people not to replace the stove.

On the other hand, if the appeal was made on moral grounds, people would have to think about what matters to society and what their duties are as citizens. In that case, the odds of making the change might be higher. Of course, if the government were offering a more substantial amount of money, say $1,000, that would change people’s calculations, but a token payment of $300 is likely to be less effective than offering no money at all.


Dear Dan,

I will be moving to a new state after living in the same city for more than 50 years. How should I handle this transition?


This move will be a major change in your life, and the best thing for you is to acknowledge this and celebrate it. To do this, why don’t you throw a party for your friends and family to celebrate the time you’ve spent together. You can ask each guest to write you a piece of advice about how to create a new life in your new city. That way, the letters will both remind you of your old friends and, if their advice is any good, also help propel you into your new phase. Let the adventures begin.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Communal Coding, Long-Term Love, and Toddler Trouble

January 23, 2019 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.


Hi, Dan.

At work we have a large code base—all the source codes for our computer programs—and it’s managed by many teams around the world. We need to migrate the code base to a new version of our programming language. The expected benefits are huge, but everyone is procrastinating. What would you do to motivate people, apart from just setting a deadline?


Procrastination happens because there is an asymmetry between the costs that you have to pay now and the rewards you expect in the future. While the benefits of a distant goal—in this case, a better programming language—might be huge, they feel less salient when we have to do something difficult right now—such as working on the migration process.

So I would try to make the current experience more rewarding and fun. For instance, try setting up a happy hour: Every day from 2-4pm, everyone can write code together and then celebrate by having a beer together (or kombucha, depending on your company) to celebrate your progress. This approach can make the experience more communal and enjoyable.


Hi, Dan.

Is aiming for a long-term commitment in romantic relationships really a good thing? Given that the divorce rate is about 50%, wouldn’t it be better for me to approach relationships expecting them to be short-lived, so I won’t be disappointed if things don’t work out?


Love is one of the areas where prophecies tend to be self-fulfilling. If you approach relationships expecting them not to last, they probably won’t—and vice versa. Relationships aren’t static and they reflect what we invest in them.

Imagine that you made a deal with your landlord that your lease would be day-to-day. How much time and money would you invest in your home? Would you paint the walls or fix a leaky faucet? Most likely you wouldn’t, and so your pleasure in your home would be limited at best.

Similarly, if every day you wake up next to your romantic partner and ask yourself, “Should we do this for another day or stop now?” your relationship probably won’t deepen very much. It makes sense to think about the long term, since that is the only way to reap the benefits of commitment.


Dear Dan,

Our new downstairs neighbor in our apartment building is bothered by the sound of our toddler son walking on the floors. He keeps banging on his ceiling and walls in an attempt to make us aware of how annoying the noise is. What can we do to make him stop harassing us? We cannot move, and I cannot keep my son from walking on the floors during the daytime.


First, you should invest in some rugs to help reduce the noise. Then you can write to your neighbor and tell him about the effort you’ve made. Finally, invite him over for dinner; this will establish a sense of friendship and make him think twice before pounding on the walls. And be sure to serve alcohol during the dinner, as a way to break the ice and to make everyone friendlier.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Picking Presents, Offering Organs, and Hopping Hotels

January 5, 2019 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 enjoy giving gifts to my best friend, and I was wondering which approach would be better for strengthening our friendship: giving her big gifts twice a year, on her birthday and Christmas, or giving smaller gifts more frequently?


I suspect that giving smaller but more frequent gifts will do more to reinforce your relationship. The pleasure of receiving a gift lies less in possessing the item itself—which is exciting at first but quickly grows familiar—than in looking forward to it.

A 1987 study by the pioneering behavioral economist George Loewenstein showed that people were willing to pay more to kiss a movie star when they could wait three days, compared with kissing them immediately; they were willing to pay a premium for the pleasure of looking forward to the kiss.

Similarly, if you know that on the first of every month you will get a small gift, you can start looking forward to it and so enjoy the gift days before you get it.


Dear Dan,

My brother has kidney failure, and the transplant wait list for deceased donors is too long to help him in time. So he’s looking into finding a living donor (unfortunately, my blood type isn’t a match).

The risks for living donors are minimal, and the average donor experiences no impact on their kidney function or life expectancy. But kidney donation is a major surgery, and it carries costs—time off work, some discomfort and several weeks of recovery.

What can I do to encourage people to consider becoming living donors?


When people think about organ donation in the abstract, they might not be too eager to volunteer. But they are more likely to act if there is an actual person who needs help. So I would start by encouraging people to do the simple part of organ donation, which is to register as a potential donor. Then, if a patient turns out to match with them, the question of whether to donate will be less theoretical—it will be about helping a particular person.


Hello, Dan.

My family recently took a vacation in Greece, where we stayed in expensive five-star hotels. But I kept wondering if I would really have enjoyed the trip less if we had stayed at cheaper places. We are active travelers who are often away from the hotel. During the day we are swimming, hiking, touring ruins, scuba diving or kayaking. How can I can I get my husband to be happy in a less expensive hotel?


I suspect that it will be hard for your husband to enjoy a three-star hotel when he’s used to five-star hotels. What I would do is focus his attention on the activities you would be able to afford as a result of staying in a cheaper hotel. On your next vacation, plan such a day of special activities at the end of the trip, so that it has the best chance at influencing his overall memory of the vacation. You can use that day as an example of what you could afford if you spent less on accommodations.

And if that doesn’t work, suggest that all of you go camping instead. With roughing it as an alternative, you will most likely end up in a three-star hotel as a compromise.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Resentful Recipients, Exciting Exercises, and Ungrateful Guests

November 24, 2018 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.


Hi, Dan.

For many years, I have given elaborate gift baskets to my friends and family for Christmas. Last year I learned that some of them felt the need to reciprocate with a gift of a similar cost, which made them uncomfortable. I give these gifts because I enjoy it and because I love my friends and family, not because I expect anything in return. How can I communicate that it is okay to just send me a Christmas card and nothing more?


It might be impossible for the recipient of a gift not to feel obligated to reciprocate in some way. The need for reciprocity is one of the beautiful things about human nature: It is a building block of society, and we wouldn’t want to eliminate it even if we could. So while you might not need any gifts, I wouldn’t deprive your friends and family of the chance to give you something. Instead, encourage them to find a gift that is meaningful but simple and cheap.

Last year, when I turned 50, I faced a similar dilemma: I wanted to have a big birthday party and invite my friends, but I didn’t want them to feel any pressure to give me gifts. Even if I had asked them not to bring gifts, however, it’s unlikely people would come empty-handed. Instead, I asked everyone to give me a copy of their favorite book and to write on the first page why it was so important to them. This way, I got a shelf of books to read for the next year, and my friends got to satisfy their urge to reciprocate.


Hi, Dan.

My husband is 72 years old and recently retired. He goes to the gym about twice a week, but his doctor has told him that physical activity throughout the day is very important for him, since he has hypertension. How can I help him get into the habit of moving around? We are a pretty low-tech family, but should I get him a pedometer so he can track his steps?


I don’t think that tracking steps is going to get the job done by itself. Tracking devices operate on the premise that, if we only knew we exercised too little, we would change our behavior. But the truth is that most of us already know we don’t move around enough. If I were you, I would ask family members to encourage your husband to go for walks several times a day. Even better, tell him that you want to go for a walk and suggest that he come with you. That way you will create social pressure on him to get moving.


Dear Dan,

We take pride in our home and expect visitors to treat it with respect. But we have a relative who does not share that sentiment: When she visits, she slams doors and spills food without cleaning it up. How can we bring this up to her without causing a rupture in our relationship?


I would start by telling her that different people have different preferences for how they want their home and possessions to be treated and that you are meticulous about your things. Tell her that while she has the right to treat her own things however she likes, when she is at your place her behavior distracts you and makes it hard to fully enjoy her company. Hopefully this will be sufficiently gentle but still make the point.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.