I’m Trying Something New!
Take a look, and try to make your best guess…
Half Beard Look
Well, it turned out I can’t claim full credit for the ‘Half Beard look’ (no patent for me). A friend of mine, who was visiting the Sigmund Freud Museum in Vienna, sent me the above Man Ray’s self-portrait, which was taken in 1943, when Man Ray was in his fifties.
Man Ray (originally: Emmanuel Radnitzky ) was an American artist who contributed to the Surrealist and the Dada movements. In reading about him I discovered that he sought to keep his personal background far from the public’s eye, even refusing to reveal he was born under a different name. Man Ray moved to Paris in 1921 and lived there until the second world war, when he returned to the States. In 1951, he returned to Paris, where he worked until his death in 1976.
“Man Ray’s self-portrait Before and After takes a humorous view. With half of his face shaved, the artist presents himself to the viewer as a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, raising question: Which side of the portrait corresponds most to the subject’s personality? It depicts both past and future events, or rather, the period of time in between that documents what has already-happened as well as that which is yet-to-come.”
Francis Naumann (art dealer, scholar, and curator specializing in Dada and Surrealist art) suggested that shaving half of his face has a connection to his Europe/USA divided identity.
Avoiding Typing – An App for That!
I have a hard time typing because of my injuries. I have tried all kinds of things over the last few years. I asked Ray to help me by writing a piece of software that helps me to record voice notes and send them over e-mail – Either as original e-mail, or as responses to e-mail.
I find it incredible useful! It’s called Vail and we just made the software available online. Note that it only works for Apple Mail on a Mac.
If you want to see it in action, look at the video in this link. Instructions for how to download the software are in the notes under the video. I hope you will find it as useful as I do.
Discussing Irrationality on the C20 Podcast
End-of-Year Alternative “Ask Ariely”
As the end of the year is approaching, I decided to post here an alternative last “Ask Ariely” column. One that is more suitable for the end of the year and hopefully provides a way to think about new beginnings…
To a wonderful 2023 to all of us.
May it be an average year: Better than 2022 but not as good as 2024
When I reflect on my life, I think that there are many things that I do out of inertia and without much thinking. I am wondering how you make such decisions? For example, how long have you been writing your ask Ariely column and how long do you plan to continue?
Thanks for asking. I wrote my first Ask Ariely column in June 2012, so it has been a bit more than 10 years.
Why is this a good question to ask and think about toward the end of the year? Because, this is a good time to think bout changes. In general, when we look at the decisions we make each day, most of them are not an outcome of active deliberation. Instead, they are often a repetition of decisions we have made before. We don’t usually wake up in the morning and ask ourselves whether we should stay at the same job or look for another place to work. We don’t often ask ourselves whether we should stay in the same relationship or not. We don’t often ask ourselves if we should keep the same diet, hobbies, and exercise regimen etc. But it is important to ask ourselves these questions from time to time.
A few years ago, a good friend of mine asked me if I thought he and his wife should stay married, or go their separate ways. Their relationship was rocky for years. They fought all the time the best way forward was unclear. I told him that I wasn’t sure what the right answer was for him, for his wife (let’s call her Alexis), and for their relationship (this was not exactly true, and I did have an idea for what would be best for him, I just wanted him to get to his conclusion). What I did was to ask him to consider his question from a different perspective. I asked him to imagine that they were not married, that they did not know each other, and that they had just met the day before but that by some sophisticated technology, all his knowledge about her had been downloaded to his brain along with an understanding about how their relationship would evolve over time. Basically, I asked him to imagine that everything was the same, except that they didn’t have any history of an existing relationship.
With this image in his mind, I asked him to make a decision. To pick if he would propose to her or say goodbye and never see her again? What option did my friend chose?
My friend said that in this imaginary situation he would have said goodbye. A few weeks later they separated and they are now happier and in relationships with other people. Why did I ask him to imagine this odd situation? I wanted to try and achieve a change of the framing of his decision from one that considers “stay” vs. “change” to one that is considers Option A (life with Alexis) vs. Option B (life without Alexis) on more equal footing. The problem is that the natural framing of “stay” vs. “change” gives an unfair advantage to the “stay” decision because it is simpler, it requires less change, less work, and does not make us feel that we are making a decision. It also doesn’t make us think very much about what we would risk if we made the wrong decision. Of course, staying might feel like we are not making a decision, but by staying we are making a decision. By reframing the decision as Option A vs. Option B, some of the advantages of the stay options are reduced and it becomes clearer what we really want to do. By the way, this kind of framing is rather dangerous, so be careful before you do it at home in your own life and relationships.
When I started my column in 2012, my thought was that there was a gap between what we knew about social science and the ways in which it was incorporated into our daily lives. My column was my modest attempt to shed some light on how principles from social science could be incorporated into many aspects of daily life, from picking up poop after our dogs to finding meaning at work.
Now, 10 years later my view is very different. I still think that social science has a large role to play in improving our personal lives, but I think that other important topics have emerged and many of these are more pressing. When I look at the world now, with the climate crisis, fake news, post-COVID workforce challenges, and political fragmentation, my view is that our priorities should be different and so is the role of social science.
Over the last two decades, or so, we have done a lot to get people to think about principles from social science in terms of our personal lives, and we now need to turn our attention to these larger challenges ahead of us.
So back to your question: When I made the decision to write this column 10 years ago it was absolutely a wonderful decision, and I enjoyed and learned a lot from the process. But, looking at the column as a new decision, not in terms of “stay” vs. “leave” but in terms of Option A (work more on questions related to the role of social science in our personal lives) or Option B (work more on questions related to the role of social science in our public lives), I choose to focus on Option B — the complex public challenges ahead of us.
With this I want to give a big thank you, my readers. I hope you enjoyed the column at least 10% of how much I enjoyed writing it.
Looking forward to the next year and the next chapter.
With SALT New York | Introducing the Human Capital Factor
Here is a discussion about the importance of human motivation, human capital, and the ways to quantify it to help companies understand how important it is.
National Book Month – Predictably Irrational
🎥📚It’s #NationalBookMonth, and in celebration, @litvideobooks are offering my videobook, Predictably Irrational, for just $5, exclusively on LIT Videobooks. All you have to do is go to www.litvideobooks.com/predictably-irrational and use promo code BOOKMO20 at checkout.🎥📚
My Final Ask Ariely
This is going to be my last Ask Ariely column. I wrote my first column in June 2012, so for a bit more than 10 years, I have been fielding questions about a wide range of personal and social issues. It was always exciting for me to get a new question and reflect on what social science could say about it—not only in terms of supplying an answer, but even more, in terms of the perspective it could offer in thinking about the underlying concerns.
I answered many of the questions in these pages, but I answered even more privately, whether because the questions were very personal or idiosyncratic, or simply because I had limited space. Regardless of the response format, I was aware of the trust readers placed in me and felt tremendous responsibility to give it my best.
One of the most memorable questions I answered privately was from a woman who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer. She was about to embark on a long course of treatment, the first of which was non-invasive, and she asked me what I thought was the best way to share the news with her kids. Should she tell them all at once what she was facing, or should she give them more digestible bits of information over time—say, telling them that she was going in for a treatment for a discrete problem with her brain, but not yet identifying it as cancer—thereby acclimating them slowly to the bigger picture?
She adapted this question from my research on removing bandages from burn patients. I had concluded that, contrary to the intuitions of many nurses, it was better to remove bandages slowly, causing less acute pain over a longer period, rather than quickly, causing more intense pain that ended faster. Her analogy to her own predicament was intriguing, but sharing bad news with loved ones is very different from taking off bandages. I did not have a scientific basis to give her an answer, but since she reached out to me, I felt that I owed her all the help I could provide.
I called a few palliative physician friends but found that this question was surprisingly little studied in their field. Then I spoke with the questioner, and she added one more dimension to an already complex problem: Withholding information from her kids, she felt, could ultimately undermine their trust in her. Thinking about her question from the perspective of trust completely changed the story, and now I had some advice to give her, because social scientists know a lot about how easy it is to break trust and how difficult to rebuild it. With this in mind, we arrived at the conclusion that she should be up front with her children and tell them everything. She updated me a few months later: She was managing well, and she was satisfied with her sharing strategy.
The questions I answered publicly have been less complex and even funny, at least to me. Among them were: Why do we fail to stick to our budgets? Is it better to study a language a little bit every day or in longer sessions on the weekends? How can we act against our biases and increase diversity in hiring? What’s the best way to cover up an employment gap on a résumé? Why should or shouldn’t we support the arts? Who should we invite for a laser-tag party? What is the best way to work up the motivation to work out? Should we keep playing the lottery? What is the point of writing thank-you notes for gifts? How might we get kids to eat fruits and vegetables?
In answering these and many other questions, I tried to show how basic principles from social science can shed light on everyday personal questions, and at the same time, to share my excitement for studying the odd behaviors we hold in common.
Ten years on, it seems to me that we have come a long way in understanding the usefulness of social science as we seek to improve many aspects of our personal lives, from health to sleep and road safety, from picking up after our dogs to improving our romantic and work relationships, and in many, many other respects.
At the same time, our society now confronts some big, important, collective problems. We haven’t yet made up our minds as to how we will treat our planet, confront fake news, cope with a post-Covid workforce or mitigate the effects of inequality, hatred and political fragmentation. Here, too, social science can help us understand and move forward, and figuring out how is my plan for the next chapter of my life.
With this I want to give a big thank you to my editors throughout these 10 years. And mostly I want to thank you, my readers. I hope you enjoyed the column at least 10% as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Looking forward to the next chapter.
See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.
Recent Interview – Motivated Employees and Company Value
I recently spoke with Observer about the impact motivated employees can have on a company’s value. We discussed some of the background laboratory and industry research, looking in the data for signals that predict returns in the stock market, and what our findings mean for very large companies. We wrapped up with some thoughts about whether working from home is helping employees in the long-term.
Economist Dan Ariely Is Attempting to Unlock the Hidden Investment Value of Motivated Employees
From the interview:
Observer: Let’s start with discussing how you came to found Irrational Capital
Ariely began by explaining the trajectory of his career, which began with testing motivation in laboratory settings, then working directly with companies to design systems to better motivate their employees.
“And the third stage, which is the stage we’re talking about now is saying, what about all the other companies out there? It started from an academic question of, could I find signals that could predict excess return in the stock to the stock market. The first exercise was to go and get data. So I spent years trying to collect data and my data has some private data and some public data. It’s a mix of the two but essentially you can think of it as a combination of satisfaction surveys and what’s on LinkedIn and what’s on Glassdoor and, and so on,
And then the question from all of this data, is what would predict returns from the stock market? What would not? And I didn’t start it like a black box approach because I already had the academic knowledge of what seems to be working from other studies and from my own studies. So for example, do companies that pay higher salaries have higher returns? The answer is no. But it turns out that the perception of fairness of salary matters a lot. So the absolute level of salary doesn’t matter so much. The relative salary matters a lot.”
Read the original article on the Observer website here.
Ask Ariely: On Pleasing Presents and Sympathizing Sibling
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.
My aunt gave me some money for my birthday. Since she wasn’t sure about my likes and dislikes, she said to spend it on something that would make me happy. Do you have any advice on how to choose?
While I’m sure there are many items that would make you happy, spending the money on someone else could make you even happier. In an experiment, researchers gave participants either $5 or $20. They then randomly asked the participants to go about their day and spend that money either on themselves or on someone else. Later, the researchers asked them about their happiness. Those who had spent the money on someone else, regardless of the amount, reported feeling happier throughout the day.
But what to buy these other people in order to get both the glow from gift-giving and something that they will like? A different set of researchers asked people to name the last gift that they had received and say how happy they were with it.
Though gift recipients were happy with items that they had wanted, on average they were even happier with unexpected and surprising gifts. These made them appreciate the thought from the sender and got them to experience something new. Hopefully your aunt will also appreciate how you choose to spend her gift money.
My sister is one of my closest friends, and she’s usually one of the first people I call when I need solid advice or someone to talk to. Our lives, however, are pretty different, and they are starting to differ more. Sometimes I hesitate to open up and ask for her advice because I’m not sure she can relate to what I’m going through. What should I do? Should I look for someone else to get feedback and advice from?
It’s reasonable to think that it is best for someone to have “been there” in order to understand you and give you good advice. Indeed, a recent survey found that people predicted that a shared experience would lead to greater insights. But is that true?
In one experiment, participants listened to a short video describing a negative emotional experience. They were asked to analyze how the storyteller was feeling about the experience and also indicate if they had a similar story from their own past. The results showed that listeners who had a negative experience in common with a storyteller were much less accurate at describing how the storyteller felt.
It may be that people were more likely to focus on their own similar experience if they had one, which shifted their focus away from how the storyteller was feeling. These results suggest that even though someone has “been there,” they might not understand how you’re feeling in the moment you most need support.
So while your sister might not be going through the same things as you, that doesn’t mean she can’t empathize. In fact, her distance from your exact situation—but closeness with you—might give her a perspective nobody else can offer. Stick with your sister.