Updates

Ask Ariely: On Indulgent Illusions and Resumé Revisions

September 11, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

My husband and I just bought a house, and we are considering renovating it to make it our dream home. We discussed our plans with a contractor, who mentioned that some of the renovations weren’t good for resale. Given how long we plan to live there, should this really be a consideration for us?

—Jeannie 

Before even thinking about the preferences of a future buyer, consider the possibility that your own preferences and lifestyle could (and likely will) change over time. The features of your dream house today might end up becoming your worst nightmare in the future (just ask people with outdoor pools).

People underestimate how much they will change in the future. We tend to think that right now, at this present moment, we have become the person we will be for the rest of our lives. This phenomenon is referred to as the “end of history illusion” and was demonstrated in a survey asking more than 19,000 people ages 18 to 68 how much their personalities and preferences for things like music and travel had changed in the past decade, and how much change they predicted for the next decade. People of all ages said that they had changed a lot over the last ten years, but that they didn’t expect to change much moving forward.

This illusion can lead people to overpay for future indulgences based on current preferences. In one example, people were not willing to pay much to see a band that they liked a lot 10 years ago, but they were willing to pay a lot to see the band that they like right now in 10 years.

Perhaps you and your husband should consider making this house your dream home over time, as your dreams change: Start with a few small projects instead of a complete remodel, and leave ample room to adjust for your evolving preferences and tastes.

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Dear Dan,

I have been a stay-at-home mom for the past two years. Now that schools have reopened, I would like to go back to work again. How do I best address this employment gap on my resume?

—Heather 

Whether consciously or not, prospective employers often look negatively on applicants with gaps in their employment histories. Scientists in the UK set out to explore whether changes to resume layout could reduce this bias. They sent out resumes and cover letters responding to more than 9,000 real job vacancies, both high- and low-skilled. The cover letters were all the same, but the resumes varied slightly. Some showed an unexplained 2.5-year gap since the last job. Others explained that the 2.5-year gap was for child-care purposes. A third set simply adopted a less traditional layout, replacing the dates of employment with the number of years of experience.

There was no difference in the number of call-backs for resumes that explained the gap versus those that did not. However, removing dates and presenting previous employment in terms of years of experience increased call-backs by 15%. Formatting your resume in a way that highlights your years of experience seems to be the way to go.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Electronic Etiquette and Performance Practice

August 28, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

After so many months of isolation, I am bewildered to observe that many people experience the compulsive need to check their phones at cafes or restaurants, completely ignoring their friends and family. Why do people engage in such rude behavior?

—Alan 

The phenomenon you are describing—using one’s smartphone during face-to-face interactions—has been termed phone snubbing or “phubbing.” Most people perceive it to be rude, and it can have serious repercussions for the level of satisfaction in a friendship. But it often has more to do with the phubber’s personality than with lack of interest in the conversation.

In a 2021 study of young adults, the authors found that depressed and socially anxious people are more likely to phub their friends. This is likely explained by the fact that people with social anxiety find online communication less uncomfortable than in-person conversations. On the other hand, phubbing is less common among people who score high on “agreeableness,” which psychologists defined as striving to avoid conflict. Agreeable people make an effort to be polite and friendly in order to maintain social harmony.

If you find it hard to resist looking at your phone even while in company, what can you do? An easy solution is to turn off your text and email notifications, so you won’t be tempted to look at each incoming message. Even better, put your phone on airplane mode. If you want a polite way to suggest that a meal should be phone-free, deliberately place your phone with the screen down in the middle of the table, signaling to the other people in your group to do the same.

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Dear Dan,

My teenage daughter spends a lot of time watching dance videos on Tik-Tok. Last weekend we were at a fair, and she saw a group of teenagers doing a dance she had watched hundreds of times on her phone. She excitedly ran over to join them and told me to take a video, but right away she stumbled, stopped dancing and insisted I delete the video from my phone. How did she go from being so excited about dancing to feeling so frustrated?

—Joelle 

After watching the same dance routine so many times, your daughter had a lot of confidence in her ability to replicate it. It’s the same feeling of “I could totally do that” that people often have after watching cooking or home improvement shows on TV. But it’s a mistake to think that watching someone else doing something is the same as actually learning a skill.

In a 2018 study, participants were asked to watch a video of a person playing darts and then to rate their confidence in their own ability to play the game. People who watched the video 20 times felt more confident about their darts skill compared with those who watched it only once. But when the participants actually played darts, there was no relationship between how many times someone watched the video and their performance. Similar results were found in studies looking at juggling, moonwalking and performing magic tricks.

The lesson for your daughter is clear: If she wants to learn a dance, there’s no substitute for practicing.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Arguments for the Arts and Reminders of Risk

August 14, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

As part of my work promoting the arts, I’m sitting in on a lot of budget meetings at city hall. Securing funding for the arts has always been difficult, but after more than a year without any live theater, it is getting even harder. Basically, many committee members see the arts as mere entertainment, which they think of as unnecessary. Is there any concrete evidence I can use to convince them that the arts are important?

—Eric 

The arts—including the fine arts, theater and film—are important to culture not only because they are entertaining, but also because they can be vehicles for political and societal change. Artistic performances are known to heighten empathy among their audiences and even to change people’s views.

Participants in a recent study saw a play related to issues of racial discrimination, wealth distribution and income inequality. Researchers surveyed some audience members before they saw the production and others afterward, finding that viewers left the theater with a substantial increase in fellow feeling toward members of the groups the play depicted and shifts in attitude on the political issues the play explored.

Participants in the study also increased the amount of money they donated to charities after their experience at the theater, regardless of whether or not the charities were related to the topic of the play. Surely if the arts can be such an effective tool for social change, they are not “just entertainment.”

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Dear Dan,

A week ago, a close friend invited me to a wedding. I really want to join the celebration, but with the Delta variant and surge in COVID cases, I’m almost certain I won’t go. I have to tell my friend that I will miss this important day, but I want to do it without seeming judgmental. I’m not sure if I should mention my COVID safety concerns. What’s the most graceful way to decline this invitation?

—Megan 

Saying no to social events can be tough, and people are inclined to provide all kinds of made-up excuses. Your question here is whether it is better to invent a pretext for not showing up, or rather, to explain that you will absent due to COVID concerns. The short answer is that in this case, it is better to be transparent and truthful.

In a recent study, some people were asked to imagine that they were “excuse providers,” rejecting an invitation from a friend. Others were to imagine that they were “excuse receivers” whose invitation was rejected. The “providers” were sometimes asked to decline the invitation because of Covid risks.

The researchers sought to understand how people would feel about turning down invitations, or being turned down, on Covid-related grounds. They found that those making the excuse worried about hurting their friends when they offered pandemic-related justifications. Those receiving the excuse, on the other hand, actually reported feeling closer to the friends who cited concerns about COVID. They appreciated being reminded of the risks and viewed their friends as moral and caring.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Compliment Cultivation, Stress Spillover, and Environmental Empathy

July 31, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

Working remotely, not only do my employees miss out on social connections, but a lot of good work goes underappreciated as we jump from one Zoom call to the next without much time for spontaneous conversation. How can I change that?

—Nathaniel 

Receiving praise has continuously been linked to improved motivation and wellbeing on one hand and reduced burnout and absenteeism on the other. These benefits extend to the person giving the compliment: Recent research found that giving accolades can actually make people happier than receiving them. On top of that, crafting a compliment requires one to think about the recipient, and this fosters social connection that leads to increased happiness.

To spontaneously meet someone and compliment them is hard during remote work. Thus, it is important to create space that allows for compliments and other small acts of kindness. Consider setting a few minutes aside during a weekly team meeting, or setting up a separate communication channel that allows employees to recognize each other and thank them.

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Dear Dan,

Talking recently with my friends, we all agreed that the pandemic was a stressful time, but some people’s relationships with their spouses seemed to fare better than others. What might explain the disparity among couples?

—Ellen 

There are most likely many reasons for this, but here is one: Stress can take a toll on a relationship. For example, after a tough day at work and a long commute, you may arrive home feeling impatient and irritable toward your partner (who then ends up feeling undeservedly blamed). Taking your stress out on someone unrelated to its source is referred to as “stress spillover.”

The pandemic has created an extraordinary amount of stress and a lot of opportunities for spillover. Those of us who are better able to compartmentalize our COVID-19 anxiety, rather than taking it out on our partners, are likely to be better at protecting our relationships during these complex times.

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Dear Dan,

My aunt and uncle invited me to dinner this week. I’m very much looking forward to seeing them again, but I’m dreading the inevitable conversation about climate change (we all live in the Pacific Northwest) as my uncle is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. How can I get through to someone I deeply care about without getting into an argument?

—Emily 

The odds of changing your uncle’s opinions in one meeting are 0. Don’t even aim for that. You might be able to make a dent in his beliefs over time, but you will need to understand his motivations and approach the conversation calmly and with empathy.

Often people are drawn to conspiracy theories because they feel angry, powerless or disappointed about their lives and the state of the world. For example, perhaps your uncle feels anxious about the recent heat wave and his lack of control over the environment. Research shows that such feelings are common among conspiracy theorists. Concluding that climate change doesn’t exist satisfies an existential psychological need: to feel safe and in control of external events.

Listen to what your uncle has to say. When you better understand the forces underlying his beliefs, you can try to help him deal with these more directly and in this way reduce his need for conspiracy theories.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Cultivating Conversations, Gathering Groups, and Falsifying Facts

July 17, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

I’ve been corresponding with someone online, and we’re going to meet “in real life” for coffee. What’s the optimal length of time for this first get together? Should I just wait and see how the conversation goes and take it from there?

—Justin 

Most conversations probably last too long, not just awkward dating ones: In a recent study, most people asked to recall their last conversation reported that they had wanted it to end sooner.

But if you arrange for a meeting with a potential romantic partner to be just 15 minutes, your date will read this as low interest. Conversely, if you block out five hours, you will suggest a different expectation. So what should you do?

Set the meeting for an hour, which is a good amount of time to form an initial impression. If things don’t seem to be going in the right direction, shift your goal. Start working on your conversational skills: See if you can get the person to open up a bit more, to change their mind about something or to tell you a joke. Not all meetings need to be romantic. If you have more time than you need, try to make a different use of it.

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Dear Dan,

My employees have been working remotely for more than a year and will be returning to the office in the fall. Is there anything I can do now to help us start to feel like more of a group again?

—Sabrina 

Organize an in-person dinner with your team before it returns to the office—and order family style. Meals naturally bring people together, and the manner in which they are served can affect cooperation among those at the table. In a 2019 study, students ate salsa and chips in pairs. Some duos were served from one bowl of chips and one bowl of salsa, while others were given separate bowls. Afterward, the students participated in a negotiation exercise. The pairs who had eaten from their own bowls went through thirteen rounds of negotiation, whereas those who had snacked from a shared bowl only went through nine. Working together is a mind set that can carry over from one task to another.

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Dear Dan,

The spread of false and misleading information, whether related to vaccines or politics, seems to be on the rise. Why do people share inaccurate information online?

—Calvin 

Researchers recently asked people what mattered most to them in the content they chose to share on social media. The majority said “accuracy,” and when given a selection of real and fake news headlines, the majority were able to tell fact from fiction. But when the researchers asked a separate group of respondents which of these headlines they would be willing to share online, the misinformation was the clear winner.

So why do people prefer to share misinformation, even when they value accuracy and are able to identify falsehoods? The researchers point to distraction and inattention. When they prompted Twitter users, even subtly, to think about accuracy before sharing content, the quality of the postings improved.
Now we just need to get social media platforms to do something that reminds us of our preference for accuracy before we share.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Rigorous Renovation, Contagious Corruption, and Precarious Productivity

July 3, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

My partner and I decided to do a DIY renovation of our kitchen cabinets. We spent many hours at the store discussing options and reviewing our sketches, then struggled to fit all the boxes into our van. The assembly was arduous, and we were on the brink of giving up on the project. Despite the rocky road, now that our new cabinets are finished, we love them. Why is that?

—Dylan 

The experience you are describing is something that colleagues and I studied in 2011 and dubbed the “IKEA effect.” The basic idea is that after we devote effort to something, we have more positive feelings toward it; we become attached.

This phenomenon is not restricted to the assembly of furniture. Having to add an egg or some milk to instant cake mix, for instance, makes you feel much more accomplished than getting a store-bought cake, despite the minimal involvement. Personal effort matters, even when it is small.

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Dear Dan,

We often hear in the news about politicians being indicted on bribery charges. Does this mean that politicians are dishonest people compared with other professions?

—Michael 

Yes and no. I don’t think that politics attracts dishonest people, but I do think that systems that become corrupt, political or otherwise, can turn their members dishonest. In a number of experiments, my research team at Duke found that decisions to be honest are largely influenced by what we see other people around us doing. Take highway driving: If drivers around you are speeding, you are more likely to join in. In the same way, a person who enters a corrupt political system may quickly adjust to the norms of that workplace.

This means that the more corruption there is, the more likely it is to spread. Even worse in the political sphere is how visible politicians are, which means that as the rest of us see them act in corrupt ways, it may affect our sense of what corruption is permissible in our own lives.

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Dear Dan,

I just got notified by my employer about the option to work at the office, instead of remotely. Given that my work quality was very low while working from home, I thought I would be excited. Instead, I’m considering continuing to work from home. Why am I feeling so tentative about going into the office?

—Edgar 

Performance can have an impact on self-image. When people have doubts about their performance, there’s a tendency to self-handicap. For example, the night before a big test, a student might stay up too late in order to have a handicap—lack of sleep—to later explain their poor performance.

It’s possible that during the past year you have attributed struggles with work to the challenges of working from home, instead of to your own capabilities. Returning to work in person may force you to face an uncomfortable reality. From this perspective, choosing to work from home could be a form of self-handicapping, to maintain the excuse. My advice: Go back to working in person. The social and emotional benefits will quickly outweigh the possible downsides.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Reframing Reactions, Limiting Litter, and Doubling Down

May 29, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

Before giving any talk or presentation, I get incredibly stressed out. My heart starts pounding, I sweat, and I breathe much faster. Unfortunately giving talks and presentations on a regular basis is a big part of my job. What can I do?

—Kelsey 

Changing how we think about stress can, by itself, make us less stressed and healthier. How? Instead of interpreting those physical changes—sweat, pounding heart, heavy breathing—as signs that you’re not coping well with the pressure, try to see them as signs that your body is energized for the task. Interpret your pounding heart as preparing you for action and your breathing as ensuring that more oxygen is getting to your brain.

This strategy is known as cognitive reappraisal. Studies have shown that viewing stress in this way makes people less anxious and more confident. As a bonus, it brings about a healthier cardiovascular profile. How we think about stress affects both our behavior and our health.

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Dear Dan,

Our neighborhood park has seen a surge in litter and trash. As chair of our neighborhood association, I was thinking of putting up signs, informing people about this issue and reminding them to please use the trash cans. Can you think of any other strategy that might help us combat the issue of excessive litter and trash?

—Marcus 

Informing park visitors about how many people litter may actually result in people littering even more. That is because highlighting any behavior, including negative behavior, can normalize it and achieve the opposite of your intention. This is exactly what research at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona found: Theft of petrified wood was higher when signs mentioned past visitor’s theft, instead of just expressing disapproval.

With this in mind, instead of pointing to the scale of the undesirable behavior, choose a strongly worded message of disapproval, such as: “Litter in our park is disgusting.” You can make the sign more vivid, and trigger a more emotional response, by choosing a picture to go with the message—for instance, depicting a visitor littering, with a red “X” over his or her action.

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Dear Dan,

The managing partners at my firm spent a lot of time and money to recruit a well-credentialed senior associate. Since this senior associate joined the firm, his performance has been underwhelming. Everyone expected he would be fired. Instead, we just found out he was promoted to partner. Why would the firm keep and promote a bad hire?

—Eugene 

A human tendency called “escalation of commitment” could be at work here. If the partners fire the associate, that’s an admission of a mistake and calls their judgment into question. Promoting the underperforming associate instead affirms the initial decision, even though it isn’t good for the firm in the long run.

Doubling down on a bad decision in order to justify it is not unique to your firm. Consider a troubled couple who get married instead of breaking up just because they have been together for years. Or an NBA coach who gives more court time to players based on their draft number, rather than their performance. In short, this bias is rather common, and we would gain a lot by dealing with it more directly.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Besting Biases, Anticipating Activities, and Exceeding Expectations

May 8, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

My company strives for more gender equality, particularly in leadership positions. To help us achieve this goal we make sure when we examine the top candidates for the position that we anonymize the resumes and have them reviewed by both male and female members of our staff. Still, our recent round of hiring has not resulted in the desired diversity. What else can we do to improve our hiring process?

—Pat 

Just as tossing a coin won’t necessarily give you equal numbers of heads and tails in the short run, the same goes for fair hiring practices. Here, too, you should not expect proportional hiring as an immediate result; you can only look at trends once you have hired a substantial number of people.

Still, one element in your process suggests a path for improvement. You discussed how you assess top candidates, but what about biases that may come into play before this short list is made? Most gender biases in hiring are a result of companies’ informal recruitment rather than the formal procedure. Is it possible that your short list contains mainly men due to colleagues’ recommendations or other networks?

To address this possibility, double the size of your short list. That alone could help a broader pool of applicants get serious consideration.

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Dear Dan,

I was planning a surprise beach weekend for my boyfriend, but a friend accidentally said something and ruined the surprise. I’m disappointed, and my friend feels terrible. What can we do to prevent this mistake from casting a dark shadow on the trip?

—Leslie 

Consider your friend’s error a gift in disguise. Now that your boyfriend knows, he’ll be able to look forward to the trip. The anticipation is a bonus source of happiness! Studies have shown that when people think back on life experiences, the anticipation can be more positive than the experience itself.

Even more, you can heighten the anticipation by doing things like counting down the days to the trip or looking at the menu from a fancy seafood place where you just got a reservation. Surprises are great, but short-lived.

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Dear Dan,

For years, I’ve been organizing a charity event for an animal rescue organization. Every year people tell me I’ve outdone myself, and it’s starting to feel like an expectation that the next event will offer more than the last. Now I’m struggling to come up with new ideas, and I’m worried about disappointing the committee. What can I do?

—Alice 

There is an interesting study where participants were asked to modify a structure built with Legos. Most participants added more bricks, but a quicker and better strategy was to remove a few. With this in mind, consider whether you could improve the event by subtracting instead of adding. Try keeping it simple and stick to the most successful elements from previous years.

We have a tendency to think that the way to make things better is to do more. Often we overlook the value of removing something to increase the appreciation of the rest.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Troubled Taxpayers, Parenting Placebos, and Stress Strategies

April 10, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

I just started a job as an administrative assistant at a small tax accounting firm. I know people don’t love paying their taxes, but on the front line I’m witnessing a whole new level of animosity. Is there any way to make people less aggravated about it?

—James 

The American tax system doesn’t spark a lot of good will. Taxes are incredibly complicated, and we never really know if our money is paying for schools, roads, social services, the military or something else, which leads people to question what they are getting in return. Seeing the total annual amount all at once makes it seem very large, and it is unsettling to hand over big sums of money without fully understanding where it’s going.

What can we do to make things better? One approach is to give citizens some agency in how their tax dollars are allocated—for instance, to allow each citizen to allocate 5% of their taxes to whatever government function they think will use their money in the best way. Would such a system work? My research center surveyed taxpayers and found that giving them a choice about allocating some of their taxes increased their interest in tax compliance and reduced their interest in trying tax loopholes.

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Dear Dan,

Years ago, my wife and I would take our daughter on long road trips, during which she often complained she felt nauseous. We suspected that her nausea was an invention, so we started to give her “medicine” that was actually just some candies in an old prescription bottle, and the symptoms stopped. Our daughter is now an adult with children of her own, and we’ve thought about sharing this story with her, but we’re worried she might not take well to having been tricked. What do you suggest?

—Yorum 

You might think you beat your daughter at her own game by giving her fake medicine for her reported symptoms. But it’s possible that your daughter was actually feeling nauseous, and the fake medication helped her due to a placebo effect: The pretend medication created an expectation about feeling better that resulted in an actual improvement. There is evidence suggesting that a placebo can work even when one is aware of it.

As for telling your daughter now, there’s likely enough separation between her childhood self and her current self that sharing the story won’t damage her trust in you. In fact, she might appreciate the helpful parenting tip!

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Dear Dan,

For the past year, I have been working from home. To help with work-related stress, I have started doing meditation and gratitude journaling. What are other strategies that I can use?

—Jonathan 

Working from home has some clear advantages, such as no commuting, but it also comes with unique distractions, such as interruptions from a family member. Working from home also has increased our reliance on digital communication tools, which in turn can contribute to a perception of work overload from having to feel available at any time. We all need to disconnect and distract ourselves sometimes. Research has shown that taking definitive breaks from the digital environment, or surrounding yourself with pleasing objects like plants, can be very helpful to reduce the stress.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On College Conflicts, Horrible Haircuts, and Timely Tasks

March 27, 2021 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.

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Dear Dan,

My brother and my fiancé are rooting for rival teams in the NCAA basketball tournament, and they’re such passionate fans that it’s become hard for them to get along. What can I do to reduce the conflict?

—Amanda 

To understand people with opposing views, researchers have found that it’s helpful to ask ourselves how our own views would be different if we had grown up in a different environment. In one study, researchers asked gun-control advocates to think about how they might feel about guns if they had grown up in a hunting family; advocates of gun ownership were asked to imagine they had grown up in a community that suffered from gun violence such as the Columbine school shooting. This simple thought experiment reduced the hostility participants showed toward the other side.

With that in mind, try asking your brother and fiancé to imagine how growing up in a different family or attending a different college, might make them cheer for a different team. That should help them understand one another better.

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Dear Dan,

In an effort to save money, I asked my housemate to cut my hair. It didn’t turn out well and now I don’t even want to go outside. Besides waiting for my hair to grow back, what can I do to feel less embarrassed?

—Alexa 

You might think your haircut is bad enough to stop traffic, but the reality is that we pay a lot more attention to ourselves than other people pay to us. This is referred to as the spotlight effect: We tend to think there’s a spotlight shining on us that attracts attention and makes our flaws obvious. Thomas Golivich and colleagues demonstrated the spotlight effect in a 2000 study where they asked college students to go to a party wearing embarrassing Barry Manilow T-shirts. The students wearing the shirts were convinced that everyone was laughing at them, but afterward, when the partygoers were surveyed, it turned out that almost no one noticed the shirts at all. So don’t worry about your haircut getting stares, and after a few days you’ll forget about it yourself.

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Dear Dan,

To get motivated for some large projects that I have at work, I tried breaking them down into more manageable subtasks with their own deadlines. Unfortunately, I ended up missing almost all of my self-imposed due dates. Should I give up on deadlines as a way to motivate myself?

—Nicolas 

Self-imposed deadlines are harder to stick to than deadlines set by others, for two reasons. First, we tend to underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete the task at hand, so we usually set a deadline that’s too optimistic. Second, we tend to prioritize deadlines set by others over self-imposed ones to avoid letting other people down. For your next project, then, try to think more realistically about how long each subtask will take and allow extra time for unforeseen challenges along the way. And tell a colleague about your self-imposed deadlines to create more of a sense of accountability.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.