I’m Trying Something New!

April 15, 2023 BY Dan Ariely

End-of-Year Alternative “Ask Ariely”

December 17, 2022 BY Dan 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



Dear Dan,

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.

Irrationally yours,


Ask Ariely: On Appreciating Almost and Dietary Decisions

August 6, 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 daughter took off a semester of college so that she could pursue her ambition to hike the 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Due to weather and injury, she wasn’t able to complete the final 280-mile leg of the trail, including the steep and storied Mt. Katahdin. I’m concerned that having come so close, she’ll feel disappointed and will struggle to re-engage with hiking as well as with her studies.


I would not worry too much about her motivation. It is true that repeated failure can wear people down and lead to learned helplessness and depression. But occasional failure can actually have a positive effect. In fact, coming really close to a goal—but falling just short—can increase overall motivation, even for unrelated tasks.

In one study, researchers had people play games where they won (found 8 out of 8 diamonds in a puzzle), clearly lost (found only one diamond) or nearly won (found 7 out of 8 diamonds). After the game, those who almost won outperformed the other two groups on unrelated tasks, such as card-sorting.

The idea of your daughter’s returning to school and hiking after her impressive yet unsuccessful endeavor might seem daunting to you, but it is possible that this experience will only improve her engagement with her studies and the outdoors.


Dear Dan,

I’m considering becoming either vegetarian or a vegan and haven’t yet decided which one. I’m sure it will be easier to eat as a vegetarian, as well as simpler to go out for dinner with friends. But I think a vegan diet is morally preferable, healthier and more sustainable for the planet. Any advice?


You are weighing a great many considerations, including convenience, morality, health and the environment. I have some idea how I’d rank these concerns, but I don’t know enough about you to tell you how to rank them for yourself. I can, however, add one more factor: the social element.

You mentioned the ease of going out with friends for dinner, with regard to how hard it might be to find appropriate foods in restaurants. But you should also consider how much fun you’ll be for others when you go out. Why? Research that we carried out at my lab at Duke showed that people perceive vegans, particularly in settings where they get to express their food preferences, as judgmental and morally superior. As a consequence they tend not to like them as much as non-vegans.

From that perspective I would recommend that you go with vegetarian. And if you do decide to go vegan, make sure that you tell the people around you that you’re doing it for health reasons, as this will diffuse the potential air of moral superiority and help with your social relationships.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Keepsake Conundrums and Proxy Practicality

July 23, 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,

I’m planning a family reunion where relatives will be asked to bring photos and keepsakes. One side of the family, however, hasn’t been able to hold on to many physical memories, and I’m concerned that the lack of memorabilia will bring down the mood of the event. What’s the best way to handle this situation?


Memories make us happier than we expect, even sad or seemingly mundane memories—and even memories that aren’t our own.

One study asked college students to write their favorite college memories on notecards. A month later the students read either their own memories or those of another student. Both groups reported boosts in happiness after writing and reading memories, even when the memories were about things that could be considered sad. The study was replicated in nursing homes in New Jersey: The residents who read memories, even ones that weren’t their own, reported feeling less lonely, more connected and happier.

These findings suggest that everyone at the reunion will be better off after looking at photos and scrapbooks. The reunion is also a great opportunity for family members to write down memories and stories that aren’t otherwise recorded, which could be a good start for enjoying memories at the next reunion.


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.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Getting Ghosted and Tough Topics

July 9, 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,

Several weeks ago, I went through four rounds of interviews at a company I really want to work for. Since then I’ve heard nothing, and all my emails inquiring about the status of my application have gone unanswered. Am I such an unqualified candidate that I don’t even deserve a response?


Sounds like you’ve been ghosted. Most people have heard this term in connection with social situations and online dating. Unfortunately, it is an ever-growing trend in the business world as well.

According to research, 73% of employers admit to having willfully ignored job candidates. This behavior has negative consequences not only for candidates but also for employers: A job seeker suffering from feelings of social rejection—and who likely missed opportunities to interview for other positions while waiting to hear back from a particularly desired employer—may turn to social media to complain publicly. The result is reputational damage to the company that can have a real negative impact on its ability to recruit down the line.

Ghosting is hurtful and unprofessional, but you may be able to put your negative experience to use. What if this is one way for the company to show you its real face? The company may have done you a favor, as you likely won’t be happy in a place that signals arrogance and little desire for long-term affiliation.


Dear Dan,

I just joined an adult soccer league, and we often go out for drinks together after playing. Sometimes the conversation tends toward politics, and my sense is that I’m a little more conservative than most of the people in my group. My inclination is just to stay out of those discussions. What do you think? 


It is understandable that you might want to stay out of potentially loaded conversations where you have an opposing view. However, recent research suggests that trying to remain neutral can backfire.
Studies have shown that when you don’t take sides, people tend to assume you hold the opposite views of the group. Research also shows that people tend not to like or trust people who remain neutral on controversial topics—particularly when withholding an opinion appears to be strategic, such as when a conservative politician deliberately avoids taking sides on an issue in front of a liberal audience.

In fact, claiming to have no opinion is sometimes worse than having an unpopular opinion. Participants in one study preferred to play a cooperative game with a partner who opposed their views on gun control compared with playing with a partner who had a neutral view. In a different study, participants played a game more cooperatively when paired with someone who disagreed with them rather than with someone who had a neutral stance.

The next time politics comes up, I suggest that you respectfully share your views. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but the trust you build will improve your relationships with the other players on and off the soccer field.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Misperceiving Managers and Tenacious Teens

June 7, 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,

I lead a team of designers, and I want to foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up when they have concerns or new product ideas. I thought about holding a weekly “coffee chat,” where I invite employees to share input on a topic of the week. Do you think that’s a good idea?


The key word is here is “everyone”: Getting your whole team to participate will be difficult. And most managers will tend to overvalue such participation, rewarding and promoting the employees who exhibit it over the ones who don’t.

This finding comes from a study of employees and their managers at a large technology company. Managers were asked to rate the degree to which each employee spoke up to suggest new ideas or offer solutions. The researchers found that employees who were seen as proactive in this regard tended to be rewarded with promotions and salary increases. An employee’s level of day-to-day productivity, on the other hand, was not rewarded to the same degree.

We don’t really want to reward people more for one kind of contribution than for another that is at least as valuable. But managers tend to notice the proactive employees and thus to favor them. So if you want a free flow of ideas but don’t want to fall prey to this bias, you should ask the people working with you to have such meetings over coffee, but you yourself should be absent, and you should ask your employees to share with you the ideas from the group as a whole without noting who contributed which ideas.


Dear Dan,

My teenage daughter is looking at colleges and she’s stressing out about where she should apply. I’m happy to offer her guidance, but most of the time my input isn’t welcome. In fact, sometimes she does the exact opposite of what I advise. How should I proceed? 


I also have teenagers. The good news is that they grow out of this in 10-20 years.

In the meantime, consider that your teenager may be exhibiting something that is known as “psychological reactance”: People tend to double down on asserting their freedom when they feel that it is being threatened. This behavior is a psychological counter-measure to a perceived restriction of agency and not a sign of disrespect. It explains why people sometimes do the exact opposite of what is suggested to them.

You are most likely dealing with some reactance. The question is how you can reduce its power.

A recent study suggests one approach. Students were assigned an activity that made them feel either certain or uncertain about their understanding of education. Afterward they were presented with a policy giving the school the responsibility to select their classes. Students who had been made to feel uncertain were much less threatened by the prospect of giving up their freedom than those who had been made to feel certain.

With this in mind, I recommend that you start by shaking your daughter’s belief that she has all the answers. Once you get her to hold a more realistic view of her own knowledge, she can begin to accept your advice.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

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.

Ask Ariely: On Including Identities and Managing Meetings

May 7, 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,

I’m advising a young refugee from Afghanistan who is resettling in the U.S. She has been offered admission to several colleges and is setting up meetings to inquire about financial aid. To what extent should she highlight her identity in requesting these meetings?


It is understandable to be reluctant to draw attention to an identity that might be subject to prejudice. In past studies, two groups of employers were shown the exact same resume—but for one group, the resume bore a name associated with a minority. The employers were less likely to respond to the minority candidate. So it is perhaps not surprising that in a recent survey, only 35% of women and members of racial minorities said they were likely to highlight these aspects of their identities when seeking career support.

Recent research has found, however, that making deliberate, explicit mention of one’s identity can be beneficial. In one study, city council representatives were sent emails asking for advice on a career in politics. Some representatives got emails from senders who drew attention to their identities, whereas others got emails from the same senders, but without the identity call-out. Response rates to emails were higher when senders made explicit mention of their identities, and this effect was even stronger for women and members of racial and ethnic minorities.

The researchers concluded that calling attention to your identity reminds people to be aware of their potential biases and to try to counteract them. Assuming that your mentee is seeking financial aid from institutions that view prejudice as negative, she would do well to mention her identity in asking for meetings about financial aid.


Dear Dan,

Switching between working from the office and working from home, combined with ever-changing Covid guidelines, has increased the number of meetings my employees have each week, and everyone is unhappy about it. What can I do to support my employees?


Introduce at least one meeting-free day a week. Most meetings are unproductive, and team-building can happen by other means.

Researchers surveyed employees at more than 70 companies across the globe that had instituted meeting-free days. Employees reported feeling more empowered, autonomous, satisfied and productive than they had before the policy. They also felt less stressed and less micromanaged.

The authors concluded that three meeting-free days a week was optimal, reducing stress by 57% and improving productivity by 73% compared with having zero meeting-free days.

For the strategy to work, however, you must make sure that you aren’t just piling up all the meetings you would have held every day on the non-meeting-free days. Having meeting-free days should instead cause everyone to think more carefully about the meetings they set and the number of people they invite to attend them. You might also consider which goals can be achieved using other means of communication.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Remixing Referrals and Editing Expectations

April 9, 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,

I work for a local newspaper. We’re trying to increase our subscriber base through a customer referral program. Subscribers are awarded a $30 cash bonus for each successful referral they make. Unfortunately, the campaign hasn’t been very successful. Do you have any suggestions?


It takes some effort to recommend a newspaper to someone. But to follow through and subscribe to a new newspaper takes effort, too. Could it be that the new customer—and not the existing subscriber—is the person who needs the incentive?

To investigate this question, a group of researchers teamed up with a videogame subscription company. The company randomly sent each of its customers one of three email requests to refer new customers: The first didn’t include an incentive, the second awarded the current customer a free month for each successful referral, and the third awarded the free month to the new customer.

Not surprisingly, the no-incentive condition was the least effective. Customers in the other two groups made the same number of referrals—but out of all those referrals, the most successful were those that offered the incentive to the new customer rather than the existing customer. The new customer is the one who needs to go to the effort to get signed up, and an incentive can help make jumping through those hoops more attractive.

The referring party, meanwhile, may anticipate rewards other than financial ones—for example, a positive effect on their reputations from suggesting valuable products or services to others. In your newspaper’s case, the right mix might just be a warm glow for the people who are referring their friends and a financial gift to the new customers.


Dear Dan,

My fiancé is meeting my parents for the first time. Unfortunately, my parents aren’t really the warmest and most welcoming people. I’m hesitant to say too much to my fiancé because that might make him more nervous about an already stressful situation. What’s the best approach to this introduction?


Your hesitation is understandable, but research shows that being surprised by a stressful situation is worse than anticipating one. In a recent study, participants were asked to sit for a job interview that entailed giving a public speech to a group of disinterested scientists. Some participants were warned about the nature of the interview, and others weren’t. The researchers found that the forewarned participants had lower subjective feelings of stress and lower physiological stress as measured by cortisol levels and brain activity.

Many of our experiences are shaped by the gap between expectations and reality. Surprise, excitement and disappointment are all products of this relationship. Presumably you can’t control your parents, so you should try to help manage your fiancé’s expectations for them instead.

Start working on this a week before the meeting. Over multiple days, let your fiancé know what to expect before meeting your parents and continue to do this during your engagement and through your marriage. Alternatively, you could elope—and transfer the surprise and stress from your fiancé to your parents.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Manipulating Motivation and Stopping Scrolling

March 26, 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,

I’ve been struggling to get to the gym and posted about my frustration on social media. I was inundated with support and people sharing anecdotes about what worked to keep them motivated. With so many different strategies offered up, how do I figure out which one works the best?


Social scientists also find it hard sometimes to sort through multiple findings on a topic to identify the key results. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have confronted this problem by conducting mega-studies, using thousands of participants and testing multiple different ideas for achieving a single result.

One of their megastudies addressed your question: The researchers tested 53 different approaches to increasing exercise as measured by the frequency of gym visits among 61,000 people. The approaches ranged from reminders, rewards and pledges to keeping a journal, framing exercise as fun and sharing workouts on social media. About half of these tactics worked to increase gym visits. One of the best-performing approaches was to offer people 9 cents in reward points if they returned to the gym after missing a planned workout. These “micro-rewards” increased gym visits by 16%.

Based on these findings, your best bet would be to combine a few of the successful strategies: Start by setting a reasonable workout schedule. Next, add reminders on your phone. Finally, plan small rewards for yourself for keeping to your schedule and also for going back to the gym if you miss a planned workout.


Dear Dan,

I have tried to spend less time on my phone and on social media, but every time I intend to check just one new message a friend sent me, I end up going down a social media rabbit hole, scrolling through one post after another. Why does this happen to me?


Social media platforms are designed to maximize the time we spend on them. One reason they do this so effectively is that once we start consuming a certain type of content, our appetite for it increases.

In one study researchers asked participants to watch music videos. Half of the participants watched five different music videos, while the other half watched only one. The participants were then asked whether they would like to watch an additional music video or switch to a different task. You might have guessed that those who had already watched five videos would be tired of doing so and ready to move on to something else, but the researchers found the opposite: The participants who had already watched five videos were more likely to choose to watch more than the participants who had watched only one.

This is a case where the old saying is certainly true: If we don’t make a decision, someone else will make it for us. So if you want to take control of the time you spend on social media, you’ll need to take an active role—for example by setting a timer for 15 minutes, or only starting to look at social media 15 minutes before a meeting, so that you know when you’ll have to stop.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.