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 Discussing Delays, Remembering Regret, and Valuing Veracity

March 4, 2017 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’m one of the backers on Kickstarter of the Irrational Game, the social-science-driven card game that you developed to help us improve our “ability to predict how events might unfold.” You were late to deliver, but it came out great.

Usually, when I back something on Kickstarter, I forget about it until the product is delivered. But your team sent updates about the delays in design, testing and more. I know you intended to keep your backers informed, but the reports on these hiccups left me with the impression that you had poor foresight and management skills. Are such negative updates a bad idea?


You’re right on two counts. First, my planning and administrative skills need work. Second, there are real disadvantages to keeping people posted on problems with a project.

Once people decide to support a Kickstarter venture, they usually don’t think much more about it. They re-evaluate their decision only when they are reminded of it, and if the reminders are bad, they probably take an increasingly dim view of the project. So our approach turned out to be unhelpful. We often judge satisfaction by contrasting what we expect with what we get. When our backers were reminded of the game, the news was usually bad, which prompted some to sour on a pretty good project.

This would be different if the project were a big, focal undertaking for investors. In that case, they would think about it all the time anyway—which means that there would be little harm in informing them of snags that were on their minds anyway.

I must admit that, before your question, I hadn’t thought about this problem of negative reminders. I will try to be quieter next time.


Dear Dan,

I vividly remember thinking about buying Amazon stock when I was 12. I bought several stocks in my youth, but not Amazon—a mistake that has colored my entire financial future. I feel terrible regret. How do I get over it?


Regret is a powerful motivator. We experience it when we see one thing and envisage a better, alternative reality. In your case, the contrast in realities is clear, and the thought of those imagined lost riches is making you very unhappy. Unfortunately, unless you move to some island with no internet access, you will probably keep on experiencing some of this regret with each new mention of Amazon.

The only partial cure I can suggest is trying to think about your decisions in a holistic way, paying some heed to your good decisions rather than obsessing over your bad ones. Ideally, you would take one of those wise calls and condition yourself to think about it every time you are ruing your Amazon miss.


Dear Dan,

Do ideologues, who by definition care a lot about something, lie more for their causes?


Absolutely. Lying is always a trade-off between different values. When ideologues face a trade-off between the truth and the focus of their political passion (the idea, say, that the U.S. is an evil imperialist power or that Obamacare is a socialist plot to destroy America), they tend to be more willing to sacrifice the truth if they think it will help them to convince the idiots on the other side to do the right thing. Unfortunately, the last election suggests that more Americans have become ideologues.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Finding Fondness, Counting Calories, and Regifting Rules

December 28, 2016 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,

Yesterday, I lost my phone in the woods and spent hours looking for it. Many hours later, with the help of my mother and the “Find My iPhone” app, we found it in the snow. It was a lot of effort—the hardest scavenger hunt we’ve ever been on—but I’ve never had so much fun or appreciated my phone as much as I did that day. I know that, in general, making a major effort leads people to love something more when they create it (as you have argued with the “IKEA effect”). Does this principle apply to finding a lost item too?


Yes. Our appreciation for an item isn’t just about creating it; it is also about the connection we make with it. Every time you invest effort in some object (as in your hunt in the woods), you strengthen your link with the item, and you like it more.

But before you start losing items on purpose, let me point out two limits to your exciting discovery. First, the joy and increased attachment that you experienced was probably yours alone. I can’t imagine that your mother felt the same affection for your phone after rooting around in the snow. Second, the surge of fun and fondness about this particular item isn’t something you’d want to experience multiple times a year—so hang on to your phone.


Dear Dan,

 I’ve been reading that chain restaurants with many branches are now required to post calorie information. Do you think this will push people to eat better or not?


Probably not. The experiments that we’ve done on the impact of this sort of calorie information on eating behavior have shown scant effects on what people order. There seems to be a gap that prevents us from translating knowledge into action, and just giving people the data clearly doesn’t do the trick. People often tell me that knowing a menu item’s calorie count influences their ordering, but the research data on this suggests that such effects are very small at best.

There may also be a downside to posting the calories: We know that the presence of “healthy” side dishes can make people feel entitled to order “unhealthy” entrees. Darren Dahl and his colleagues have shown, for example, that the simple presence of a healthy item on a menu increases the likelihood that customers will order the least healthy options. The basic principle is called “licensing”: When we do something that we think is good (like ordering a small salad), we feel that it balances out a subsequent “bad” action (like eating a double cheeseburger).

Given these findings, I predict that we will see more calorie listings on menus, with more items such as side salads as healthy options. People will order these salads—often with gloppy and highly caloric dressing—and continue eating other high-calorie items. Don’t expect it to help our waistlines.


Dear Dan,

Is regifting OK? Over the years, I’ve received plenty of gifts that I didn’t want, and I’m thinking about getting rid of them this holiday season. Can I tell the people that I’m regifting what I’m doing?


In general, I consider regifting a wonderful practice. So long as the present that you are regifting is something that you think the new owner will appreciate, you aren’t just giving them something that they will like; you are preventing waste and saving money.

As to whether you can tell your friends and family that you’ve regifted them a present, sadly, we still aren’t a sufficiently enlightened society. So for now, I would slap on fresh wrapping paper and keep the history of the gift a secret.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Family Photos, Moving Money, and Authoritative Acronyms

August 6, 2016 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 consider myself a steadfast atheist, but I have an irrational dilemma: Every time I want to throw away things that I no longer need, I find myself unable to chuck out anything that belonged to my parents. I can’t even part with their old pictures, which I have digitized and stored permanently on my hard drive. Am I being ridiculously superstitious?


Religious belief and superstition aren’t really the same thing. Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania has done excellent research showing that we are all superstitious, to some extent. In one of his experiments, participants were asked to throw darts at a target and were rewarded the closer they got to its center. Sometimes the center was the image of a beloved figure like President John Kennedy; sometimes it was someone widely despised, like Saddam Hussein.

People hit the bull’s-eye more for Saddam and missed more for JFK. They knew, of course, that pictures aren’t the same as people, but they still attached some of the person’s symbolic meaning to the images, which made it harder to harm them.

This type of emotional link means that when you think about throwing out your parents’ belongings, you feel as if you are discarding a part of them. My advice? Send the items that you don’t want but can’t destroy to your siblings or other relatives and let them deal with them.


Dear Dan,

I’m renting an apartment with two friends. One of them is moving in on August 24. I plan to move in on August 29, and the third friend is planning to join us in early September. Our landlord will charge extra rent for those days in August. Who should pay?


The right way to split the cost depends on the timing and sequencing. If the lease was always set to start on August 24, then you should all split the cost because you all undertook the responsibility of starting the contract together. But if the contract could have started on any day, and your first friend pushed you into starting it on August 24, that friend should be on the hook for funding the extension. Fairness mandates considering the process here, not just the final outcome.

That said, remember that you’re all going to be roommates, perhaps for a long time, and starting your joint life together by protracted haggling may open the door to years of annoying accounting discussions (“You had an extra swig of the milk, so you owe me 75 cents”) rather than years of deep friendship. With this in mind, I suggest dividing the rent equally—but also asking the people moving in early to do more to set up the apartment, call the cable company, get basic supplies and figure out where the furniture goes. That way, they will contribute more to the overall endeavor but in a way that is compatible with long-term friendship.


Dear Dan,

We have lots of meetings at my office, and when I speak up, I often worry that as a rather junior female employee, I don’t sound as if I have enough authority. Any advice about how to seem more commanding?


One of the best ways to increase your perceived authority is to start using acronyms. My favorites are WAG (Wild-Ass Guess) and SWAG (Scientific Wild-Ass Guess). My SWAG is that deploying a few well-placed acronyms the next time you make a point will give your gravitas quotient (or GQ) a boost.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Losing Leftovers and Stressful Situations

July 9, 2016 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,

At a holiday potluck that I attend each year, the hostess asks each guest to bring a specific dish. We always wind up with too much food, but the hostess never asks us whether we would like to take any leftovers home. I think that the food I made and brought should be considered mine. So who do the leftovers belong to, the hostess or the cook/guest?


This is a tricky one. Usually, if we are invited to someone’s house for dinner and bring, say, a bottle of fine whiskey, we wouldn’t expect to take the rest of the bottle back home with us. But a potluck isn’t your standard dinner party, and it isn’t clear what rules apply. You gave the food, which was accepted by the host—but she did so on behalf of the group, which didn’t finish it.

Ethics aside, I see three practical ways to resolve the problem. First, you could make something that is physically hard to separate from the dish in which you brought it. If, for instance, you brought crème brûlée in a large ceramic dish, you’d make it clear that the dish was yours, and because it would be difficult to separate it from the leftover dessert, you would get to take them both home.

Alternatively, you could bring your contribution in two containers, hand one to the host and tell her that you have another container in case your fellow diners polish off the first one. You wouldn’t have to hand over the second part of your offering unless it turned out to be needed, and you’d have a decent shot at getting to take it home.

Or you could whip up a crowd-pleasing recipe that you happen not to like. The point of a potluck is to have fun with friends, not to fret about who gets what at the end. So just make something you don’t care for. You won’t care who inherits the leftovers, and you’ll enjoy the party more.


Dear Dan,

I went to the bathroom at a new restaurant in town only to find a large, modern-looking stainless-steel urinal, without partitions, which put everyone in plain view of his fellow patrons. I tried to finish my business quickly and get out of there. Am I the only one made uncomfortable by such arrangements?


Actually, many men are made uneasy by such bathroom settings, but I suspect that you didn’t finish your business any faster.

In 2005, my students and I carried out an experiment at MIT. Sometimes, we had one of our students stand at the middle urinal in the men’s room, pretending to go and waiting for unsuspecting visitors. Other times, we didn’t have anyone from our team at the urinals. In all cases, we had a student hiding in a nearby stall with a recorder.

That let us pick up two aspects of urination: its onset (from the time a subject situated himself at the urinal to the moment when we first heard liquid sounds) and its duration (until those sounds stopped).

We found that men took longer to get going when they had company nearby, presumably because of social stress. But once they started, they finished faster—again, presumably because of stress and the desire to get out of there. The total amount of time was slightly slower than when men were left alone.

Of course, our participants were undergraduates with splendid bladder control, so we might need to repeat this study with a more mature population.


See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Switching Stylists, Blood Loss, and a Broadcasting Behavior

May 28, 2016 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 am 65 and have been going to the same hair salon for ten years. I have gotten to know well the experienced stylist who cuts my hair. Recently, she had to cancel two appointments, so I got my hair cut by her former protégé, who works at the same shop. I discovered that I like the way the protégé cuts my hair better. I don’t see any way of switching to the younger stylist because of the social problems it will cause me and the stylists themselves. Both of them work the same hours on the same days.

I guess at my age, I just have to live with it. But I wonder, using my situation as an example, how can someone make such a change when faced with a similar dilemma?


I don’t think you have to resign yourself to worse haircuts. You could instead use a positive message to tell your long-time stylist that you’d like to switch. You could tell her that you are trying to make changes in as many areas of your life as possible—and that if she doesn’t mind, you would like to try the other stylist. At age 65, why not take the statement seriously and try to change some other things in your life and explore other new directions?


Dear Dan,

When my grandfather died in a house fire decades ago, he had been a blood donor for 70 years. I made it my mission to continue donating “for him.” I lived in Belgium at the time and donated with the Red Cross every 3 months.

When I moved to California, I decided to continue donating blood, but there was a problem: I had to lie on the questionnaire about whether I had spent time in Europe in the 1980s. The fear was contamination from mad cow disease. There was never a case of it in Belgium, ever, so I didn’t feel that I had to disclose that part of my past. After my most recent donation, the Red Cross became suspicious of my personal history, and now they have caught me. I am convinced that my blood will be destroyed and I will be barred from donating ever again.

I am beyond sad and feel that I broke my promise to my dead grandfather. What advice do you have to offer me?


From time to time, we all experience rules that we think are strange, crazy, over strict, applied inappropriately and so on. But we also have to remember that very large organizations like the Red Cross have to create some rules in order to operate efficiently and safely. It would have been better not to lie to the Red Cross, even at the cost of not being able to donate blood.

As for your commitment to your grandfather, I think that you should understand it only as doing your best to donate. You have no control over whether the Red Cross accepts your blood, and you should not blame yourself. Given that you still want to honor your grandfather, how about donating money to the Red Cross or a local burn unit?


Dear Dan,

What’s the best way to deal with a difficult teenage boy? He stays out as much he can; he’s rude and dismissive; and he refuses to do chores. Whenever he’s away from home, he’s charming. Any suggestions?


The good news is that he is charming away from home, which means that he is capable of being nice. Sadly, he does not seem to be interested in acting this way with you.

What if you set up a webcam in a very visible part of the house and made it clear that his behavior would be streaming to Facebook for his friends to see? That way, he might bring his outside behavior into the house. After a few weeks of this, he might develop new habits toward his family, and you could turn off the camera (but maybe keep it there unplugged, just as a reminder).

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Trump Supporters & Small Penises?

April 2, 2016 BY danariely

Was my previous post about Trump supporters having small penises an April Fool’s joke?


While we did, in fact, conduct the research, and the results are true, the data isn’t about the relationship between real size and skills. It’s about what people think about this relationships. For example, this means that Donald Trump supporters don’t necessarily have small penises (they might, we never checked), it’s just that people think they do.

The same logic applies to the rest of the findings I described in the blog post (http://danariely.com/2016/03/31/trump-supporters-linked-with-having-small-penises/).

Yet, it is interesting what people think that penis size is so linked to so many attributes such as confidence, ability in math etc.

Irrationally yours


Trump Supporters Linked with Having Small Penises

March 31, 2016 BY danariely

A 69 year old man’s penis captured America’s attention in last month’s Republican debate. Donald Trump broadcast the size of his penis on national television in a response to Marco Rubio’s comment on his small “hands”: If they’re small, something else must be small.

Lifting his hands from the podium, Trump declared to the country, “Look at these hands! Are these small hands?” He added, “I guarantee you, there’s no problem.” As an indication of the importance of the topic, the media responded with extensive coverage of the moment for weeks.

Clearly, penis size is an important attribute. As the comments by Trump and Rubio indicate, the matter at hand isn’t just about size—it’s about the link to a many other skills and capabilities. What kind of skills is penis size connected to? Could it be ability in business, confidence, leadership? What else?

To find out, we studied over 1,400 people across the country to better understand the relationship between penis size and various skills and attributes.

Not everyone may agree on how many inches constitutes a small or large penis, so to measure the means, we used a scale that measured magnitude instead of inches. Positive numbers indicate largeness while negative numbers indicate smallness.

Men with large penises were:

  • more confident (41.78)
  • more likely to ask for the phone number of a person more attractive than themselves (30.98)
  • better lovers (30.12)
  • and generally better at sex (29.34)
  • with a higher sex drive (27.7).

Taking attributes related to sex out of the picture, the top five attributes become:

  • being more confident (41.78)
  • more willing to ask for an undeserved pay raise at work (21.76)
  • being more optimistic (19.04)
  • and taking more risk by both not fearing walking home at night in an unsafe part of town (19.02)
  • and by engaging in dangerous recreational sports (17.94).

The top 5 attributes men with small penises exhibited were:

  • voting for Donald Trump (-16.2)
  • being religious (-11.9)
  • more inclined to gossip (-9.54)
  • being good at math (-9.64)
  • and driving a large car (-8.36).

We also asked our participants to report their actual penis measurements and found an interesting distinction along political party lines. Democrats and Republicans equally inflated their size by adding on an extra inch compared with the national length average, but Republicans reported significantly larger ball sizes (11.5) than did Democrats (6.04). Do Republicans really have larger balls or do they only believe they do? This is an important question for future research.

One final note: While Donald Trump supporters seem to have smaller penises, it is important to note that this initial research focused on the size of erect penises. Donald Trump never made it clear (and interestingly no journalist asked him) if he was referring to the erect or flaccid size. Regardless of what state of penis Donald Trump had in mind, since men spend most of their days with a flaccid penis, the question about the size when flaccid is just as important, if not more important, and we hope to study it in the years to come.


Ask Ariely: On Room Rules, Labors of Love, and Double Dares

November 14, 2015 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,

We recently invited two couples to spend the weekend with us at our cabin. We have two guest bedrooms, one larger and more comfortable than the other. When the first couple showed up, we suggested that they wait until the other couple arrived to discuss who would get which room or perhaps to toss a coin. But the first couple said that, since they had arrived first, they deserved the better room. I disagreed but didn’t want to argue, so they ended up taking the larger bedroom. Were they right to argue that taking the better room was fair?


The first couple demonstrated what’s commonly known as “motivated reasoning.” There are many possible rules of fairness: first-come-first-served, weighing needs, flipping a coin and so on. For self-serving reasons, this couple adopted the first-come-first-served approach, and instead of simply admitting that they wanted the larger room, they justified their selfishness by advocating a fairness rule that happened to lead to their preferred outcome.

But you didn’t announce the first-come-first-served rule in advance, so it isn’t fair to use it: The other couple didn’t know that they were in a competition. Because both couples are your friends, I wouldn’t have used any fairness rule that depended on human judgment about who’s more deserving. Better just to toss a coin. Next time, it would be better to announce in advance the fairness rule that you want to use.


Dear Dan,

I’ve been struggling recently to understand why childbirth is so painful. In principle, I suspect, nature could have made childbirth painless—so why did it “choose” to make it agonizing? Your research shows that the more labor we put into things, the more we love them. Could that explain why nature choose this approach—simply to make mothers value their children more?


I’ll leave the evolutionary biology to others, but my research group’s findings are indeed consistent with your interpretation: The more one is involved with creating something and the more difficult and complex the task, the more we end up loving it. We call this the IKEA effect, because of people’s increased pride in furniture they’ve put together from a kit. But Mother Nature seems not to have fully read our work: We found that just a bit of involvement would achieve the IKEA effect, so much less pain at childbirth would have sufficed.


Dear Dan,

My son just turned 13, and he and his friends are starting to dare each other to do all kinds of stupid things. Some dares involve eating very spicy or disgusting foods; others involve jumping from high places; some involve asking girls out. I don’t get it. Why would someone suddenly be willing to do something just because the word “dare” is invoked?


Let’s consider two different types of dare. The first type is meant to help the person carrying it out. Imagine, for example, that your son has a crush on a girl but is too shy to tell her. If his friends dared him to ask her out, the social embarrassment would decline, and your son might be prodded into getting a fun date.

But there is a second type of dare—for instance, goading someone to eat jalapeño peppers or to jump off a wall. This category isn’t about the immediate well-being of the person doing the dare; it is about his or her place in a social hierarchy. The more impressive the dare, the higher their social status rises.

I hope that this helps you to see some of the beauty of dares—and maybe even to try out a double-dare yourself.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Regret over Rental, Guns under Control, and Dishes with Friends

October 31, 2015 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,

On a recent trip, the car-rental agency offered me insurance that cost almost as much as the rental itself. I ended up taking it, but when I got the credit-card bill, I couldn’t understand what I’d been thinking. Why do we buy these things?


It has to do with counterfactual thinking and regret. Imagine that you take the same route home from work every day. One day, along the usual route, a tree falls and totals your car. Naturally, you’d feel bad about the loss of the car—but you’d feel much worse if, on that particular day, you had tried a shortcut and, with the same bad luck, come across the car-wrecking tree. In the first case, you’d be upset, but in the shortcut case, you’d also feel regret about taking that different route.

The same principle applies to car rentals. When a rental agent offers us pricey insurance, we start imagining how stupid and regretful we’d feel if we skipped it and (God forbid) had an accident. Our desire to avoid feeling this way makes us much more interested in the insurance.

Now, it probably is OK to pay a bit more to avoid remorse from time to time—but when the price tag gets large, we should start looking for ways to cope more directly with our feelings of regret.


Dear Dan,

I’m wondering what you make of gun control. Obviously, it is in everyone’s best interest to have a safer country where you’re less likely to be shot in public. But since the massacre in Oregon, gun sales have only gone up. Is there anything we can do to reduce gun violence?


This all strikes me as a case of over-optimism. When we hear about gun violence, we tell ourselves, “If I didn’t have a gun, I might get attacked—but if I had a gun, I could protect myself.” We can imagine the benefits of gun ownership, but we can’t imagine the stress or panic we’d feel while being attacked. (In wartime, in fact, many guns never get fired because of the stress felt by people under fire.) We also can’t imagine ourselves as hotheaded attackers or imagine our new gun being used by people in our household to attack others.

After all, we’re such good, reasonable people, and those surrounding us are similarly upstanding and calm. So people buy guns, often with good intentions—but these guns make it easy for someone having a moment of anger, hate or weakness to do something truly devastating.

Since humanity will keep having emotional outbursts, what can we do to lessen gun violence? One approach would be to try to make it less likely that we will make mistakes under the influence of emotions. When we set rules for driving, we’re very clear about when and how cars can be used, which involves heeding the speed limit, obeying traffic rules and so on. Maybe we should also set up strict rules for guns that will make it clear when and under what conditions guns can be carried and used. And we could require gun owners to get licenses and training—again, on the model of car safety—with penalties for breaking the rules.


Dear Dan,

When my chore-hating kids visit their friends, they clear their dishes and help in the kitchen. How can I get them to do that at home?


Like many of us, kids are motivated by the impressions they make on people they care about. Clearly (and sadly), you aren’t on that list. Maybe you can get one of those home cameras, connect it to your kids’ Facebook feeds and observe the power of impression management as they try to impress their friends.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.