Updates

Ask Ariely: On Denied Desserts, Trusted Faces, and Biased Brokers

August 22, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a single guy in my early 30s, and I often take potential romantic partners out for dinner. When the question of dessert comes up, I’m never sure what to do. To be polite, I always ask my date if she’s interested in dessert, and the answer is almost always no. I then feel bad about ordering dessert myself, so I turn it down as well. Is it impolite to have dessert even if my date has decided not to?

—Lev 

It is most likely impolite not to order dessert. I’m basing that on two assumptions: first, that everyone enjoys at least a bit of dessert, and second, that your date may well be worried that, by ordering dessert, she would be signaling that she doesn’t care about her weight (which is a pity, of course, but it’s part of the reality of dating). With these assumptions in mind, I’d suggest that you ask her instead which dessert she loves most—and order one of those, with two spoons.

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Dear Dan,

Lots of candidates are running for president. Some are proven liars, backstabbers or double-dealers; others are arrogant and self-important; still more break their promises. I wouldn’t want to hang around any of these people, but many Americans would vote for them. Don’t we care about honesty and trust?

—Daniel

Americans certainly care about trust—but in a slightly different way than you might think. We often care most about the trustworthiness of candidates’ faces.

Alex Todorov, a Princeton psychology professor, has done some wonderful experiments on this topic. In one, he showed some Princeton undergraduates pictures of people running for local office in Canada and asked them to rate the trustworthiness of the candidates. The Princeton students had never seen these people before and knew nothing about local elections in Canada.

Dr. Todorov then examined the number of elections won by the candidates in the photos and found that the students’ ratings of trustworthiness predicted more than 90% of the election results. It would appear that Canadian voters made basically the same judgment: They evaluated their politicians through simple, superficial judgments based on their faces.

We like to think we assess candidates based on their policies, experience, honesty and so on, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. Just a Canadian thing? I don’t think so. I suspect that even in important domains such as politics, we all make these sorts of rapid, emotional judgments. Maybe we need to go back and read what politicians are saying rather than just watch them perform on stage.

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Dear Dan,

Can financial advisers, brokers and others in the financial industry truly follow their fiduciary responsibilities when they are paid on commission?

—Helene 

If you’re asking whether they can act in their customers’ best interests and give objective advice, the answer is no. Even more depressing, it seems humanly impossible to be paid more for some outcomes than others—to get more money if the client invests in stock A rather than stock B—and avoid bias.

I’m not saying that financial advisers do this intentionally. We all do it when our interests motivate us to see the world in a particular way: We use our tremendous brainpower to convince ourselves that what is good for us is also objectively good.

That’s why we must eliminate (or at least reduce) conflicts of interests in the markets—and why you should always try to figure out whether your service providers have conflicts of interests. Luckily, in the U.S., we understand these pitfalls and don’t allow our politicians to be corrupted by special interests or money.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Seeing Solutions, Emotional Actions, and Fun Foods

August 8, 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.

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Dear Dan,

My girlfriend hates wearing contacts and has been talking about getting laser eye surgery ever since I’ve known her. But she’s never taken the first step of getting an evaluation. I had the surgery a few years ago, and it was like magic: One day I couldn’t see—and the next day I could. It took me about two years to get my act together, do the research and take off time for the procedure. How can I help my girlfriend to shorten this timeline?

—Phil 

I’d suggest various forms of encouragement. For an incentive, offer to pay half the bill. To add a deadline, say that your offer to pay only holds if she has the procedure within the next two months. And to add social pressure to the mix, ask some of her friends to chip in for the effort but ask them to condition their gifts on the same two-month timeline. That should do it.

Of course, if you do this, you should expect that at some point she will set up some incentives for things that she wants you to do. Try to accept these cheerfully in the spirit of making your relationship more exciting and productive.

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Dear Dan,

Last week, two different stories about senseless murders were all over the news. The first was about Cecil, Zimbabwe’s most famous lion, who was hunted down and killed as a trophy by a dentist from Minnesota. The second was about Samuel DuBose, an unarmed black motorist shot dead by a police officer in a routine traffic stop. Guess which story received more attention and outrage? Do we really care more about lions than people?

—Janet 

Your question hinges on what we mean when we use the term caring. When you look at the volume of public outrage and the amount of ink spilled, it can sometimes seem that the loss of an endangered animal matters more. Sadly, that’s because, at least for some of us, the news of an animal’s death can have more emotional impact than the news of a person’s death.

Of course, this isn’t true for those who were close to the deceased, have personally experienced similar tragedies or have worked to fight similar injustices. But for those who experience such tragedies only via the news, the human loss sometimes doesn’t pull as much at their emotional strings.

This tendency has limits, though. If you gave most people two buttons, told them that pressing one would kill an endangered animal and pressing the other would kill a random fellow citizen, and ordered them to push one, very few would press the kill-a-person button. In this sort of direct comparison, I’d predict, almost everyone would prefer to kill the animal. Comparing lives more directly engages our cognition, not our emotions—and so the type of caring that emerges reflects our higher empathy for human beings and their families.

In other words, when we really think about it, we care more about humans—but we are often called to act based on our emotions, where our caring works quite differently.

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Dear Dan,

How can I get my kids to eat more vegetables?

—Yael

How about trying a new version of Popeye the Sailor, who used to gulp down spinach at moments of crisis and instantly grow stronger? You could modernize the Popeye approach by changing the language at the dinner table and talking about passing the Iron Man (kale), the Green Lantern (peas), the Superman (tomatoes), the Penguin (Oreos) and the Joker (soda). (My pairing of characters and foods may reflect some of my parental biases.)

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Funny Decisions, Security Insecurity, and Anthrax Horn

June 6, 2015 BY danariely

To celebrate today’s Ask Ariely column, I’d like to share the final Reader Response video. (But don’t worry, you can always check out the rest of the collection in this album.)

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,

Is there any research on the relationship between humor and the quality of decision-making? Does humor make for better or worse decisions?

—Meher

Both. On the positive side, it has been shown that humor can improve creativity, which broadens the perspective from which we examine a problem and helps us to come up with novel solutions. In one study, researchers gave subjects a box of tacks, a set of matches and a candle. Their assigned task was to affix the candle to the wall so that it wouldn’t drip on the carpet when lighted. Subjects who had watched an amusing video clip before the task were more likely to recognize the solution: tack the box (which held the tacks) to the wall and use it as the candle’s base.

On the negative side, humor gets us to believe that things are safe, which can lead to risk-taking behavior. For example, recent research in the lab of Peter McGraw at the University of Colorado, Boulder, shows that humorous public service announcements are less effective than their traditional, nonhumorous scary counterparts. Why? Because the joking tone puts people at ease.

So as far we can tell, the effect of humor on the quality of decision-making is mixed. But using humor in an interpersonal relationship is certainly a good thing. It enhances liking and trust—and Prof. McGraw’s findings also suggest that humorous people are more attractive as lovers.

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Dear Dan,

My wife and I bought a new house and are fighting about the door locks. She wants to replace all of the locks, fearing that some people might have keys that would let them enter. I think that there are many ways a thief could break into the house without bothering with a single door, so why spend money to deal with that negligible part of the problem? It seems to me that her irrational insecurity blinds her from the truth. Any advice?

—Darin

Your wife’s fear has to do with the ease and vividness of imagining a bad outcome rather than the probability of something actually happening. After the attacks of 9/11, for example, we were all more afraid of flying, so some people switched to driving. As a consequence, over the following months, more people died from car accidents. The increase in the number of people dying from car accidents was much higher than the number of people dying on flights.

This aspect of emotions is also why we are more afraid of Ebola (which, thankfully, did not kill many people in the U.S.) than of the seasonal flu (which kills thousands of people every year). Given that the power of emotions is connected to their vividness, it is only partially useful to try to counteract them by providing accurate information about probability. Sometimes it is better just to try to deal with our emotions more directly.

Your wife’s fear may not be rational, but neither is your refusal to take such a small action to make her less worried. Why not use this as an opportunity to look at all the new locking technologies out there (some of them are really interesting). You could turn replacing the locks into a fun activity for yourself.

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Dear Dan,

Is there a way to use behavioral economics to stop rhino poaching? Some people believe that consuming rhino horn cures a range of ailments, and though this is entirely mythological, it is hard to get them to change their minds about its supposed health benefits. Can you think of a way to undermine this market?

—Veronica

Sadly, it is very difficult to use information or experience to counteract such mythical beliefs. The only way to fight them is with other beliefs. One approach would be take advantage of the widespread myth about the link between rhino horn and anthrax, and work hard to propagate this false belief. People might still believe in the healing power of rhino horn, but their fear of anthrax might overpower it.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

My Mother's Constant Monitoring And Why I Am Forever Grateful

May 10, 2015 BY danariely

Troy Campbell writes a personal piece about his mother and the psychology of monitoring. 

It’s great to have someone who will be there when you ask for help; it’s even better to have someone paying attention to your needs and providing help before you ask for it. My mom is a shining example of this, and excels at what psychologists call “monitoring.”

In high school, I was often overwhelmed and sadden by a combination of gotta-get-into-Berkeley stress, a lack of dating, health problems and general teenage woes. But I was a boy, and boys do not cry — even teenage boys who listened to the whiniest emo music like me. This meant that no one really knew how I felt, except for my mom. Without her, I would have been lost.

For instance, one afternoon in late 2001, my mother was monitoring and noticed my sadness just by how I laid my backpack down. Immediately, she prepared me a delicious snack, suggested we go to my favorite In-N-Out Burger before she taught night classes, and made plans for the family to see Lord of the Rings later in the week. In seconds I went from stressed to smiling.

Having a monitor is important in everyone’s life. This is because all of us, not just boys, don’t often signal that we need help. Sometimes this is out of pride, but sometimes it is because we don’t even have the clarity of mind to know we need help.

When people are stressed or sad, they need two types of support that psychologists call “emotional support,” provided through empathy, encouragement and love, and “instrumental support,” provided through functional help such with homework, planning or finances. People, in general, are willing to provide these types of support to those they love. But many fail to monitor and check in on their loved ones, so they never detect problems.

To my mom, being a good person is not just doing what people ask of you, but going beyond that and constantly searching for those unasked questions. In the end, this means she winds up giving people what they truly need, not just what they ask for.

Now, it is true that some parents look out for their children too much. They coddle them, and this prevents them from developing into self-sufficient adults. Many argue that monitoring-like parenting practices are like always fishing for others instead of teaching them to fish.

However, sometimes you actually can catch a fish for a someone and teach that someone to fish at the same time. Many times, when my mom helped me deal with my allergies and immune deficiencies, she would give me mini lectures on how I could better practically and consciously care for the traits I had inherited from her. Though I was born with significant biological disadvantages, today I am quite healthy as I apply all the lessons my mom taught me about relaxation and food planning. There’s no doubt that monitoring alone is not enough. Any parental monitoring must be accompanied with other good parenting techniques

Monitoring might also strike some as annoying, or even prying. To combat this, you can learn to communicate with your mom to let her know when you need it and don’t. But all in all, this is a side effect that you just need to accept for the medicine’s fantastic benefits. Further, you need to realize that sometimes mom knows better than we do and it is in on average in our best interest for her to keep monitoring away.

Today, I am not the sad emo boy I was, nor am I the kid struggling with health problems. I am not the same, but fortunately my mom is. Even though I live 2,500 miles away from her, she’s still always monitoring. The only difference is that, when I’m stressed, she sends me the grown-up version of an after school snack and Lord of the Rings movie ticket: A surprise email gift certificate to a nice dinner and a show (which, for me, to this day, is still a ticket to a movie like Lord of the Rings, though my food tastes have matured greatly from a singular focus on In-N-Out Burger).

When I am a parent, I hope I will be the best monitoring parent around. I’ll have some stiff competition. As a social psychologist, I will be amongst a lot of older psychologists who will have many more years of reading and training on me. But I’ll have one advantage — first-hand experience with a true intuitive monitoring expert that has been teaching me for over 28 years and doesn’t show any signs of ever stopping.

Read Troy’s piece about Making More From Mother’s Day from last year here.

@TroyHCampbell studies marketing as it relates to identity, beliefs, and enjoyment here at the Center for Advanced Hindsight and the Duke University Fuqua School of Business. In Fall 2015 he will begin as an assistant professor at the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business. 

Ask Ariely: On Ephemeral Emotions, Getting Gadgets, and Treacherous Taxes

April 12, 2015 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.

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Dear Dan,

Every time a severe natural disaster strikes, like a typhoon or the outbreak of a new epidemic, everyone starts talking about how to combat these problems, but all the chatter dies down in a week or two. Given the importance of these issues and the number of lives they affect, why do we have such short-term memories? And how do you keep up interest in topics like these?

—Akhil

The problem isn’t with memory—it is with emotions. Every time we see those televised images of disaster, our emotions get ignited, we care, and we want to act. But over time, our emotions inevitably subside, and we stop caring.

If the problem here just had to do with memory, finding a fix would be simple: We have plenty of ways to remind people about important things they forgot. But we don’t know how to fully re-invoke emotions.

So what can we do? I’d suggest crafting legislation to deal with such crises in advance, then just holding onto it until the next disaster strikes. Then, while emotions are running high, take the bill out of the drawer and try to get people to commit to some concrete steps forward.

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Dear Dan,

What should I know about a product before I buy it?

—Pat

When we look for a product—say, a new electronic gadget—we usually try to understand exactly what it does, how it works, what are its features, etc. We hope this will help us figure out if the product is right for us and worth all that money. The downside of this approach is that the knowledge it provides often reduces the fun, surprise and discovery that come with experimenting with a new electronic gizmo.

Ideally, someone would be able to tell us whether we should get the product or not, while leaving us to discover our new gadget’s capabilities after we’re holding it. Another advantage to this approach: It leaves us to enjoy more buildup and anticipation as we wait for the gadget to arrive.

When I was looking for a new camera, I asked my friend David (my personal expert on everything technological) what he thought I should get, and I purchased the exact camera he suggested without even checking the details. Then I started anticipating its arrival, and I enjoyed learning all about it by playing with it after it was delivered. Maybe you should try to get your own David.

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Dear Dan,

What percent of Americans cheat on their taxes?

—Lee

I’m not sure, but it’s clearly a large amount: Pew Research estimated that the IRS lost about $270 billion dollars for tax “underreporting” in 2010. I tend to agree with Will Rogers, who once said, “The income tax has made liars out of more Americans than golf.”

Taxes don’t just tempt many Americans to cheat. They also kill us. A 2012 paper by Donald Redelmeier and Christopher Yarnell published in the Journal of The American Medical Association found that over the past 30 years, fatal accidents increase by about 6% on April 15 compared to standard days. The authors chalk this up to stress. They also show that this increase doesn’t hold for people at retirement age (who, presumably, aren’t that stressed about taxes), has increased over time (suggesting we’ve been under more stress as U.S. taxes have grown more complex) and is particularly large for those of us on the West Coast (where state taxes are particularly high).

Of course, these two findings—increased dishonesty and increased stress—could be linked. So this tax season, please try to be safe when filling out and delivering your 1040s.

 

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here. (add link to “here” and delete this)

Ask Ariely: On Capricious Cavities, Burning Bills, and Pursuing Pronoia

October 11, 2014 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.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a Swedish journalist working in New York City. I recently went for my annual dental checkup. I’d only ever had two cavities before, so I was shocked when the dentist told me I had nine. I don’t have U.S. dental insurance, so I chose to wait until my next visit home to get treated. To my surprise, my regular Swedish dentist found only two minor spots on my teeth and advised me to wait and see whether any problems developed. He also looked at my X-rays but didn’t find any cavities—let alone nine. 

How can two dentists disagree so much on the state of my teeth? 

—Linda

Clearly, your American dentist has much better vision.

Seriously, this is probably another example of a common problem in modern society: conflicts of interest. It is easy to chalk this confusion up to one bad apple of a dentist, but conflicts of interest are all around us, and they often change our view of the world.

As any sports fan will tell you, if a referee makes a call that goes against your team, you can’t help but see him as evil, blind, stupid, etc. The same goes for all kinds of motivations—including financial ones. Once we have a motivation for seeing reality in a self-interested way, we tend to do it—often without realizing that we are biased.

This is why Republicans and Democrats can see the same poverty and suggest such different policies for dealing with it. This is why Israelis and Palestinians can watch the same explosion and interpret it so utterly differently. And this is often why medical professionals who get paid by the procedure see the need for more procedures.

Understanding the prevalence of conflicts of interest probably won’t help us become more objective, bridge the political gap or bring peace to the Middle East. But it should often prod us to seek a disinterested second opinion.

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Dear Dan,

A new Android app called Burn Money lets users pick an animated replica of a bill from $1 to $100, pay for it with real money, then flick an animated lighter and watch the bill burn to electronic ashes. Users later receive a certificate they can post on their social media pages. And that’s it. 

What do you think?

—Emilia

Curious. Maybe people are using this app as a signaling device. Signaling is a way to communicate to ourselves and anyone watching who we are—and, often, who we want to be. For example, we can signal prosperity with the homes we buy, we can signal stylishness with the clothes we wear, and we can signal environmental concern with the hybrids we drive.

Similarly, letting people know you’ve been burning money (both virtual and real) could be an attempt to signal wealth—as if people are saying, both to themselves and to anyone watching, “Look at me: If I can burn money, doesn’t that show how wealthy and comfortable I am?”

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Dear Dan,

The U.S. Declaration of Independence gives us the right to pursue happiness. But is happiness really what we should aim for?

—Helen

Happiness is fine, but if I had to pick a mind-set to pursue, it would be pronoia—a state that is the opposite of paranoia. As I recently learned from Wharton professor Adam Grant, pronoia is the delusional belief that other people are plotting our well-being or saying nice things about us behind our backs. Now there is a wonderful way to experience life.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On the Perks of Pickup Lines, Puppy Problems, and Probing Personality

July 19, 2014 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.

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Dear Dan,

I am happily married and was never much for the bar scene. But I do wonder if those cheesy pickup lines actually work—”If I told you that you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me” and so on. I can’t imagine anyone would buy such transparently empty flattery, but these lines are so common that they must be doing something. Any insight?

—Barbara

I’m no expert here, but my guess is that these kinds of pickup lines work much better than you might expect. Some interesting research shows that we love getting compliments, that we are better disposed toward people who give us compliments and that we like those people even when we know that the compliments are insincere. So beyond the pickup lines, the real question is why we don’t give compliments more frequently. After all, they’re free, and they make the recipient happy. Try out some pickup lines and compliments on your husband for the next few weeks, and let me know how it works out.

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Dear Dan,

One of the not very well-paid cleaners working in my office sometimes chats with me about her life, including her family’s financial difficulties. Last week, she told me that she had just got a puppy. I was shocked that she would take on the responsibility of caring for a pet when she doesn’t have the money to take care of her family. How could someone in her situation be so careless and irresponsible with money?

—Andrea

This probably wasn’t a great choice on her part, but to understand how she could make such a decision—and to figure out if you or I would have made the same call if we were in her shoes—we need to better understand her circumstances and capacity to make good choices.

Consider the following scenario: You are relatively poor, and as you go through your day, every decision you make is consequential. You decide whether to get coffee and walk to work, or skip the coffee and take the bus. You decide whether to take a short break or make another $6. On your way home, you decide whether to fill a prescription or to have a better dinner. When you get home, you are exhausted from all the difficult choices you’ve made throughout the day. You are depleted—the term we use to describe the type of mental exhaustion that stems from making decisions and resisting temptation. And now your children ask you for the 100th time to get a puppy. You know that, for your long-term financial well-being, you should resist. But do you have the mental stamina? Unlikely.

You may be more likely to make better decisions than your colleague, but we don’t know whether that is because you are better at making sensible long-term decisions—or because you simply aren’t as depleted at the end of the day. My guess is that life circumstances and depletion, not heedless irresponsibility, explain many such less-than-desirable decisions.

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Dear Dan,

A few years ago, I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and decided to take the test, which seemed pretty detailed. When I was shown my resulting “personality type,” I was blown away: It seemed to explain things about my personality that I had felt but had never put into words. But ever since, I’ve been insecure about whether my MBTI type is my “true type” or just confirmation bias. Help, please?

—Cory

Next time, just look at the horoscope. It is just as valid and takes less time.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Anticipating Adventure, Watching it Work, and Overpriced M&Ms

June 7, 2014 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.

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Dear Dan,

For my birthday, my boyfriend gave me a rather expensive coupon for tandem sky diving. I could have used the coupon that weekend, when the sky diving season ended, but I chose instead to wait a few months for the new season to begin. My thought was that I’d be braver in the future and somehow mentally prepare myself. But can someone really prepare for something like this?

—Kinga

When we think about experiences, we need to think about three types of time: the time before the experience, the time of the experience and the time after the experience. The time beforehand can be filled with anticipation or dread; the time of the experience itself can be filled with joy or misery; and the time afterward can be filled with happy or miserable memories. (The shortest of these three types of time, interestingly, is almost always the time of the experience itself.)

So what should you do? In your case, the time before your sky diving experience will certainly not be cheerful. The time of the experience will also probably not be pure joy. At a minimum, you’re going to ask why you are doing this to yourself. But the time after the experience is likely to be wonderful (assuming that you get out of this alive), and you will get to bask in the way you conquered your fears and relive the view of Earth from above.

So your best strategy was to make the time before the experience as short as possible. It is too late now, but you should have just gone sky diving the moment you got the coupon, which also would have signaled to your boyfriend how much you appreciated the gift.

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Dear Dan,

Early in my career, I wrote a massive Excel macro for the large bank where I worked. The macro (a set of automated commands) would take a data dump and turn it into a beautiful report. It took about two minutes to run, with an hourglass showing that it was working away. The output was very useful, but everyone complained that it was too slow.

One way to speed up a macro is to make it run in the background, invisibly, with just the hourglass left on-screen. I had done this from the start, but just for fun, I flipped the setting so that people using the macro could see it do its thing. It was like watching a video on fast forward: The macro sliced the data, changed colors, made headers and so on. The only problem: It took about three times as long to finish.

Once I made this change, however, everyone was dazzled by how fast and wonderful the algorithm was. Do you have a rational explanation for this reversal?

—Mike

I’m not sure I have a rational explanation, but I have a logical one. What you describe so nicely is a combination of two forces. First, when we are just waiting aimlessly, we feel that time is being wasted, and we feel worse about its passage. Second, when we feel that someone is working for us, particularly if they are working hard, we feel much better about waiting (and about paying them for their effort). Interestingly, this joy at having someone work hard for us holds true not just of people but of computer algorithms, too.

The life lesson should be clear: Work extra hard at describing how hard you work to those around you.

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Dear Dan,

During a recent hotel stay, I tried to resist temptation but gave in and bought a $5 bag of M&M’s from the minibar. I know from research on pricing that paying a lot for something often makes you experience it as especially wonderful—but that didn’t happen with the M&M’s. Why?

—David

Research does indeed show that higher prices can increase our expectations, and these increased expectations can spur us to more fully enjoy an experience. But there are limits. First, you have probably had lots of M&Ms in your life and have rather set expectations about how good they can be. Second, some high prices are just annoying.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Noisy Chatrooms, Maximizing Buffets, and Like Buttons

April 26, 2014 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.

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Dear Dan,

Why do young people on dates go to loud, crowded places? The dim light prevents the couple from talking to each other and eliminates any possibility that they will actually get to know one other better. So what’s the point?  

—Amanda

Have you considered the possibility that these daters are not interested in getting to know each other better?
More seriously, noisy and crowded places help daters in many ways—most clearly by masking awkward silences.  If the could-be-couple runs out of topics from time to time, they can have the illusion that the silence isn’t due to their inability to keep up a lively conversation and chalk it up to the difficulty of talking over the music or their fascination with the song being played.
A second benefit of such date venues: The noisy surroundings give couples an excuse to get physically closer to each other in order to be heard. A loud bar may even give them permission to talk into their date’s ear. (Permission to nibble is up to the date.)
Finally, music and crowds have been found to be very effective in creating general arousal. Yes, arousal. With noise and people all around them, our daters may feel more aroused as well—and, more importantly, they may attribute this emotional state to the person they’re with. (Social scientists call this “misattribution of emotions.”) To the extent that people confuse the emotions created by the environment with the emotions created by the person sitting next to them, going out to loud, busy places could well be a winning strategy. I hope this explains the mystery—and inspires you to start going on dates in noisy places.

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Dear Dan,

How should I maximize my return on investment at an all-you-can-eat buffet? Should I go for dessert first and then hit the entrees? Or should I stick to the salads and pick only healthy foods from the main courses?

—Syed

I appreciate this return-on-investment, or ROI, mindset, but in food, as in all other areas of life, we must focus on the right type of returns.  Your question seems to focus on the short-term returns, not the long-term ones.  If you go into a buffet trying to maximize your short-term ROI, you might gulp down more food, but then you’ll have to deal with the long-term effects of spending extra hours in the gym or packing on the pounds—downsides that take away the fun of the buffet. Also, avoid the common mistake of trying to maximize the cost of the food to the buffet’s operators.
Instead, I would stick to a balanced and mostly healthy diet. But since many buffets boast a large assortment of dishes, I would make some exceptions and sample a delicacy I’d never tried before—just for the experience.

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Dear Dan,

What is the function of the “Like” button on Facebook posts?  Why doesn’t the site have options for “Dislike” or “Hate,” for example? 

—Henry

Facebook’s “Like” button is much more than a way for us to react to other people.  It is a social-coordination mechanism that tells us how we can respond. It gives us feedback on what is OK (and not OK) to post and generally tells us how to behave on Facebook.  Adding buttons such as “Dislike” or “Hate” would probably destroy the social network’s positive atmosphere. But I’d favor adding a button for “Love.”

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Superstitious Toasts and Exploring the Unknown

April 12, 2014 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.

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Dear Dan,

At a dinner party a few years ago, we were raising our glasses to our hosts’ health. The person on my right said that every time you make a toast, you need to look straight into the eyes of the person you’re toasting as your glasses touch—and that failure to do so inevitably results in five years of bad sex.  I don’t think anyone around the table believed in that superstition, but we found it very amusing and, for the rest of the night, looked into each other’s eyes while toasting.  I don’t think of myself as superstitious, but since that dinner party, I find myself looking very intently into peoples’ eyes whenever I toast.  I know I am being irrational, so why can’t I shake this superstition?

—Kathleen

If you were going to design a superstition, this one is as close to perfect as you’re likely to get.  For starters, the cost of the ritual (looking into each other’s eyes) is low, and in fact pleasurable.  On the other hand, the cost of ignoring the ritual is very high (years of rotten sex). It’s certainly not worth risking such a large consequence for such a small act. And like all good superstitions, the outcome in question occurs far into the future and is difficult to evaluate objectively.

The only thing I might add would be a method to make things right after a missed opportunity. Perhaps if someone forgets to make eye contact, they should have to close their eyes and have the person next to them hold a glass to their lips and help them drink? With this addition, you would have a perfect ritual and superstition to make any party a bit more fun.

Incidentally, I told a friend about this five-year deal, and his response was, “Only five years?”

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Dear Dan,

As summer finally gets closer, we are starting to plan our family vacation. The past few years, we have gone to Florida for two weeks. Should we stick to this familiar plan or try something different?

—Michael

In general, sticking with something well-known is psychologically appealing. Our attraction to the sure thing explains why, for example, we often frequent the same chain restaurants when we travel—and even order the same familiar dishes.  Sure, we might enjoy something new more than the sure thing, but we also might not. And given the psychological principle of loss-aversion (whereby we dislike losses more than we enjoy gains), the fear of loss looms heavy, and we decide not to risk trying anything new.

That’s a mistake, for three key reasons. First, if you think about a long time horizon (say, 20 more years of vacations and eating out), it is certainly worth exploring what else may be out there before settling into a limited set of options. Second, variety really is one of the most important spices of life.  Finally, vacations are not just about the two weeks you are away from work; they’re also about the time you spend anticipating and imagining your trip, as well as the time after you are back home when you replay special moments from your vacation in your mind.  Among these three types of ways to consume the vacation—anticipation, the trip itself and consuming the memories afterward—the shortest amount of time is spent on the vacation itself.

Given all this, the short answer is: try something new.

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See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.