Ask Ariely: On Airborne Electronics, a Mistaken Masseuse, and Friends who Post Bail

December 7, 2013 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,

Delta Air Lines recently announced plans to start distributing thousands of Microsoft Surface 2 tablets to its pilots to spare them lugging around heavy documents, maps and flight plans. As a passenger, I always suspected that flight attendants sometimes ask us to turn our gadgets off not because they might harm the plane’s instruments but because some airline employees get a kind of twisted satisfaction from making passengers suffer a bit more. What do you think? Is the whole issue of turning electronics off just a way to make the passengers realize that the flight attendants are really in control?


In fairness, the unpopular (and rapidly fading) ban on using personal electronics during takeoff and landing was a Federal Aviation Administration regulation, not a policy by the airlines. Even so, the logic of turning off iPads and Kindles while taxiing was never clear to me either, and the joy that some flight attendants took in commanding passengers to turn their devices off could make one suspect that your “control theory” is right. Nevertheless, I suspect that this was just one more regulation set up without much thought that the poor flight attendants were forced to follow—and that in fact, they most likely suffered much more from having to enforce a rule that annoyed passengers and lacked logic many times a day.

I do worry about another aspect of your question: making airplanes too reliant on tablet technology. A crash of the less dangerous type could translate into a more harmful one.


Dear Dan,

I recently had a massage when I was very tired, and I fell asleep repeatedly. Every time I dozed off, the masseuse moved me particularly vigorously and woke me up. This left me a bit embarrassed, and it wasn’t fun to be woken up so many times in one hour. What should the masseuse have done—let me sleep through the massage, or woken me up to experience it?


The person giving you the massage was wrong. More generally, this is really a question about different types of pleasure and their building blocks. In general, you can think about the pleasures you get from anticipating a massage, experiencing it, and remembering it after the fact.

The interesting thing about remembered and anticipated pleasure is that they capture some aspects of the experience—but not all of them. That’s why, for example, you might remember an experience that was great for 15 minutes as better than an experience that was great for the first 15 minutes and then merely good for 15 more. In essence, the longer experience had more goodness in it (30 minutes), but the remembered pleasure wasn’t as large because it also involved some less exciting moments.

I suspect that the masseuse wanted you to have more moments in which you experienced the massage—but by doing so added some less pleasurable parts and decreased your remembered pleasure, which will also decrease the anticipatory pleasure you’re likely to feel before your next session on the table.

This lesson, by the way, applies to many other domains of life. Think about a presentation to clients, a dinner party, or a discussion with a friend—it’s the quality, not the quantity, which influences our remembered and anticipated pleasures.


Dear Dan,

My kids are spending much of their time on social networks such as Facebook. Are they really being social with their friends or just wasting time?


Here’s my test for real friendship: Would your friends bail you out of jail if you needed them to? My sense is that spending face-to-face time with friends is likely to increase the likelihood of bail, while following someone’s status updates won’t. If your kids aren’t increasing their odds of getting real help when they need it, they probably aren’t being social in a meaningful way.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Begging, Bad Waiters, and the Facebook Blues

March 2, 2013 BY danariely

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week — and if you have any questions for me, just email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.


Dear Dan,

I was recently approached by a panhandler who asked me for 75 cents, and I gave him the money. I was late for my train, so I didn’t have time to stop and try to understand why he chose 75 cents. But I wonder: Do you think the 75-cent request could be a “market tested” amount, one that yields a higher overall level of “donations” than asking outright for a buck or more.


The panhandler could be trying to make a unique request in order to separate himself from the competition. But my guess is that you were more willing to give him money because you inferred things from the specificity of his request.

When someone tells us to meet them at 8:03, we come to a different conclusion about how seriously they mean that exact time as compared with their telling us to meet them at 8 or 8-ish. In the same way, a request for exactly 75 cents may carry a set of inferences about how seriously the person needs the money. It may lead us to think there is a specific reason for the request, like getting enough for bus fare. Plus, even if he asks for 75 cents, it’s likely that people will give $1 and not wait for change.

You could argue that the same principle would apply if he asked for $1.25, but in this case the size of the request might deter some people, and if they don’t have exact change, giving $2 might be too much. This is just speculation, though. If you are willing to volunteer as an experimenter for a few days, we can gather some real data and get to the bottom of this.

What lessons can we draw from this strategy? First, think about the inferences that people make from the exact way that we request something. Second, asking for general help is unlikely to be as effective as asking for exactly what we need.


Dear Dan,

In a restaurant where waiters pool their tips, could they actually receive more tips overall by employing a “good waiter/bad waiter” routine, where one waiter is surly and unhelpful, then another waiter steps in who is friendly and goes above and beyond in serving the client? I suspect that the scheme might cause the customer to leave a larger tip for the second waiter, which will ultimately be pooled with the tips of the “bad” waiter.


I agree with your analysis. And for it to work, you don’t even need the waiters to share their tips—they could just alternate roles.

A friend who worked for a large consumer-products company was trying to change the company’s service motto from “we do things right for our customers” to “we mess up the first time, but then we fix it.” His idea (which upper management rejected, by they way) was that when people expect and receive good customer service, it draws no attention, and they just take it for granted (you can think of parallels to romantic relationships as well). But if we give customers a contrast between good and bad service (as at a restaurant), they may start to notice and appreciate good service more.

I suspect that some industries may have already picked up on this idea, and that airport restaurants are leading the charge by providing the training grounds for delivering bad service most effectively.


Dear Dan,

I graduated from college a few years ago, and since then my social life has been limited to Facebook. And it is far from satisfying.


Facebook has many wonderful aspects, but I agree that it is no substitute for human contact. If you ever feel that nobody really cares whether you’re alive, try missing a couple of student loan payments.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.