Ask Ariely: On Chips and Dips, Expectations, and Gossip

January 19, 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,

While I’m watching sports, I often find myself with the same problem. I will have too many chips for my dip, but if I open up another can of dip I’ll have too much dip for my chips. I don’t want the extra can of dip to go to waste, but I don’t want to have to eat dry chips. What should I do?


This is indeed an important problem! What you are experiencing is a problem with ending rules. The chips and dip each provide an experience for you that ends at a different time, making it hard to figure out when to stop.

One solution would be to convince the chip and dip manufacturers to bundle packages that complement each other in terms of size. Another approach would involve pacing yourself from the get-go in terms of the chip-to-dip ratio. A third idea would be to invite a friend who only likes chips (or dislikes the dip you have).

More seriously, the problem you are describing is part of a more general issue, as Brian Wansink shows in his wonderful book “Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.” We don’t stop eating when we have had a sufficient amount of food, but when we’ve finished everything on the plate. The best approach may be to think about how much chips-and-dip you want to consume, transfer that amount to small dishes, and stop making decisions based on the size of the packaging.


Dear Dan,

In “Predictably Irrational,” you wrote about the “Effect of Expectations,” and you demonstrated that we are prone to perceiving things as being more like what we expect them to be than as what they actually are. As an example, you showed that we would experience a glass of wine as better if we had seen positive reviews of it before tasting it. Well, these findings mostly fit with my own experience; however, what you didn’t mention is the possibility of a negative effect for expectations that are too good. In other words, is the effect the same when something is extremely overhyped?

My own observation is that when I passionately recommend a movie to my friends, sometimes their feedback is: “It wasn’t that good. I thought it would be really amazing.” I suspect that they’re experiencing a negative feeling toward the movie because I over-hyped it. Do you think that overhyped expectations can backfire?

—Omid Sani

My intuition is basically the same as yours. When I overhype something, I also feel like people end up with very high expectations (that is, assuming they trust my opinion) and that this can decrease their enjoyment of the experience.

Here is how I view the issue: Heightened expectations can change our experience by (let’s say) 20%, which means that as long as the increased expectations are within this range, the expectation can “pull” the experience and influence it. But when expectations are too extreme (let’s say 60% heightened), the gap with reality becomes too wide, and they may backfire and reduce enjoyment.

If you want your friends to experience something as better than it truly is, go for it and exaggerate. But don’t exaggerate by too much. This kind of “fudge zone” also suggests that in areas of life where people are not experts, you can exaggerate a bit more.


Dear Dan,

I’m at a loss for understanding the popularity of gossip newspapers and magazines? What is the attraction??


I don’t understand it myself, but I suspect that some of the attraction has to do with social coordination.

I have never been in a discussion where people said “I only wish we had more time to talk about the weather / sports / gossip.” But, given the need to find common topics for discussion, these are some of the easiest common denominators to find.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.