Updates

Ask Ariely: On Allowances for Appearance, Desirable Drafts, and Too Many Tasks

April 30, 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.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a young woman who works at a Fortune 500 company, and I feel pressure at work to dress up. Between hair, makeup and a different, interesting outfit every day, I’d estimate that the extra effort takes about an hour a day and costs more than 10% of my income. So shouldn’t women be allowed to come to work an hour later than men and get paid 10% more?

—Maria 

You’re quite right that the different standards we have for men and women in the workplace create lots of inequalities that, as a society, we need to fix. But your modest proposal is inherently flawed. If we followed it to its next logical steps, we would give raises to people with strong body odor who need to spend more time in the shower. Would we make bald men work longer because they don’t need to spend time washing their hair? And what about women who worry less or more about their attractiveness? Would your “dressing-up allowance” of time and money be provided only to those who focus on such things? You are basically proposing that we overcome sexism with reverse discrimination, which usually creates new and sometimes more complex problems.
Still, even if we agree to disagree over whether women as a class should make more than men, I hope we can agree that equal pay for equal work would be a key step forward.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a college professor, and every year, I have a few wonderful students who work and work on their papers to make them better and better. They almost always miss their deadlines and get penalized. What can I do to get them to be less perfectionistic and more punctual?

—Howard 

Perfectionists don’t have it easy. They feel so bad about submitting subpar work (and of course, nothing is ever perfect) that they are willing to pay all kinds of costs in their struggle for perfection—including being late and getting lower grades.
To overcome the perfectionists’ problem, what if you asked your students to write their papers using Google Docs and to share their drafts with you? You would then have access to their work every step of the way, and the students—including the perfectionists—would know that you’ve been exposed to various versions of their less-than-perfect paper.
Alternatively, you could ask your students to submit their first drafts by the middle of the semester. You could explain that you expect these papers to be half-baked and encourage them to keep on improving their drafts by handing you an updated version every week. This approach would also make the students submit an imperfect paper, and once they did, they might be more relaxed moving forward.

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Dear Dan,

Children today are continuously exposed to multimedia on their cellphones and other devices. At a sporting event a few weeks ago, I saw some kids who were watching the live game in front of them while also playing a videogame on their phones. I’m amazed by such versatility. Are they more able to handle multiple tasks at the same time than us dinosaurs?

—Rob 

Kids these days certainly do a lot simultaneously, and they certainly think that they can handle multiple tasks—but they have the same limited attention span as the rest of us. The sad outcome of their overconfidence in their multitasking capacities is that they listen to a lecture while scrolling through Facebook, play a videogame while watching a movie and text while having a family dinner—and don’t really benefit from any of these activities.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Life Changes, Valuable Visits, and Killer Odds

April 16, 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.

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Dear Dan,

Should I get a tattoo or a dog?

—Jeff

Since you are asking me, I’m guessing that you don’t have much experience with either. So my advice would be to experiment first.  In general, when we ask questions about the future, we are trying to simulate how our future will look with the changes that we have in mind and how happy they will make us. The problem is that it is very hard to replicate things in our mind (including your potential life with a dog or a tattoo), which is where experimentation can help. Put on one of these ink tattoos for a few weeks, then take care of a friend’s dog for a few weeks and see which experience gave you more pleasure.  My guess is that by the end of the experiment, you will wonder if you should be making some other life change altogether.

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Dear Dan,

Many museums have taken to offering free-admission days, but accumulating evidence shows that this tactic doesn’t do much to encourage short- and long-term attendance from folks who aren’t already familiar with museums. The museums’ idea was that free days would attract new audiences who would become more regular museumgoers. Not only hasn’t this approach worked, but now some patrons who would have made a return visit anyway simply choose to do so on the free days. Why isn’t this working?

—Carter 

In general, free as a strategy rarely turns people into long-term users. The basic logic of a free trial is that by (temporarily) removing the price, all barriers to try the product or service are eliminated, and once people try it, they will realize how empty their lives had been up to that point—and promptly become loyal users.  

This approach can work in a few very specific cases—mostly where the service or product is unquestionably amazing but people don’t realize just how amazing it is. A free-trial approach also works well for addictive products such as heroin, where a dealer just needs to get people to try it once. Museums don’t fit in these categories.  

My suggestion? Instead of offering free days (which also means shifting existing patrons from paying days to nonpaying days and undermining the perceived value of the museum), think about new types of value-added experiences that would make your museum more appealing to broader audiences.

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Dear Dan,

I recently read a story about lottery winners who get robbed and sometimes killed. That left me wondering whether people find it more morally justifiable to rob and kill people who won the lottery compared to people who receive a similar amount of money as a year-end bonus at their jobs. Any insights?

—Damjan 

I don’t think that this type of difference in morality is what drives the robbery and murder of lottery winners—but I do think that, as in many of our other behaviors, that salience and convenience play crucial roles.

First, on salience, we simply hear and know a lot about lottery winners. They are in the news, and their stories command a larger part of our attention. Second, in terms of convenience, lottery players often come from low-income neighborhoods, where the crime rate is likely to be higher and the perpetrators can more easily execute their plans.

More generally, I find state-sponsored lotteries immoral because they largely take money away from the poor citizens who buy so many of the tickets. Maybe this is another reason to take a closer look at the social effect of lotteries—and cancel them.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

The Costs of Staying in Hospital Too Long

February 20, 2016 BY danariely

Dear Dan,
I’m a physician, and it seems to me that people often stay in the hospital for too long. (One piece of evidence: Many more patients get discharged from the hospital on weekends.) Prolonged hospitalizations cost a lot of money and mean that beds aren’t available for people who need them. How can we change this?
—George

Think of three parties involved in decisions about staying an extra day in the hospital: the doctor, the patient and the family. All three would benefit from having patients discharged before the weekend: The doctors have fewer patients to deal with, the patients get to return to their loved ones, and the families can stay home rather than making one more hospital visit. Maybe we should try to make every day in the hospital feel like Friday.

Here’s a more concrete idea: Why not take one channel on the hospital’s internal TV system and dedicate it to people’s bills? The channel could present patients with real-time information about their bill, showing it rising with every meal, treatment and round of medication. It could also show the charges expected over the next 24 hours. My guess is that this change would spur people to leave the hospital much sooner.

Dear Dan,
How can we encourage people to eat less meat? Lots of people consider it cruel to kill animals and identify emotionally with vegetarians but still choose to eat pork, chicken and steak.
—Vered

Sadly, our choices—moral and otherwise—often aren’t the result of what we know but what we feel, and feelings have their quirks. In my field, there is something called the Identifiable Victim Effect, which shows that people can care deeply about a single, specific tragedy (such as the death of one Syrian refugee) yet care little about vast atrocities involving thousands or even millions of people (such as the Syrian crisis).

A similar principle applies to the ways we think about treating (and eating) animals. During a 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the U.K., the authorities had more than 2 million farm animals slaughtered near infected areas. It was tragic for the animals, the farmers and the British economy, but the decision didn’t produce much public complaint—until one day, when newspapers published front-page photos of a cute little calf in Devon that survived the killing. That picture spurred a public outcry against the wholesale slaughter and, according to the Associated Press, may have helped produce “a change of heart by the British government” that ultimately helped end the killing. The abstract concept of slaughtering legions of cows, pig and sheep did nothing, but the adorable face of one calf made people sad and drove them to take action: the Identifiable Victim Effect at work.

So your best bet may be to wait for the ideal opportunity for a pro-vegetarianism campaign, ideally involving one particularly cute animal.

Meanwhile, you could encourage people to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals,” which describes in vivid detail the conditions in which the creatures we consume are forced to live and die. Reading it made it hard for me to even look at a burger without thinking about what happened to the cow that it came from.

Dear Dan,
What’s the best love note one could write?
—Peter

The ideal message would show confidence, deep desire, a capacity for romance and optimism about your shared future. With all these in mind, I’d suggest, “Would you give me the opportunity to sweep you off your feet?”

Ask Ariely: On Experimental Explanations, Procrastination Punishments, and Server Strategies

February 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.

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Dear Dan,

For some time now, I’ve been proposing different experiments at my company—experiments with the prices we charge, what we pay employees and the way we treat customers who call to complain. But the experimental approach that seems so successful for science bumps into substantial resistance within my company. Any ideas about how to make experiments more palatable in the business world?

—Darren 

Without knowing exactly why your colleagues are balking at the experimental approach, it is hard to propose a solution. But based on my own corporate experiences, I’ll assume that they are objecting to the idea that some people in your experiments will get better treatment and some will get worse treatment, which just seems unfair.
One of my colleagues at Duke experienced a related challenge recently. He asked a local urban high school if he could offer half the students a free lunch to see how it might influence their attendance and academic performance. In the spirit of experimentation, he wanted to randomly select which pupils would get the free lunch and which ones wouldn’t. The school found the suggestion repugnant: It seemed offensive to select some kids and not others.
My colleague waited a few months and tried again. This time, he told the school administrators that he wanted to give all the students the free lunch but could only afford to pay for half of them—and asked the school how to decide who would get the free lunch. And what was their suggestion? You guessed it: to pick the kids randomly. As this story illustrates, equity is a major obstacle to executing experiments. But if you can figure out how to frame them as fair, they might become more palatable.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a philosophy professor, teaching metaphysics and philosophy of language. What’s the best policy for penalizing students who hand in coursework late, with an eye on preparing them for the world of work?

—Andrew 

If the goal is to prepare students for life, I would start by creating a penalty system with a continuously increasing punishment—say, cutting their total grade by 3% for every day of delay. This largely resembles the penalties that adult life imposes: Even for things with very clear deadlines, like taxes, you can be late—but there’s a penalty for doing so, and the longer you wait, the larger it becomes.
Since you’re interested in helping your students more generally, you could also help them learn how to better plan their time. Students procrastinate, routinely and repeatedly, and they rarely seem to conquer this pattern. You could take a more active role in helping them create virtuous habits of planning and time management, perhaps by helping them break down daunting tasks into manageable sub-tasks and showing them how to schedule these in their calendars. Such ploys won’t teach them philosophy, but by dedicating some class time to such things, you might teach your students some important life lessons—and free up more time for them to read Aristotle and Wittgenstein.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a server in a New York City restaurant in New York, and I want diners to trust my recommendations and leave me larger tips. Any advice?

—Robert 

As soon as you hand them the menu, tell them that you strongly recommend they avoid the branzino special (or any other very expensive dish). By demonstrating that you’re willing to steer them away from a pricey entrée, they’re more likely to think that you truly care about them, trust your advice and tip you more.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

 

Ask Ariely: Strategic Seating, Rush Hour Rudeness, and Loose Lips

December 12, 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 fiancé and I are realizing that we’re going to have to invite some awful people to our wedding. These are close relatives whom we love despite everything, but they often say or do crummy things at parties. We estimate that they’ll make up about 4% of our guests at a 150-person wedding. 

So how should we arrange the table seating for maximum guest happiness? Should we put all of the troublemakers together, spread them among other guests who don’t know them well or put them with family members who are more or less used to their behavior?

—Susanna 

First, congratulations. If you apply this kind of forward planning to your life together, you might beat the divorce statistics.

As to your question, we know that people get a sense of what’s socially acceptable from the people around them. If you put all the troublemakers at one table, they’ll build off each other, take each other’s actions as signals of what’s acceptable and create a tremendous ruckus that will far exceed their actual size at the wedding. So I’d recommend that you split them up and seat them next to some stern grandmother to keep them in check.

Here’s a riskier suggestion: Put them at the kids table. Thinking about children often makes us become more idealistic and try to be the best version of ourselves. And if they still misbehave, the kids will get a good, memorable experience.

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Dear Dan,

Every day on the New York City subway, I encounter a plethora of commuters traveling with additional bags, taking up extra space at rush hour and making the trip worse for everyone. Why are they behaving so irrationally?

—Lenny 

The behavior isn’t really irrational from the standpoint of the people with the extra bags, but it is certainly suboptimal for the commuter community as a whole. This type of behavior falls under the heading of what we call “the tragedy of the commons,” derived from a scenario in which several farmers have one cow apiece, with a patch of grass (the commons) that serves everyone. One day, one farmer gets a second cow. Now the cows eat the grass at a rate slightly faster than its replenishing rate. Eventually, there isn’t enough grass for any of the cows; malnourishment sets in, and milk production drops.

The same process could be unfolding on the subway, which would function far better if everybody would take just one bag. Taking multiple bags may suit those carrying them, but it hurts the group and the commuting exercise as a whole.

This analysis won’t help your problem, but maybe you could start looking at it with some deeper appreciation for the complexity of social dilemmas.

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Dear Dan,

Recently, a friend told me a secret that belongs to a third friend. She even added that the third friend had explicitly asked her not to share it with anyone. Why did she tell me? Doesn’t she realize that I will trust her less now?

—Evelyn 

Your loose-lipped friend has demonstrated that she is the secret-sharing type, but she has also showed that she cares enough about you to betray her promise to the third friend for your supposed benefit. If I was being puckish, I’d say you should trust her more.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: Boss Behavior, Communal Correspondence, and Long-Term Love

November 28, 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 having ongoing problems with my boss because of his leadership style: He is very rigid and formal, and he demands silent obedience from his workers. Should I rebel, recognize his authority or look for a new job?

—Ajaan 

This is really a question about the likelihood that your boss’s behavior can change. While I would like to be optimistic about the chances here, it is pretty difficult to get people to change in general—and it’s particularly difficult to be optimistic in your case.

Imagine a world in which you were the only person working for your boss. If you rebelled, that would immediately redefine the work environment, and your boss would be quite likely to adapt and change. By contrast, if your company has hundreds of employees, even an outright personal rebellion would make up only a small part of the feedback going up to your boss, leaving him unlikely to learn and change.

As such, if you think that you can get all of your fellow employees to start demanding better treatment, then you should try rebellion—but if you can’t get at least a critical mass of allies on board, move on.

One final point: Feeling in control and having some sense of autonomy are incredibly important aspects of fulfilling work. Any job that doesn’t give you these elements is going to chip away at your well-being and happiness. So when you look for your next gig, make sure that you get a job that gives you more than just a paycheck.

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Dear Dan,

My wife and I have one email address for the two of us. Buddies from my soccer team often joke about our shared email address, calling me a sissy. Are they right? Should I convince my wife to get a separate email?

—Franz 

No—don’t change. I suspect that the notion that everybody should have their own email account emerged a long time ago when email was in its infancy—when we didn’t really know how we should be using it, let alone how it would grow and evolve. Over the years, email has become a vital, rich communications tool, but the notion of one email per person has remained our mental default setting—probably to the detriment of good communication.

You may have heard of an interesting new tech firm called Slack, which offers software to help groups of colleagues trade messages and share files. It could be, the Journal says, “the fastest-growing business application of all time”—and it is specifically designed to create shared communication between people in a manner similar to your shared-email approach. Slack’s popularity among high-tech companies suggests that you’re onto something.

I would tell your teammates that, rather than thoughtlessly accepting a default email habit, you’re ahead of your time—and that one day, they will catch up.

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Dear Dan,

I’m dating a wonderful guy, but I wonder: What’s the thing that’s most likely to solidify our bond and turn it into a successful long-term relationship?

—Logan 

The best advice I can give about long-term couplehood is to find someone you admire and aspire to emulate in some important ways—and have them simultaneously feel the same way about you. With this starting point, you can spend the rest of your joint lives striving to improve and catch up. I’ve adopted this advice myself and can personally attest to how magical it can make one’s life.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Lying about dishonesty….

November 19, 2015 BY danariely

This guy has been posting “social science experiments” like this one:

Sadly, these are not real experiments.  They have been hiring actors and filming their reactions as if they were real.  How sad.  See this interview.

Lying about dishonesty….

 

 

 

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.

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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?

—Shimon 

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.

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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?

—Tom 

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.

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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?

—Manny 

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.

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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?

—Benjamin 

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.

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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?

—Skyler 

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.

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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?

—Jon 

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.

Ask Ariely: On Damaged Trust, Strategic Styling, and Poor Placement

October 18, 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,

Recently, our babysitter asked to borrow my car—then had a minor accident that cost about $1,000 to fix. Should I charge her for the repairs?

—Neta 

You shouldn’t, for two reasons. To view this problem through a more general mindset, let’s assume that the culprit wasn’t your babysitter and that the object in question wasn’t your car—instead, let’s imagine you’d loaned your neighbor your electric drill and it broke while he hanging a picture. He might offer to pay for the drill, but if he didn’t, would you ask him to pay for it? Probably not. You’d understand that wear and tear happens, that the breakage probably wasn’t your neighbor’s fault and that the drill would have broken anyway. In contrast, when someone has a car accident, we’re quick to blame them—but from time to time, accidents just happen through no fault of the driver’s. Maybe this is a good opportunity to accept the accident as part of wear and tear on the car.

Another reason why you shouldn’t ask the babysitter to pay: They’re your babysitter, and while they might be a very trustworthy teenager, you were the one who decided to lend them your car. Best to own up to that responsibility.

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Dear Dan,

I’m planning to hire a professional clothing stylist to study my body type and style and advise me on which clothes to keep and which to give away. I’m considering two options: first, asking her to take all the clothes she doesn’t approve of out of my closet, and second, to first take everything out and then put back the things she thinks pass muster. Which approach would you recommend?

—Maria 

You’re right to suspect that the two methods will probably result in different outcomes. The reason is the “status quo bias”—the tendency to leave things as they are. If you start with all the clothes in the closet, the effort required to keep items there is lower than the effort required to take them out, which means that fewer clothes will end up being given away. On the other hand, if you start with all your clothes out of the closet, the lower-effort course involves leaving clothes where they are, which means more things will end up being given away.

But you’re unlikely to apply the status quo bias evenly to your whole wardrobe: The clothes that are clearly great will probably stay with you regardless of your method, and the clothes that are just awful will probably be given away either way too. The difference will come from the “Goldilocks clothes”—the ones that rest somewhere between those two clear categories. The real question is how many of these Goldilocks clothes you want to keep.

Two more points: If you don’t fully trust the stylist, you might start with the “all clothes in” approach, take fewer risks and keep more of the Goldilocks clothes. Also, some clothes will have sentimental value even if someone else thinks they look awful on you – so keep these. After all, we dress for ourselves, not just for other people.

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Dear Dan,

What is the best example of human irrationality?

—Bill 

I must admit I’ve never understood why the most important medical center in the world, the Mayo Clinic, is conveniently located in balmy Rochester, Minn. I’ve benefited enormously from their care—but it’s a long trip.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.