Updates

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.

Reader Response: Day 16

June 5, 2015 BY danariely

Reader Response: Day 15

June 3, 2015 BY danariely

Like this reviewer, you may discover some untapped talents after reading Irrationally Yours.

Irrationally Yours,

Dan Ariely

Reader Response: Day 14

June 1, 2015 BY danariely

After reading Irrationally Yours, this entrepreneur is finally able to make her mark.

Irrationally Yours,

Dan Ariely

Reader Response: Day 13

May 30, 2015 BY danariely

On lucky day 13, listen to this gentleman reader’s turnaround story.

Irrationally Yours,

Dan Ariely

Reader Response: Day 12

May 28, 2015 BY danariely

Hear her story on an open door policy below, and check out more reader responses in this album.

Irrationally Yours,

Dan Ariely

Reader Response: Day 11

May 26, 2015 BY danariely

This reader got lucky after reading Irrationally Yours. Maybe you can get lucky too!

Irrationally Yours,

Dan Ariely

Ask Ariely: On Risky Questionnaires, Great Expectations, and Victims of Piracy

May 23, 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.

This week, in celebration of my new book Irrationally Yours (which is based on this column), I’d like to share some feedback that I received from a reader. Please enjoy the video.

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Dear Dan,

I am ready to start investing for my retirement, but I’m struggling with those risk questionnaires. I’m not sure that I really know any of the answers. The results show that I’m somewhat conservative, but I don’t trust their conclusions. Any advice? 

—Rick

Deciding how much risk to stomach in your investment plans is a huge decision that will have a major impact on your savings and ability to retire. AND I don’t think you should base that big decision on your response to some risk-assessment questionnaire. The questions in most of these risk-attitude-assessment tools are about feelings, but you should focus on how much money you’ll need to retire and the quality of life you would have under different investment scenarios. Let’s just assume that you hate the feeling of losing. So what? Should we doom you to a life of poverty just because you feel bad when you lose money? My advice: Figure out how your life might look like with various investment approaches, figure out which tradeoffs you are (and aren’t) willing to make and plan your investments accordingly. Meanwhile, you can deal with your fear of risk directly. Learn yoga, meditate, take some medication, avoid looking at your portfolio more than twice a year—do whatever you need to deal with your emotions, but make sure that doesn’t interfere with the way you decide to invest.

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Dear Dan,

The other day, I ordered a new drink, a “London Fog tea latte,” at a local café. It arrived on the counter in a porcelain teacup with a saucer, and four lavender seeds were arranged in a fleur-de-lis at the center of the froth. The barista gave me a bestowing nod. It was the best tea latte I’d ever tasted; I found myself saying “Mmm” before the cup even reached my lips. Do our expectations actually affect how things taste to us? 

—Chelsea 

For sure. In an experiment we conducted about ten years ago at MIT, we gave the students two small beer samples and asked them to pick the one they wanted a full glass of. One sample was just plain beer, but the other sample was a regular beer plus some balsamic vinegar. We didn’t tell some students about the special ingredient, and they liked the beer with the dark additive. But when we told our tasters about the vinegar, their expectations kicked in; they expected to hate it and sure enough, they did. Such results show that expectations do indeed change what we like. More important, they show us that expectations are a fascinating interplay between our brain and our mind. We are always trying to predict the future and prepare for it. As our body changes to accommodate to the anticipated experience, it also makes those anticipations more likely to materialize. This is why expectations can change our actual experience—and why we should embrace them as much as we can. (My next answer, by the way, is going to be particularly insightful. Wait 30 seconds, and read on.)

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Dear Dan,

My nephew has been downloading music and movies illegally from the Internet. How can I get him to respect intellectual-property rights without sounding self-righteous? 

—Patricia 

My own view on illegal downloads was deeply modified the day that my book on dishonesty was published—when I learned that it had been illegally downloaded more than 20,000 times from one website. (The irony did not escape me.) My advice? Get your nephew to create something and then, without him knowing, put it online and download it many, many times. I suspect that will make it much harder for him to keep up his blithe attitude toward piracy.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Irrationally Yours is out TODAY!

May 19, 2015 BY danariely

My new book Irrationally Yours, based on my “Ask Ariely” column in the Wall Street Journal, comes out today.

In this video, I offer advice to passersby on everything ranging from commuting to work to a trip around the world.

Irrationally Yours,

Dan Ariely

Reader Response: Day 9

May 18, 2015 BY danariely

This reader was inspired to pursue her dreams after reading Irrationally Yours. Hear her story below:

Irrationally Yours,

Dan Ariely