Updates

Ask Ariely: On Preparing for Productivity, Manipulating Motivation, and Risking Romance

January 21, 2017 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,

Do you have any tips to improve productivity?

—Shana 

Here’s one: Pick a food or drink that you love, turn consuming it into a ritual and make working on an important long-term project a condition of indulging in this exciting consumption.

I adore my morning coffee, so I’ve transformed it into a daily ceremony by using the same mug, savoring the grinding of the beans, watching the coffee pour from the machine and smelling the aroma as it spreads throughout the room. I then take the cup to my office, sit at my desk and move to the important part: I connect this marvelous mug of coffee to a continuing task that matters deeply to me.

This can be an academic article, grading my students’ term papers or anything else that I want to do in principle but tend not to feel like doing on any given day. I allow myself to start sipping my coffee only after I’ve been working on the project for a few minutes, and I don’t stop working until I’ve drained my cup. (This works better with a big mug of coffee than with an espresso.)

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Dear Dan,

I love using behavioral economics to produce better decision-making. But what happens when people discover that they’re being manipulated to do something? Do they lose motivation or try to play against the system?

—Sebastian 

Of course, if we found out that someone had deliberately deceived us into doing something against our best interests (such as signing up for an insurance policy we don’t need), we’d be upset. The more interesting question: How would we react if we found out that we had been manipulated into doing something that is in our long-term interest (like saving more or eating better)?

Recent research found that in such cases, it doesn’t matter if people find out that they were manipulated. This holds across many domains, whether it is influencing people to eat healthier food, getting them to fill out advance directives about what to do if they become too ill to express their wishes, or prompting them to donate more to a charity. So while it might seem morally dubious to manipulate people into following their best interests, they are generally OK with it.

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Dear Dan,

Is love overrated? I am deeply in love with someone, but to be with them, I’ll have to change jobs and cities. Should I make these changes and hope that this love will last, or should I assume that this love, like most loves, is doomed to fade and not worth the risk?

—Amy 

Wait a few months, and if you still feel as ardent about your partner, take the chance. In general, the odds are very much against us when we start almost anything: a business, a book, an exercise regimen. But we often encourage people to do these things anyway, so why not for love? The odds are low that your love will burn as brightly in 10 years, but some risks in life are worth taking.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Treating the Teacher, Perceiving Pain, and Realizing Resolutions

December 10, 2016 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 always agonize this time of year over getting the right gift for my children’s teachers. I hate gift certificates, which feel so thoughtless and generic. So what should I give?

—Raquel 

You’re absolutely right about skipping the gift certificate. A present for a teacher shouldn’t be a financial transaction; it should foster connection and express gratitude. Gift certificates get spent or forgotten.
For that matter, flowers die, and apples get eaten. You’re much better off with a nonperishable gift that will strengthen the relationship between your family and the teacher. Consider giving a funky little piece of art (such as a decorated planter) made by your child, inspired by something he or she learned from the teacher. Or you could get something that the teacher would enjoy but might feel guilty spending too much on, such as a fancy fountain pen or even a lovely notebook with superb paper—and a heartfelt note from your child on the first page.

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Dear Dan,

How do expectations influence our perceptions of pain? Several months ago, I underwent serious but elective surgery on one foot. Many friends told me that they had heard how long and painful the recovery process would be. I have a very low tolerance for pain, so I worried and imagined the worst. Still, I went through with it, and to my surprise, the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. It has been a long and uncomfortable recovery but far less painful than I’d anticipated.
I used to think that a positive outlook would serve me better, but now I wonder if my negative expectations might have worked in my favor. What do you think?
—Stacy
 
Your experience highlights an important concept in decision-making, known as “affective forecasting errors.” We turn out to be notoriously bad at predicting how we will feel after major life events, even life-altering experiences such as losing a limb or winning the lottery. Both positive and negative milestones often affect our long-term happiness much less than we expect.
As for your experience, I am happy that it wasn’t as bad as you’d feared, but I wouldn’t conclude that your dour expectations were the reason. The academic literature on pain (for example, the 2005 studies by Tetsuo Koyama and colleagues at Wake Forest University School of Medicine) shows that when we expect decreases in pain, our subjective experience of pain also decreases, and so does the activation of brain regions responsible for pain.
In other words, our expectations about pain help to shape the neural processes underlying the physical experience of pain. That can bring the reality more in line with our expectations. As such, I wonder whether you might have experienced even less pain had your friends underestimated your postoperative pain.

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Dear Dan,

As we enter December, I wonder whether I should make any New Year’s resolutions. I have been making them for years, and I inevitably fail to keep them, which is pretty frustrating. Should I give up or give it another go?

—Jamie 

Don’t give up. Even if you stick to your resolution for, say, three or six months, you will be better off than you would have been if you had done nothing. And you might do better if you make New Year’s resolutions that are more limited and achievable. For example, what if instead of promising yourself that you will exercise three times a week for the whole year, you pledged just to work out for six weeks? That goal would be far easier to grasp, and maybe by the time you reach it, you will want to keep going.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Snooze Strategy, Better Bottles, and Productive Procrastination

October 29, 2016 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 having trouble waking up in the morning. I set my alarm clock, but I always wind up hitting the snooze button or turning it off completely. Any advice? If I want to wake up at 7 a.m., what time should I set my alarm for, and how many times should I hit snooze?

—Phillip 

Set your alarm for exactly the time you need to get up. Since you want to start your day at 7, you may be tempted to set the alarm a bit early (let’s say 6:40) and hit snooze a few times until it is 7 or maybe even 7:15. But if you pick this snooze strategy, your body can’t learn the conditioned response between hearing the alarm and getting up.

In general, our bodies do better when they can get used to a single clear rule: Get out of bed the moment the alarm sounds. When we play with the snooze button, our bodies get a confused message: Sometimes we hear the beeping and get up, sometimes we hear it and stay put for 10 more minutes, sometimes we lie there for another 20 minutes, and so on.

So just bite the bullet and get out of bed when the alarm tells you to. Do this faithfully for a few months, and the conditioning should start to kick in. It won’t be fun in the beginning, but over time, it should pay off. Good luck.

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Dear Dan,

When I’m out for dinner, I occasionally encounter a wine so special that I buy a case of it to drink at home. But the subsequent bottles never taste as appealing as the initial one, so I wind up not only regretting the purchase of additional wine but also spoiling some of the wonderful memories of my night at the restaurant.

So why can’t I enjoy the same wine as much at home? Is there something special about the way the restaurant handles the wine or the glow of the original occasion?

—Eugene 

After an excellent dinner out, we might remember the wine as impeccable. But we probably won’t realize that part of our enjoyment of the wine flowed from the flickering candles, the beautiful music, the tasty food and the charming company. At home, the same wine is just the wine, without the halo effect, and it isn’t the same experience. Psychologists call this phenomenon the “misattribution of emotions”: We assume that the source of our enjoyment is one thing when it is really another.

It’s almost never possible to revisit special experiences. The place where you spent your honeymoon, for example, probably won’t make a good family vacation spot: A few days of chasing the kids and trying to eke out a few hours of sleep will certainly taint (if not erase) the original memory.

Next time, enjoy the wine, commit the whole experience to memory, don’t try to relive it, and look forward to new experiences.

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Dear Dan,

I recently started using a smartphone app to manage my to-do list, and I’m really enjoying it. Every night, I take some time to make my to-do list; every morning, I go over it; and as I tackle different tasks throughout the day, I check them off my list. I feel not only more organized but more productive. Is there good documentation about an increase in productivity from to-do lists?

—Lev 

You might be experiencing some increase in real productivity, but my guess is that you are mostly experiencing “structured procrastination.” That is the feeling of productivity that we get from making lists and crossing things off them—which spurs us to spend time on things that make us feel productive rather than on being productive. I am not recommending that you stop using this app, but I hope that you will measure your productivity based on what you’re getting done in your real-life projects, not on racking up checkmarks.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Celebratory Savings, Tools for Temptation, and Anticipating Activities

October 15, 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,

My wife and I recently had our first child. We know that friends and family, especially grandparents, like to buy gifts for children for birthdays and holidays. But we have set up a college savings account for our child and would much prefer to have our loved ones put money into this account rather than buy things that our child doesn’t really need. How can we encourage this more rational behavior?

—Kyle 

Though giving money is often more economically efficient than giving stuff, the feeling of social connection that we get from gift-giving is higher when we give something tangible. If I were you, I would try to provide the gift-givers with a chance to do a bit of both. You can ask them to buy something small for your child and also to put some money in the college fund.

If you want an even higher proportion of the money to go to the college fund, buy a nice book with blank pages and on its cover write your child’s name and the word “future” (“Dan’s Future,” for example). You can then ask each gift-giver to put money in the college fund and, at the same time, to share some advice for life by writing on one page of the book. This way, there will be a physical reminder of their gift (the book and the advice), but more of the money will go to the college fund.

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Dear Dan,

I am trying to stop using Facebook because it only wastes my time and makes me feel bad about myself. But despite repeated attempts to stay away from my Facebook page, I keep coming back to it. I think part of the reason is that I’m so impulsive. Do you have any advice on how I might finally break my Facebook habit?

—Maryam 

My recommendation is to create some sort of “Ulysses contract.” As you will recall from Homer’s ancient tale, Ulysses knew that if he allowed himself to hear the tempting calls of the Sirens, he would follow them and in the process kill himself and his crew. So he asked his sailors to tie him to the mast of his ship and put wax in their own ears. Ulysses thus protected himself from temptation by making it impossible to take action when temptation appeared. He didn’t have to summon his willpower to resist.

Maybe you can make your own Ulysses contract by asking a friend to change your Facebook password and not to tell you what it is for a month. This will give you a chance to see what life without Facebook feels like and to decide if that is indeed what you want. If it is, you can then go ahead and delete your account—and you will be free of Facebook.

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Dear Dan,

I hate waiting for anything. I get very impatient when I have to wait for food in a restaurant, for my new iPhone, for the next time I will meet a good friend, etc. Is there anything I can do to make it less painful to wait?

—Maya 

Sometimes anticipation can be a pleasurable part of the experience. Imagine, for example, that you could get a kiss from your favorite movie star. Would you rather get the kiss in the next 30 seconds or in a week? When faced with this question, most people prefer to wait because, in the end, a kiss is just a kiss, but waiting for a unique kiss can be wonderful. My advice is that you try to get into such a mindset for other experiences as well, and instead of thinking about waiting as a delay, think about it as an opportunity for anticipation.

P.S. I got this question from you a few months ago, and I hope that you enjoyed anticipating my response.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On The Carrot Law, Summer Season, and Sticky Situations

May 14, 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,

This depressing election season has left me deeply disheartened by the current state of American politics. Do you have advice on how I can remain optimistic? Are there any politicians whom you admire?

—Alfredo 

My favorite politician, without question, is Antanas Mockus—a Colombian mathematician and philosophy professor turned unconventional pol who served some years ago as the mayor of Bogotá and made several unsuccessful runs for Colombia’s presidency. During his two terms in office (1995-97 and 2001-03), Mr. Mockus introduced lots of positive behavioral changes to his unruly, crime-ridden city. He reduced water usage, prodded Colombians to obey traffic laws and reduced violence.

Mr. Mockus rooted his unconventional, often theatrical mayoralty in a deep understanding of our social nature. One of his inventions was the 1995 Ley Zanahoria (literally, the “Carrot Law”—in Colombia, the word for the vegetable evokes nerdiness), which ordered bars and other late-night joints to close at 1 a.m., thereby cutting crime and car crashes.

Mr. Mockus worked formally and informally to cultivate honorable civic behavior—praising good-humored citizens who played by the rules and didn’t cut corners. By popularizing this standard and asking citizens of Bogotá to call each other out when they saw unseemly behavior, he invited his city’s residents to end vicious cycles and reinforce virtuous ones. He led the way in establishing better, stronger social norms.

Mr. Mockus also had an unconventional way of saving water. As a World Bank report noted, he was once shown “in a TV ad taking a shower with his wife”—demonstrating how to get clean with less water while having more fun.

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Dear Dan,

As the school year comes to an end, I am starting to think about summer activities for my children—ages 10 and 13, both relatively good at music and interested in theater and dance. Would sending them to a camp for the performing arts be a good way for them to spend the summer?

—Vanessa 

First, kudos to you for being so thoughtful about your kids’ summer plans. One of the most interesting (and depressing) lessons we have learned about education is that, without summer enrichment programs, kids tend to forget a great deal while school is out.

Here’s the real question about your choice: Would your children be better off improving their skills in activities that already engage them (music, acting and dance), or would they be better served by learning skills that they haven’t yet cultivated?

Since your kids are very young and their tastes and talents haven’t yet matured and stabilized, I would suggest using the summer as an opportunity to expand their horizons by getting them to try things that they usually don’t get to explore. Maybe send them to a camp that focuses on creative writing, science or hiking.

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Dear Dan,

For a few years now, I’ve been trying desperately to overcome my addiction to pornography, without much success. Are there any techniques that can help to break such stubborn bad habits?

—Zain 

One thing we know about addiction is that staying in the same environment makes it very hard to quit. When we remain in the same spaces where we have engaged in addictive behavior, the environmental cues substantially increase our cravings—making it very hard to resist our desires. It is important for heroin addicts, for instance, to change where they live and the people whom they associate with.

With your pornography addiction, changing the environment is more complex—but try to replace your phone and computer so that you can have new devices that won’t evoke memories of your past behavior. Good luck.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Mint Deficit, Beverage Behavior, and Focused Feelings

January 9, 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,

Is it more important to floss or to brush?

—Ting 

It’s a tricky question. In terms of dental health, my understanding is that flossing is much more important than brushing—so if you had to pick one of the two, flossing should be your choice.

But we also need to consider which of these activities people are more likely to do. Here the answer is undoubtedly brushing. So even though flossing does more good for your mouth, brushing is what people are more likely to perform routinely, which makes it more important from a practical perspective.

The underlying issue is why we are so much more likely to brush than to floss. If we thought about our long-term well-being, we would floss regularly, but in dental care as in many other human endeavors, we often don’t act in ways that serve our enlightened self-interest. (We eat too much, save too little and so on.)

So why do we like to brush? In large part because the toothpaste industry has cunningly convinced us that to be socially acceptable, we must be minty fresh. Preoccupied as we are with our social standing, we wake up, feel the mint deficit in our mouths and immediately brush.

In essence, this is a case of “reward substitution.” The basic idea is that some actions just aren’t sufficiently motivating by themselves, so we create rewards for them that aren’t necessarily relevant but still get us to do what we’re supposed to.

Most of us brush not because we want to make sure that we have gleaming, healthy teeth in five, 10 or 30 years; we brush because we feel a socially driven need for that minty feeling right now. Brushing is really a delivery vehicle for mint. That is another reason we don’t floss: By the time we’re done brushing, we’ve got all the mint we need, and the hint of mint on the floss doesn’t add to our minty-ness.

So is flossing or brushing more important? I’d vote for brushing. It isn’t ideal, and we’re not doing it for the right reason, but at least we’re doing it.

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Dear Dan,

How can I make myself wake up earlier? No matter how much I sleep at night, I can’t motivate myself to get out of bed on time. I just lie there and ignore any plans for my morning. Help!

—Diego 

This is another case where reward substitution can play a role, because you need a different incentive that is more motivating. How about promising yourself that if you get up at the right time, you’ll get a cup of fantastic coffee, but if you oversleep, you’ll only allow yourself to have terrible instant coffee—or even prune juice? You could draft your significant other to be the controller so you can’t cheat on your little pledge.

Remember, reward substitution bypasses our natural inclinations (lounging in bed) by getting us to do the right thing (waking up on time) for the wrong reason (for love of fine coffee and/or hatred of prune juice). It’s a handy recipe for better behavior in many areas of life.

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Dear Dan,

My husband and I love each other deeply, but when we get home at night, we usually wind up on our computers until it is time for bed. How can we make ourselves have more romantic evenings?

—Helen 

Try having an eye exam with pupil dilation just before going home. For a few hours, you won’t be able to work or see anything clearly—and you will be forced to focus on your spouse. If this approach works, maybe you can simulate pupil dilation by promising to put on glasses with the wrong prescription as soon as you walk into the house.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Bargain Glow, Mindless Savings, and Rigid Resolutions

December 26, 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,

Why do I feel so good when I buy something that is on discount—or, better yet, on sale?

—Sarah 

Happiness is often a relative judgment about the distance between where we are and where we could have been. If we think that something could have been better, we feel bad, and if we think that something could have been worse, we feel good by comparison. So when we buy something at a great discount, it is easy to compare our situation to the alternative scenario of paying full price—and we feel fantastic.
The problem, of course, is that this type of relative comparison and its attendant happiness don’t linger in our minds. Once we start using our bargain purchase, we don’t think much about its price, so the relative happiness from the discount disappears.
To keep that bargain glow, you could remind yourself of the pittance you paid and the full price that you dodged, or you could realize that the joy of buying goods on sale has a short shelf life.

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Dear Dan,

As 2015 comes to an end, I want to start saving for my retirement more seriously. Could any tricks help me to move the saving needle?

—Teo 

Usually, saving is what we have left over after we finish spending—and because life is full of temptations, we often spend more and save less. One of the best responses is to eliminate the temptation to overspend.
Think of your 401(k). In a world in which people always make the best decisions, we’d sit down at the end of the month with our bank statement, see how much cash we have left and put as much as possible in a long-term savings account. In the real world, we’d probably save even less than we do now. So 401(k) plans take the money right out of our salaries, forcing us to manage with the leftovers. That isn’t ideal, but at least it gets us to save something.
For another example of the power of mindless savings, look to the realm of personal finance: The key to growing your money turns out to be putting it in a decent fund and forgetting about it. A Fidelity Investments study showed that the best long-term savers are people who forgot that they had a savings account. (Dead people with saving accounts have even better stamina.)
My recommendation: Try to think once about savings—the start of the year is a fine time for this—and set up automatic transfers that will serve you in the long term.

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Dear Dan,

What kinds of New Year’s resolutions are we most likely to keep?

—Elizabeth 

Probably vows like, “Drink more and better wine.” More seriously, the resolutions that are most likely to work guard us from feeling like failures. When we set up a rigid goal and miss, we are likely to tell ourselves, “I failed, so what the hell—now I can go wild.” On the other hand, when a single failure is just a minor disappointment rather than a badge of shame, we can dig in and keep trying. So this year, plan your resolutions with some appreciation of the likelihood that you’ll occasionally fall short.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Midnight Misbehaviors, Strike Outs, and Beverage Budgets

September 19, 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 recently saw an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” in which one of the characters says, “Nothing good ever happens after 2 a.m.” I totally agree. But why? Does the dark make us misbehave, or is it something else? How can we stay safe and responsible in the wee hours?

—Aaron 

You’re probably right that bad things are more likely to happen after 2 a.m. During the day, we face many temptations, and we overpower them with self-control.

But that control is like a muscle, and it gets tired from repeated use—not physical exhaustion but a mental fatigue that comes from making responsible, restrained choices over and over.

So when night falls, we can simply be too tired to keep being good and restrained—leaving us ready to fail.

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Dear Dan,

I’m a high-school science teacher and a dean. We’ve had to discipline a number of students for cheating or plagiarism. Under our “two strikes and you’re out” policy, this puts them on the verge of getting kicked out of school after one infraction. The students were remorseful and confident that they would never again find themselves ripping off documents or copying papers—but then many of them cheated again. How can we better equip them to avoid such pitfalls?

—Morgan

It turns out that the fear of being caught doesn’t do much to deter crime in general. Even states that have the death penalty don’t report any noticeable difference in crime rates compared with those that don’t, according to a 2012 report by the National Research Council of the National Academies.

California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law was designed to take repeat criminals off the streets and deter offenders from repeated crimes. The theory was that if you knew that a third strike carried an especially harsh penalty, you would be deterred from further crimes.

But “three strikes and you’re out” didn’t seem to have a big effect on crime rates, according to a March 2000 study by James Austin and colleagues. And if “three strikes” didn’t work for crime, it’s unlikely to work for academic misdeeds.

We need to look for more effective approaches. Ultimately, what often stops us isn’t the fear of punishment but our own sense of right and wrong.

So you need to develop your students’ moral compasses. Maybe you should spend as much time on ethics as you do on math and history. After all, when they leave school, they’ll start applying their morals (whatever they are) to the world we share.

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Dear Dan,

On a recent business trip to San Francisco, I showed up early for a meeting, so I went to wait in a coffee shop. A cup of coffee was $8, and it was full of young people. Don’t they have anything better to do with their money? Don’t they have jobs? Don’t they find it morally reprehensible to spend more than the hourly minimum wage on a cup of coffee?

—Maria 

I feel the same way. Still, it is all relative: If the liquid in question was wine, at just $8 a glass, we might not feel so offended. Maybe we need to be a bit less prejudiced against coffee.

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 Sticking to Stocks, Stopping the Struggle, and Stifling Smoking

June 21, 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,

How can we get people to follow their long-term strategies when investing in the stock market? Many of my clients say they’re willing to take risks, but when the market goes down, they change their minds and ask me to sell. How do I get my clients to stick to their game plans and not break their own rules?

—Ganapathy

I suspect that you are asking about is the so-called “hot-cold-empathy gap,” where we tell ourselves something like, “I can handle a level of risk where I might get gains of up to 15% and losses of up to 10%.” But then we lose 5% of our portfolio, panic and want to sell everything. In such cases, we usually think that the cooler voice in our head (the one that set the initial risk level and portfolio choice) is the correct one, and we think that the voice that panics at short-term markets fluctuations is the one causing us to stray.

From this perspective, we can think about two types of solutions. The first option is to get the “cold” side of ourselves to set up our investments in ways that are hard for our “hot,” emotional selves to undo in the heat of the moment. For example, we could ask our financial advisers not to let us make any changes unless we’ve slept on them for 72 hours. Or imagine what would happen if our brokerage accounts had a built-in penalty every time we tried to sell right after a market dip. Such approaches recognize that our emotions flare up and make it harder for us to act on them.

A second option: You could try not to awaken your emotional self, perhaps by not looking at our portfolio very often or by asking your significant other (or financial adviser) to alert you only if your portfolio has lost more than the amount you’d indicated that you were willing to lose.

Either way, the freedom to do whatever we want and change our minds at any point can be the shortest path to bad decisions. While limiting our freedom goes against our democratic ideology and faith in human nature, such tactics are sometimes the best ways to guarantee that we stay on the long-term path.

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Dear Dan,

My boyfriend and I keep having terrible fights, with lots of verbal and emotional abuse on both sides. After each of these fights, we really hate each other. But a few days later, we become loving again—until we have another awful blowup after a few more days. I keep hoping that things will change and that these fights will stop. Am I being naive, or can people change?

—Amy

I’m sorry — this sounds very painful. You may be experiencing the ostrich effect: burying your head in the sand despite the accumulating evidence. Of course, this is hardly unique to your difficult situation. We all sometimes overestimate very small probabilities — hoping against hope that the real nature of the world (and people close to us) will be different from what we’re experiencing.

It is not easy to overcome the ostrich effect, but here’s one approach: Distance yourself from the situation and try to take “the outside view” — the perspective of someone not personally involved in this problem. For example, imagine that someone else was having this exact problem and described it to you in great detail. What advice would you give them? What if the person was someone close to you, like your sister or daughter?

Take the outside view, make a recommendation to this other person—and then follow your own advice. And good luck.

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Dear Dan,

What’s the best way to get people to stop smoking?

—Myron

The problem with smoking is that its effects are cumulative and delayed, so we don’t feel the danger. Imagine what would happen if we forced cigarette companies to install a small explosive device in one out of every million cigarettes—not big enough to kill anyone but powerful enough to create a bit of damage. My guess is that this would stop smoking. And if we can’t implement this approach, maybe we can get people to start thinking about smoking this way.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.