Updates

Ask Ariely: On Paying Your Taxes, Treating Your Friends, and Suiting Yourself

March 31, 2018 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.

___________________________________________________

Hi, Dan.

With the recent changes in the tax code, Americans have been debating what rate high earners should pay. Here’s a thought experiment: How about offering those in the highest bracket a choice of rates—say, 37%, 40%, 45% even 50%. They could choose to pay whatever rate they wanted—but they would have to make their choice public. So politicians, celebrities and CEOs who talk about the need for fair taxes would have to walk the talk—and pay up. This altruistic option might even make them feel good.

—Pete 

I like this creative approach. I would suggest adding some social-media coordination to the plan by obliging people to say, well before taxes are due, how much they plan to pay. I suspect that many of the superrich wouldn’t mind paying more taxes as long as their superrich friends paid the same amount (or more). After all, if everyone were to pay more, relative wealth would remain the same.

And if a few altruistic billionaires chose high rates, as they probably would, their peers might feel social pressure to follow suit. The more news coverage, the more likely this outcome. Though Congress is unlikely to try out this approach anytime soon, communities could experiment by trying some version of it with property taxes.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

From time to time I treat a friend or my significant other to dinner, thanks to your advice that the psychological pain of spending $80 is less than the pain of each of us spending $40. My question is: When should I tell my friend it’s my treat? When I invite them? When the bill comes? What would maximize my guest’s enjoyment?

—Colin 

You are absolutely right about the pain of paying. If your goal is to maximize your dinner partner’s enjoyment, I would let them know it’s your treat as soon as you make the invitation. That way, your guest won’t even experience the anticipated pain of paying for anything. It’s true that your guest, knowing dinner is on you, might order another dessert or glass of wine, but that’s a small price to pay.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I recently started working at a company that requires employees to wear suits, and I find them uncomfortable. Can you help me understand the logic for wearing them?

—Joseph 

In my mind, suits represent everything wrong with modern society. They’re basically an expensive school uniform. The lack of choice does make suit purchases easier, and since people wearing suits look more or less the same, the clothing works as a kind of leveler in looks, ensuring that no one looks more interesting or exciting.

But suits kill sartorial creativity and individuality, and as you say, they’re uncomfortable. They are a prime example of our tendency to pick the unpleasant, uncreative option as long as it’s easy and makes us all look identical. My advice to you: Rebel, and if you succeed, most of your co-workers will thank you.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Missing Motivation, Distressing DNA, and Picturing Progress

March 17, 2018 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,

I’m raising two teenagers and have discovered just how hard it is to teach them to be polite, to clean up after themselves and to leave the house on time. Would it make sense for me to pay them for better behavior?

—Billy 

Simple rewards may seem like a good idea, but they often have unintended consequences. Consider the case of Kelly the dolphin, who lived in a marine institute in Mississippi. To teach her to keep her pool clean, her trainers started trading her fish for any litter she collected.

Kelly soon learned that litter of any size would win her a treat. So when a visitor dropped paper into the pool, she would hide it under a rock and tear off one piece at a time to get more fish. Her response was logical but not exactly desirable.

Something similar can happen with children. In studies conducted in the 1980s, psychologist Barry Schwartz had a teacher pay children for every book they finished. The children started choosing shorter books with large print in order to get more rewards—and they reported liking reading less. I think it’s best to teach your children how to act, not how to maximize their pay.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I recently bought a DNA test to learn about my ancestors’ roots. The test had an option to let me find out if I carry DNA mutations that increase the chances of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. I chose to include those tests, but now I can’t help feeling anxious about getting the results. What would you have done?

—Natalia 

Genetic information is becoming more and more available, for good and ill. Though medications exist for the diseases you mention, scientists think that Parkinson’s and most Alzheimer’s cases are not preventable, so if I were you, I would stick my head in the virtual sand and not find out about the DNA mutations. A bad result would cause you needless stress and might weaken your immune system.

We all stand a chance of getting these diseases, and the best way to deal with that prospect is to take better care of our bodies and minds in preparation for old age. We also should be kinder to our significant others and children, because they’re likely to be our eventual caretakers.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

The state of the world is depressing me. It feels that whatever good I do is a small drop in the bucket compared with a daily flood of illogical, ignorant and evil actions. How can I keep going and find hope?

—Stacy 

Over the past few years I’ve spent time with people who had suffered very complex injuries and were trying to regain their drive and sense of purpose. One thing they did was to set achievable goals and measure their progress toward them—the classic idea of “light at the end of the tunnel.” If you can focus on positive changes that you can make in the near term, it should help your motivation—and make you happier. Good luck.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Ticket Tips, Coding Concerns, and System Setups

March 3, 2018 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,

Early last year, I bought five tickets for $200 apiece for the hit Broadway show “Hamilton.” In the end, two members of my family couldn’t attend, so I sold the two extra tickets—for $800 each.

The three tickets that we used cost me $600, but I could have made $1,800 (over their face value) by selling them for $800 each. We all really enjoyed the show, but I kept thinking about the other ways I could have used $1,800, and that cut into my pleasure. What’s the right way to think about the cost of our outing?

—Thanks, Willy 

If you had thought about this choice a few days in advance, when you could have changed your plans without too much disruption, you might have given serious consideration to the opportunity cost: the potential $1,800 profit on the other three tickets. You might have thought about what else you could do with the money and whether you’d rather use it that way.

But once you decided to go to the show—and certainly once you were in the theater—you should have been thinking about how to maximize your
enjoyment. After all, you’d made your decision, so why not enjoy the experience to its fullest? At
that point, it’s best to forget about the $1,800 and just think about the $600 cost of the three tickets you used.

But there’s an even more favorable way to see your situation: The five tickets cost you $1,000, but you got $1,600 from the two tickets you sold. That’s a profit of $600 on the deal—and you got to see “Hamilton” with people you love! Now you can use that extra cash to take your family out for a nice dinner, all thanks to your wise decisions.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I’m a college freshman and am debating whether to major in computer science. Last semester, when I took a course in the subject, I felt challenged during the first couple of weeks, but by the end of the term I found the assignments tedious and difficult.

Should I keep studying computer science, hoping that I’ll eventually enjoy it, or should I focus instead on engineering or business courses?

—Nathan 

Since computer science remains a major with great career potential, I’d suggest that you explore it more deeply before giving up. When we are learning a new subject, from bird watching to social science, it often becomes more gratifying as we learn more and immerse ourselves in it. So maybe you should broaden the scope of your computer-science courses and explore things such as videogames, new programming languages and app design. They just might boot up your excitement about the field.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I’m a hard-core videogamer, but I’m trying to quit, since it all feels like a waste of time. Now I’m hearing about a new gaming platform, and I’m really tempted to buy it—even though I know I’d spend too much money and time on it. Any advice?

—Julian 

Buy the platform for your parents and set it up at their home. That way, you can play on it sometimes, but you’ll also get to see your parents more. I imagine that they’ll make sure you don’t spend all your time with them just gaming.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Scanning Suitcases, Aligning Anticipation, and Validating Valentine’s Day

February 17, 2018 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,

According to recent reports, screeners for the Transportation Security Administration keep failing to spot weapons possessed by passengers. I wonder if they simply pay less attention after finding nothing threatening time after time. What if we told TSA screeners that undercover officers will try to smuggle up to three guns through their location every day, and that whoever spots a gun will get a $50 bonus? What do you think?

—Richard 

I love the idea. First, you are correct. Research shows that our attention drifts after about 15 minutes of no action. So it would help to have those gun-packing undercover agents visit screeners even more often, perhaps every 15 to 30 minutes. There’s one big problem, though: As TSA agents scurried to deal with constant gun alerts, everyone waiting for flights would be completely terrified.

A simpler approach, less likely to cause panic at airports, would be to program the X-ray machine to show, periodically, a fake image of a weapon hidden inside a suitcase. This might help the TSA agents to stay more alert.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Some time ago, my dentist urged me to get clear aligners, a plastic form of dental braces. He said that my insurance would cover most of it, but I didn’t really want the braces, so I held off.

Then I quit my job and went to see the dentist one more time for my regular hygiene appointment—my last visit with the old insurance. Again he encouraged me to get the clear-aligner treatment, because it wouldn’t cost me that much. For some reason, that convinced me, and now after three days of wearing a clear aligner, I am miserable and regret the decision. What drove me to it?

—Jojo 

Your story illustrates the power of anticipated regret. We get this feeling when we have only a moment to take a certain action—and can’t stop imagining how we’ll feel if we don’t do it.

I had my own run-in with anticipated regret when my wife, Sumi, and I went to buy a large-screen TV, and the salesperson said, “How would you feel if some of the pixels broke and you hadn’t bought the extended warranty?” We felt the anticipated regret and, of course, got the expensive warranty.

One defense is to imagine scenarios that are not time-sensitive. You could say to yourself, “What if my new job also offered insurance coverage for clear aligners? Would I go ahead and get them?” If the answer is no, it should tell you that anticipated regret, not a desire for the treatment, is driving you.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

This Valentine’s Day, as usual, I felt it was a fake, commercial love holiday designed by corporations to maximize their own wealth at our expense. Next year, I swear, I’ll skip the holiday altogether. I know that my husband will expect a gift and a nice dinner, but I have a hard time giving in to these manipulative marketers. What should I do?

—Maya 

Gift-giving is an amazing way to increase human connection, friendship and reciprocity. We don’t give gifts enough to the people we love most. So, while we all know that Valentine’s Day is a commercial invention, at least it makes us think about our loved ones and our relationships—and that’s good.

My advice: Stick to the dinner-and-a-gift policy. And if it’s just too hard for you to do on Valentine’s Day, do it the day before.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Stick Safety, Community Cleanliness, and Bitcoin Buying

February 3, 2018 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,

I live in a city with mediocre public transportation, so I’m thinking of buying a car to help me get around. Should I buy a car with a stick shift or an automatic transmission?

—Joshua 

If you’re mostly driving in the city, then get a stick shift. This might sound odd, because urban driving with a stick shift means that your hands will be occupied much of the time with shifting the gears as you slow down, stop and accelerate. But that’s the point.

There are benefits to keeping your hands busy. In automatic cars, many drivers start texting at red lights, and when the light changes to green, they carry on texting and driving. In a manual car, you have to shift to start the car after a red light, so your hands aren’t free to text. This will certainly make driving in stop-and-go traffic more annoying, but it might also save your life and the lives of others.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

In my country, people don’t feel any shared ownership of public spaces. They drop litter outdoors or in the staircases of buildings, write on the walls and inside elevators, and destroy trees in public parks and gardens. I feel like it’s a cultural phenomenon. Is there any way to get people to behave more respectfully?

—Hanna 

As long as even a few people litter, we see trash around us, and we get the idea that it is socially acceptable to keep on behaving that way. With such a negative social norm, it’s very hard to change our own or others’ behavior.

With this in mind, I would recommend trying to get everyone to stop littering at the same time through some form of collective action. One example of such an approach comes from Rwanda, where President Paul Kagame has been credited with making Kigali one of the cleanest cities in the world through social action. Mr. Kagame created monthly collective cleanup days, when all citizens were asked to help make public spaces cleaner. He also elevated cleaning streets to an act under Rwanda’s traditional concept of umuganda, which roughly means: “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.” And it worked.

Borrowing from Mr. Kagame’s example, perhaps you could get your neighbors to pick one Sunday when you all work together to clear the mess. This will make it clear to everyone how much of a mess there is and give you a clean starting point. Next, you could ask everyone to agree to keep the new norm and maybe try to link the cleanliness of public environments to their own sense of pride—a bit like making their own umuganda project.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Three years ago, my youngest son was given a bitcoin as a gift for his bar mitzvah. Since then, he has seen the bitcoin’s value climb a few thousand dollars in a week and then go down again. He is considering selling, but he is afraid the digital currency will keep going up—or that it will soon go down and he will lose a bunch of money. What should he do? How can I teach him about being a wise investor?

—Nelson 

Here’s a basic principle for any investment: Don’t think about the price you paid for it. Instead, consider if you would buy it at its current price. Ask your son if he would buy a bitcoin at its recent price of around $10,000 (or whatever it is at that moment). If he says no, tell him that he should sell.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Public Products, Coworker Conflicts, and Pleasant Plans

January 20, 2018 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,

Why do we ascribe more value to some objects than to others? I’m willing to spend a lot of money on a new high-tech camera but balk at the idea of paying a lot for a new high-tech refrigerator. Why do I react to these possible purchases so differently?

—Hal 

The way we come up with what we are willing to pay for something depends on many factors, including the price we are used to paying, how fair we think it is and how much effort went into the product or service. Another factor is the signaling power of the product: how much it serves to communicate something
about us.

Take cameras. Other people can see us using our amazing new model, and, in return, we can bask in the glory of imagining how these people are admiring our taste and skill. A refrigerator, on the other hand, falls into the category of private consumption. Only guests in our home will ever see the fridge, only a fraction of them will examine it and be impressed, and we usually don’t get (or imagine that we get) extra points from society for that. So we spend much more on products with an element of public consumption to them. This helps to explain the appeal of fancy cars, jewelry and phones too. It’s a very hard force to resist.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

One of my co-workers frequently invites me to join him in doing “fun” things outside of work, but I’d rather be with my friends and family, or alone. The activities that he proposes are actually almost always ones I would enjoy. He knows that, so I can’t just say “I don’t like X.” Usually I end up citing scheduling conflicts, but it’s getting harder and harder to make that excuse.

How can I basically say, “I don’t want to spend time with you,” without hurting our professional relationship? Thanks!

—Joe 

I think it’s impossible not to hurt the person at all. But if you want to mitigate the harm, I would use what I call a personal rule. Tell your co-worker that you have a rule about not mixing your personal life with your work life. By casting your refusal to hang out in these terms, you transform your response from a rejection of him as an individual to a rejection of a whole class of social activity. That’s easier to take.

I also think that you might want to reconsider your resistance to socializing in any way with your co-workers. Maybe take February as a month to experiment by agreeing to a few extracurricular outings with people from your office. You might enjoy it.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I am trying to motivate my sister, who is 84, to meet with an estate-planning lawyer. She acknowledges the need, but there’s always an excuse for not proceeding. Nothing is happening. Any suggestions?

—Paul 

Encourage your sister to meet with the lawyer in a restaurant, bar or park (or some other place that she likes) and to bring along a friend whom she likes and trusts. Why? It’s very unpleasant to create an estate plan and to imagine what will happen to your things once you’re dead. Doing this in a pleasant atmosphere, with someone whose company you enjoy, may be enough to counterbalance the unpleasantness. When a positive activity is paired with a dreaded but necessary one, we call this “reward substitution.”

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Ending Exercise, Accounting Accurately, and Revising Resolutions

January 6, 2018 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,

As a personal trainer, I work with older adults who say they want to exercise every day. But after a few sessions at the gym, many of them don’t come back. How can I get them to stick with their exercise program?

—Hal

There are lots of ways to make exercise into a habit, but to start with I would change the way you end your sessions—and I would try to engineer the experience so that it makes people feel good at the end. Research on the “peak-end rule” shows that when people evaluate an experience, they pay particular attention to the end.

In research published in 2016 in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Zachary Zenko and I showed that when people ramp down the intensity of the exercise at the end, they feel happier after the exercise session and expect to enjoy future exercise more. So, when an experience ends on a more positive (or at least a less negative) note, we remember the whole as better and are more likely to want to repeat it.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I’ve wanted to buy a new iPhone for a while, and I’ve been holding off so that I can save for a vacation with my wife. But recently, I got some extra money as an end-of-the-year gift from my job. I’m tempted to use this money for my vacation and the money I have been saving in the bank toward a new phone. Why am I thinking differently about spending the gift money versus what’s in my savings account?

—Ron 

An essential feature of money is that it’s fungible: this means that each dollar is in principle worth the same. Yet, in reality, our minds create separate “accounts” for different sources of income and expenses, and we spend money based on what we think is reasonable for each account. Behavioral economists call this “mental accounting.” When you got some extra end-of-year money, it felt like this money belonged to a different account from our standard savings.

This is clearly not an ideal way to think about spending. I would put the year-end money in your saving account for a month or two, let the money “get used” to its new mental account (more accurately to let you get used to it), and only then decide what to do with it. My guess is that in two months you will feel less inclined to splurge on the phone.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

What are the odds that my New Year’s resolution to eat healthily every day will stay with me until the summer?

—Yoram 

Very close to zero. If I were you and I wanted to increase the odds of success, I would make the resolution more clear-cut, and I would allow myself a way to eat less healthily from time to time without feeling like I’ve failed. For example, to make your resolution more specific, replace “eating healthily” with cutting out baked goods (for maximum effect, be specific and include both breads and sweets). And to give you a way to enjoy life without feeling like a failure, take the sabbath as a day off from your diet.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Mug Matters, Smoking Stoppers, and Pregnancy Preferences

December 9, 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.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

In the kitchen at work, my colleagues often leave piles of dishes and mugs in the sink, right in front of the sign asking everyone to clean up their things and put them away. How would you get more of my co-workers to deal with their own dirty dishes?

—Rosie 

Use transparency—that is, try to make it possible to tell exactly who’s following the clean-up rules and who isn’t. When we feel anonymous, it’s much easier to commit minor infractions like leaving a dirty cup or dish behind. Eliminating the anonymity would make your coworkers feel more accountable.

At our lab at Duke, we had the same problem. As soon as there was a single dirty mug in our sink, people thought it was OK to add more. Soon the sink would be full. So we bought everyone a mug with his or her name on it and got rid of the old nameless mugs. Now it’s clear who the mug offenders are, and this solved the problem.

I would suggest asking everyone to bring in personalized dishware. For those who don’t comply, get a permanent marker and write their names on the back of dishes. As long as people see that their less-than-desirable actions are evident to everyone else, the pile of dirty dishes won’t come back.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Two cigarette manufacturers in the U.S. recently had to start airing TV and newspaper advertisements explaining the negative effects of smoking as well as the addictive properties of their products. Will these ads have any effect? It strikes me as a naively rationalistic approach of the “if people only knew, they would change their behavior” variety. This strategy has existed for decades—and it has not made a difference. Do you think that the new ads will actually reduce smoking?

—Steve 

I suspect that you are correct and that this is going to be a very costly, ineffective way to curb smoking. By now, it’s common knowledge that smoking causes cancer and other serious health problems—no one will be surprised by what’s in these ads. In general, information about health risks has done little to promote healthier behavior. Just think about the many ignored pleas to wash hands, to pay attention to calorie labels or to stop texting while driving.

If it were up to me, I would try an emotional approach that focused on some immediate negative effects of smoking like body odor or yellow teeth. A more extreme approach, which uses moral outrage, would be to tell people that if they smoke they are simply slaves of the cigarette companies, the same ones that for years have deliberately and knowingly harmed their customers.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

My boyfriend doesn’t want to have children, but I do. What can I do?

—Amy 

There is an interesting psychological reflex called the endowment effect. Basically, once we become the owners of something, we start looking at it from a different perspective. In particular, we begin to look at what we own as more valuable. Here’s where your question comes in: The endowment effect would suggest that someone who has not been that excited about the idea of having children starts looking at them more favorably if he learns that he is the owner (father) of a child.

So this weekend why don’t you ask your boyfriend to play a game called “spot the fake news.” Tell him a few things that are true and a few that are not, including the “news” that you are expecting. Before you end the game and reveal the truth, have another discussion about having children—and see if the new perspective gets him to see things differently. Good luck.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

Ask Ariely: On Ticket Troubles, Business Bonds, and Aging Attitudes

November 25, 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.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

Last week I went to a website to buy a ticket for a talk you were giving. When I saw that the ticket was $28 and that they charged an additional $7.50 processing fee, I balked. I ended up not going to see you. Ironically, I probably would have just bought the ticket if the original price had been $35.50. Would you call this rational behavior?

—Terry 

It’s irrational, for sure. Rationally, you should care only about the total price of the ticket—additional fees included. It should be irrelevant whether the charge is 100% for the ticket itself or partly for the ticket and partly for processing the transaction.

But, of course, we are not rational. The small outrage you experienced at the high processing fee is about perceived fairness, and it is very human. That $7.50 processing fee is more than 25% of the price of the ticket. If that same fee were slapped onto a $1,000 airline ticket, you probably would not give it a second thought.

Ticket sellers should recognize that this pricing strategy is clumsy and not in their best interests. They would do themselves a big favor simply by bundling the processing fee into the face price of the ticket. Then, next time, you might show up to hear me talk!

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

In my job I meet lots of new people all the time, and I’d like to build trusting relationships with them as I advance in my career. What’s the best way in business to foster trust with others?

—Kayla 

One key strategy is to show that, even though you’re doing business, you care about the other person’s interests—even at a cost to yourself.

Imagine that you’re at a restaurant and order a pricey fish entree. One waiter tells you that the dish is sold out and suggests that you instead try the chicken, which is just as tasty and is also less expensive. A different waiter, by contrast, directs you to the caviar dish—which, you learn, is three times more expensive.

You will certainly put more trust in the first waiter than in the second one. The first has shown that he’s willing to accept a smaller tip (for a less expensive entree) because he wants you to have an enjoyable experience. And the next time you’re in the restaurant, you will ask for him. The best way to build trust is to show people that you have their best interests in mind.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

As I’ve aged, it seems to me that the people around me have become kinder and more thoughtful—and, in response to them, I’ve become more liberal and compassionate. What drives this change?

—Pete 

I’m not sure what explains your increased compassion, but it’s very much to your credit. I’ve seen the same thing with my aging father: He’s become a lot kinder. I could suggest that long experience breeds wisdom and appreciation, but another explanation keeps nagging at me.

Maybe it’s about hearing loss? Perhaps when we can’t hear everything people are saying, we fill in the gaps in an over-optimistic way and end up attributing more positive attributes to the person on the other side of the discussion.

Then again, I know plenty of other people who have gotten crankier as they have grown older—and perhaps that is related to hearing loss, too.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ask Ariely: On Opposing Opinions, Feeling Failures, and Adjusting Activities

November 11, 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.

___________________________________________________

Dear Dan,

I recently learned about research showing that when people hold extreme beliefs, giving them data that contradicts their basic opinions actually strengthens those beliefs! Does this mean that there is no way to change the beliefs of people with extreme opinions?

—Jordan 

Changing people’s opinions is indeed difficult, but there is hope. With people who hold extreme views, one paradoxical finding is that presenting them with even more extreme arguments in support of their beliefs persuades them to moderate. In a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014, Boaz Hameiri and colleagues describe a citywide intervention in Israel where they used this approach in an ad campaign about the Israel-Palestine conflict. The ad campaign was designed to try to change the opinions of right-wing Israelis who oppose peace.

The ads presented the participants with absurd claims about the benefits of the conflict—for example, that it’s good for camaraderie and morality and helps to create the unique culture of Israel. The results showed that the campaign changed minds: From what they said and how they reported voting, those with right-wing views became more conciliatory and cut back their support of aggressive policies, compared with residents of a comparable Israeli city without the ad campaign. The researchers hypothesize that the intervention succeeded because the ads caused people to more deeply consider their own beliefs.

___________________________________________________

Hey, Dan!

Why do we believe we can learn from our own mistakes but blame other people’s failure on their personalities and/or lack of sufficient skills? Has this “one-way street” phenomenon been studied?

—Darin 

You are describing behavior that falls under the heading of what social psychologists call the “fundamental attribution error.” In general, we tend to see good things that happen to us as the product of our own doing and bad things as the result of outside circumstances. Conversely, we tend to attribute good things that happen to other people to external circumstances and bad things to their own doing.

We believe that we can learn from our own mistakes because those mistakes aren’t really about us. We think they involve external circumstances that we can learn to handle better.

Can we learn to override this type of judgment? I spent a lot of time in Silicon Valley recently, meeting with executives of startups and venture capitalists. I was struck by what often happens when a startup fails: People in Silicon Valley approach the setback much less negatively than the rest of the world does. Executives sometimes even look at their colleagues’ failure in a positive way, as a sign of experience and learning.

Can we generalize from Silicon Valley to the rest of the world? I’m not sure, but it seems to me that we can change the way we look at other people’s failures, and maybe even limit the blame we assign to them, as we would with our own failures.

___________________________________________________

Hi, Dan.

Let’s say that your regular activities include things like playing poker with friends every week or gardening every weekend. How do you decide when to keep on going with these activities—or stop and try something new?

—Joanne 

Questioning the value of our routines is good, because it can help us to stop doing things we no longer enjoy. It’s bad, however, because such questioning gets in the way of whatever happiness the activity gives us. So I suggest that you question yourself—but only for a short time. Perhaps take the last week of December to evaluate how much pleasure you get from your leisure activities—and consider what you could do instead.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.