Updates

December 4, 2021 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,

The only way I can get my kids to eat fruits and vegetables is to reward them for it, usually with screen time. My sister allows my nieces to eat as much fruit as they want, whenever they want. In fact, her family refers to fruit as “nature’s candy” (but trust me, her kids know the difference between a grape and a lollipop). So far, neither of these methods is working for my family particularly well, but does one sound more promising to you?

—Louisa 

Many parents use rewards to get children to do things they would otherwise resist, such as eating healthy foods. This approach might work in the short term, but over time it may cause children to resist fruits and vegetables even more, because they will view eating those foods only as means to a reward.

When it comes to framing fruit as candy, your sister is onto something. I might not go quite that far, but a related approach could be to limit fruit consumption in the same general way as candy consumption. A series of studies found that when children were told that they could have only a limited amount of a certain food, such as carrots, the kids not only preferred carrots to a more bountiful snack option but ate more carrots and enjoyed them more than kids who chose carrots over a snack in equal supply.

Studies with young children are tricky, so there could be many reasons behind these behaviors, but it seems that the fear of missing out is one important driver that gets us all to partake of items that are in short supply.

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Dear Dan,

I’m very environmentally conscious and try to minimize my carbon footprint wherever possible. Working from home has been wonderful for many reasons. I’m especially happy to see fewer people driving. Do you have any other suggestions for how we can curb our environmental impact while confined to our homes?

—Kelsey 

When we think of addressing big problems, such as environmental impact, it’s natural to look for big solutions, such as driving less, at the expense of multiple, smaller solutions that can add up over time. We tend to overlook easy things we can do that seem small or whose effects are not immediately clear.

For example, think about the carbon footprint associated with something as small as Internet usage. The electricity that powers data centers accounts for about 1% of global energy demand—and that figure does not even include these facilities’ land and water use. Video transmission is the biggest problem. A group of researchers studied the impact of online streaming and video-conferencing. They found that if a person streamed at high quality for four hours a day, switching to standard definition would reduce that person’s monthly carbon footprint by the same degree as reducing driving by 93 miles a month.

Of course, video streaming is just one example. Lots of small actions, such as turning the thermostat down a bit, keeping electronics for longer and making sure our tire pressure is set correctly can also make a difference, and we should consider these when we think about the changes we can make.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

November 20, 2021 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,

A friend of mine who is much wealthier than I am invited me to go to her summer house in Europe this spring. I would love to go, but I don’t want her to think that our friendship is contingent on this vacation or to feel trapped with me as her travel companion. Plus, I’m not sure how I could express my gratitude, since any gift I could afford would pale in comparison. What should I do?

—Liz 

Let me get you to think about the first part of this question in three ways.

First, put yourself in your friend’s shoes and ask yourself how you would feel. I suspect that you would not have invited someone as your travel companion if you felt trapped by them. This isn’t an easy exercise, but I find that it is useful in thinking about our approach to relationships and favors.

Second, we experience money in relative, not absolute, terms. So a vacation that seems expensive to you might not seem expensive to your friend. Again, think about the vacation from her point of view.
Finally, friendships are complex, and people bring lots of things to a friendship, including kindness, support, a sense of humor, love and curiosity. Money is only one of those many things. What do you bring to your friendship? Money might not matter much to your friend—but she might really envy your trip-planning abilities, for example, or value your advice in complex family matters.

As for gratitude, saying thanks has a magic effect on the giver, so don’t sweat the exact method of saying thanks too much, and just say it a few times. Try to say it at least once while you are on vacation and at least once a few weeks after you are back.

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Dear Dan,

My boss is a night owl, and I often wake up to a barrage of emails. But I don’t like starting off my day feeling like I’m behind and having the urge to check work email before I even get out of bed. How can people working at different hours respect each other’s time?

—Yohann 

When we receive an email, we tend to assume that the content is top of the sender’s mind and requires an urgent response. This assumption is often misguided.

I tested this bias on myself by asking people who emailed me via my website to tell me how urgently they needed my response. I gave them a pull down menu with options that ranged from “drop everything and answer me now” to “by the end of the day” to “by the end of the week,” to “by the end of the month,” and I also added an option I was most curious about, which was “no response necessary.” It was surprising to me how many emails were in the “no response necessary” category (about 20%) and more surprising how few emails were in the “drop everything and answer me now” category (about 2%).

With this in mind, maybe ask everyone in your company to add something to urgent emails (say, !!!) and to ones where no response is necessary (maybe ***). This way the senders can mitigate confusion by being explicit about their expectations, which should make the urgency bias go away.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

November 6, 2021 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,

With young children and two working parents, there is never a dull moment in our house. Unfortunately, our busy life and unpredictable schedules often make me forget what food is in the fridge, leaving me no choice but to throw away things that have expired or gone bad. Do you have any recommendations for how we can curb our food waste?

—Helena

The bad news is that a busy lifestyle—and a lack of inspiration for dealing with seemingly random ingredients—can get in the way of our best intentions never to throw out perfectly good food. The good news is that picking just one day a week to create a meal using ingredients already in your kitchen can significantly reduce the amount of waste.

Researchers in Canada used ingenious idea they called a “Use-Up Day.’’ in one of their studies they undertook with a consumer goods company in 2020. Over the course of five weeks, all participating households received tips on food management and were asked to complete a weekly survey about the amount of food wasted. A randomly selected subgroup of households was asked to commit to one “Use-Up Day” each week on which they used leftover ingredients from their fridge and pantry to cook a meal. The participants who took part in the “Use-Up Day” not only reduced their food waste by a third, they also reported saving money.

So maybe instead of fighting food waste just a little bit every day, pick one day a week and, on that day, focus on using what you have.

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Dear Dan,

I’ve gotten used to the amount of communication that occurs via text nowadays and even sometimes prefer it. However, when it comes to resolving relationship conflicts, having a face-to-face conversation still feels like the right approach to me. Would you agree with my intuition that people can better resolve their issues by putting down their devices and having an in-person chat?

—Missy

Having a face-to-face conversation feels like it would be the best way to resolve conflict. Intuitions, however, can misguide us, which is one reason it’s important to test our assumptions about human behavior.

In 2020, researchers explored the question of whether face-to-face or text-based communication was more effective for resolving conflict in romantic relationships. Couples came into a lab and were given the opportunity to talk about issues they had reported arguing about. Some of the couples talked about their disagreements in person, while other couples were put in separate rooms where they were only able to text each other. Once the concerns felt partially resolved, researchers asked the participants if they felt understood by their partners, how well their issues were dealt with and how distressed or angry they felt during the discussion.

Overall, there were no differences in these measures between couples in the two groups! Both modes of communication were equally effective (or ineffective). So if your way of resolving arguments isn’t working for you, you might want to look into the possible reasons for that—maybe it’s your style of communication, for example, or your relative willingness to take responsibility. But don’t be too quick to blame the method of communication.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

October 23, 2021 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 past weekend I attended a wedding. I enjoyed getting to know the people at my table, but I can’t stop worrying about the impression I left on them, and whether I may have come across as boring. I would like to meet up with these people again, but I am hesitant to contact them after this terrible first encounter. What do you think I should do?

—Laura

On average, we tend to be more likeable than we think we are. Yet most people hold very low opinions of themselves, and especially of their conversational abilities. This mismatch between our perceptions of ourselves and others’ opinions of us is known as the “liking gap.”

The liking gap was first demonstrated in 2018. Researchers randomly paired people for 5-minute conversations, after which each was asked to rate how much they liked the other and how much they believed their partner liked them. Overall, participants made better impressions than they thought they had and underestimated how much their partners liked them.

The truth may be that we spend so much time and energy worrying about our own behavior and the impressions we’re giving out that we miss positive signals from others, such as smiles and laughter. It may be useful to remember that your conversation partners are also likely to be worrying about their own behavior and impressions, leaving them little capacity to really pay attention to you. Ask yourself if you remember and care about every little mistake your conversation partner made. Assume that your conversation partner is as generous as you are in judging other people and remembers as few of their small mistakes. Chances are that you are much more likeable than you think you are, so go ahead and contact the other guests from the wedding.

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Dear Dan,

Why do I always run out of money at the end of the month, even though I’ve created a budget and try very hard to stick to it?

—Brandon 

Budgets can be a helpful tool when it comes to forecasting spending on frequently occurring purchases like groceries and gas. Most people, however, fail to account for expenses that feel exceptional and don’t fit a particular recurring spending category, such as fixing the refrigerator or buying a birthday gift for a friend. Exceptional purchases are seen as one-offs: we don’t normally spend on any one of them, and so we don’t make them part of our monthly budgets.

However, while it’s unlikely we’ll need to fix our refrigerator next month, chances are we will have other exceptional expenses, such as new eyeglasses or a car inspection. These types of expenses add up, and before you know it, you’ve overspent.

By their nature, exceptional expenses don’t fit any budget category, and so it is hard to account for them. For example, it would make no sense to create a budget for repairing refrigerators, or even one for repairing appliances more generally. My suggestion is that you look back at the last year, try to estimate the magnitude of your monthly exceptional expenses and make a budget that takes this sum into account. Sure, your budget will be less clean and less satisfying, but it may be more realistic.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

October 9, 2021 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,

Every time my sister hosts a dinner party, she insists that every last tidbit of food she serves be homemade. This high standard is wearing on her. To make her life easier, I proposed buying a few items, but she balked at the idea. Why is she so invested in making everything from scratch, despite the stress?

—Roxanne 

Your sister might be experiencing a “perfection premium,” which is the tendency to overrate something because it’s perfect—and in her case, 100% homemade.

The perfection premium was demonstrated in a study about socks. Researchers asked some people how much more they would pay for socks that were 100% Merino wool compared with socks that were 98% Merino wool. They asked others about their willingness to pay for socks that were 96% Merino wool compared with socks that were 94%Merino. In both cases, the question was about the value they placed on an additional 2% wool—but in the first case, that 2% made the socks a perfect 100% wool, while in the second case, it was just an increase of 2% more Merino wool. The participants were willing to pay much more for the 2% increase when it brought the total to a perfect 100% compared to when it was just a 2% increase.

These findings show that people place a premium on perfection, perhaps because we put things that are perfect in a different mental category than those that are near-perfect. For your sister, making 95% of a meal from scratch rather than 100% may have the benefit of saving time, but it would cost her with the loss of the perfection premium. With this in mind, Instead of interfering with her pride in a perfectly home-cooked meal, you could try to work with it—for example, by suggesting that she purchase desserts from a baker at a local farmer’s market. These items aren’t technically ‘homemade,” but you might be able to help her think about them as such.

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Dear Dan,

My teenage kids spend a lot of time on their phones, especially on social media. I’m worried about what all this screen time does to their mental health. Should I put strict limits on their screen time?

—Yasmin 

How your kids use their devices matters much more than for how long they use them —especially during times when face-to-face interactions are limited, such as school vacations or during COVID-19.

Over a period of six weeks during Peru’s most stringent COVID-19 lockdown, researchers in Peru surveyed teenagers about screen time. They asked about their subjects’ experiences online: their feelings of loneliness or of wellbeing and their sources of social support. The study found that chatting with friends and family or joining multiplayer video games had a positive effect on the teenagers and left them feeling less lonely and with higher well-being. Passive engagements, on the other hand—such as enviously scrolling through retouched Instagram selfies—took a toll on teens’ loneliness and wellbeing.

Given that forming friendships and interacting with people outside of the family is especially important to teenagers, spending more time online during COVID could be positive, provided that the time online is used to actively engage with others and not to passively engage with the digital world.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

September 25, 2021 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 volunteer for a local conservation organization and I’m trying to round up people to help
with a weekend afternoon cleanup of a popular hiking trail. In the past it’s been hard to
enlist volunteers. What can I do to get more people to help out?

—Zarak 

You might consider asking people for a “maybe favor.” A maybe favor is a request for a commitment that might not actually have to be carried out. In your particular case, you could call for volunteers while making clear the possibility that the clean-up will be cancelled in the event of rain.

Recent research suggests that adding a “maybe” to a request for a favor increases people’s willingness to help. When subjects were asked if they would be willing to donate their earnings from participating in the study, 53% agreed. A different group was asked the same question but told that 5% of those who agreed would have their donations randomly cancelled. Under this condition, 66% chose to donate, which increased the total value of the donations even after eliminating the 5%.

One possible explanation for the increased willingness to donate is that people value the “warm glow” we get from agreeing to help. If we think that there is some probability that we will not be asked to do the favor, the warm glow remains, while the cost of doing the good deed is potentially mitigated.

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Dear Dan,

There are many talented, junior members on my team at work, and I genuinely like to see them succeed. So I give them advice here and there, but it seems that my suggestions are largely ignored. What can I do differently?

—Stefanie 

People commonly ignore unsolicited advice—not because of its content, but because of the motivations they perceive on the part of the giver.

Researchers asked full-time employees to recall instances in which they received solicited and unsolicited advice, and then to speculate as to why they got it. Why they received solicited advice was self-explanatory—because they asked for it—but unsolicited advice gave rise to darker speculation. Employees ascribed unsolicited advice-givers not-so-great motives, such as the impulse to show-off their own knowledge or the hidden desire to hurt the recipient’s performance. In general, unsolicited advice was perceived as more self-serving and less useful than advice the recipients asked for.

You can help your colleagues by inviting them to be the ones to come to you and ask for your advice. For example, tell them that you were in their position a few years ago and will be happy to counsel them if they are interested. Another approach might be to emphasize your intentions, in order to make sure they know that you have their best interest in mind. For example, preface your advice to a colleague by talking about a time when you faced a similar situation and someone else helped you, explaining that now you are paying forward the favor.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

September 11, 2021 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 husband and I just bought a house, and we are considering renovating it to make it our dream home. We discussed our plans with a contractor, who mentioned that some of the renovations weren’t good for resale. Given how long we plan to live there, should this really be a consideration for us?

—Jeannie 

Before even thinking about the preferences of a future buyer, consider the possibility that your own preferences and lifestyle could (and likely will) change over time. The features of your dream house today might end up becoming your worst nightmare in the future (just ask people with outdoor pools).

People underestimate how much they will change in the future. We tend to think that right now, at this present moment, we have become the person we will be for the rest of our lives. This phenomenon is referred to as the “end of history illusion” and was demonstrated in a survey asking more than 19,000 people ages 18 to 68 how much their personalities and preferences for things like music and travel had changed in the past decade, and how much change they predicted for the next decade. People of all ages said that they had changed a lot over the last ten years, but that they didn’t expect to change much moving forward.

This illusion can lead people to overpay for future indulgences based on current preferences. In one example, people were not willing to pay much to see a band that they liked a lot 10 years ago, but they were willing to pay a lot to see the band that they like right now in 10 years.

Perhaps you and your husband should consider making this house your dream home over time, as your dreams change: Start with a few small projects instead of a complete remodel, and leave ample room to adjust for your evolving preferences and tastes.

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Dear Dan,

I have been a stay-at-home mom for the past two years. Now that schools have reopened, I would like to go back to work again. How do I best address this employment gap on my resume?

—Heather 

Whether consciously or not, prospective employers often look negatively on applicants with gaps in their employment histories. Scientists in the UK set out to explore whether changes to resume layout could reduce this bias. They sent out resumes and cover letters responding to more than 9,000 real job vacancies, both high- and low-skilled. The cover letters were all the same, but the resumes varied slightly. Some showed an unexplained 2.5-year gap since the last job. Others explained that the 2.5-year gap was for child-care purposes. A third set simply adopted a less traditional layout, replacing the dates of employment with the number of years of experience.

There was no difference in the number of call-backs for resumes that explained the gap versus those that did not. However, removing dates and presenting previous employment in terms of years of experience increased call-backs by 15%. Formatting your resume in a way that highlights your years of experience seems to be the way to go.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

August 28, 2021 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,

After so many months of isolation, I am bewildered to observe that many people experience the compulsive need to check their phones at cafes or restaurants, completely ignoring their friends and family. Why do people engage in such rude behavior?

—Alan 

The phenomenon you are describing—using one’s smartphone during face-to-face interactions—has been termed phone snubbing or “phubbing.” Most people perceive it to be rude, and it can have serious repercussions for the level of satisfaction in a friendship. But it often has more to do with the phubber’s personality than with lack of interest in the conversation.

In a 2021 study of young adults, the authors found that depressed and socially anxious people are more likely to phub their friends. This is likely explained by the fact that people with social anxiety find online communication less uncomfortable than in-person conversations. On the other hand, phubbing is less common among people who score high on “agreeableness,” which psychologists defined as striving to avoid conflict. Agreeable people make an effort to be polite and friendly in order to maintain social harmony.

If you find it hard to resist looking at your phone even while in company, what can you do? An easy solution is to turn off your text and email notifications, so you won’t be tempted to look at each incoming message. Even better, put your phone on airplane mode. If you want a polite way to suggest that a meal should be phone-free, deliberately place your phone with the screen down in the middle of the table, signaling to the other people in your group to do the same.

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Dear Dan,

My teenage daughter spends a lot of time watching dance videos on Tik-Tok. Last weekend we were at a fair, and she saw a group of teenagers doing a dance she had watched hundreds of times on her phone. She excitedly ran over to join them and told me to take a video, but right away she stumbled, stopped dancing and insisted I delete the video from my phone. How did she go from being so excited about dancing to feeling so frustrated?

—Joelle 

After watching the same dance routine so many times, your daughter had a lot of confidence in her ability to replicate it. It’s the same feeling of “I could totally do that” that people often have after watching cooking or home improvement shows on TV. But it’s a mistake to think that watching someone else doing something is the same as actually learning a skill.

In a 2018 study, participants were asked to watch a video of a person playing darts and then to rate their confidence in their own ability to play the game. People who watched the video 20 times felt more confident about their darts skill compared with those who watched it only once. But when the participants actually played darts, there was no relationship between how many times someone watched the video and their performance. Similar results were found in studies looking at juggling, moonwalking and performing magic tricks.

The lesson for your daughter is clear: If she wants to learn a dance, there’s no substitute for practicing.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

August 14, 2021 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,

As part of my work promoting the arts, I’m sitting in on a lot of budget meetings at city hall. Securing funding for the arts has always been difficult, but after more than a year without any live theater, it is getting even harder. Basically, many committee members see the arts as mere entertainment, which they think of as unnecessary. Is there any concrete evidence I can use to convince them that the arts are important?

—Eric 

The arts—including the fine arts, theater and film—are important to culture not only because they are entertaining, but also because they can be vehicles for political and societal change. Artistic performances are known to heighten empathy among their audiences and even to change people’s views.

Participants in a recent study saw a play related to issues of racial discrimination, wealth distribution and income inequality. Researchers surveyed some audience members before they saw the production and others afterward, finding that viewers left the theater with a substantial increase in fellow feeling toward members of the groups the play depicted and shifts in attitude on the political issues the play explored.

Participants in the study also increased the amount of money they donated to charities after their experience at the theater, regardless of whether or not the charities were related to the topic of the play. Surely if the arts can be such an effective tool for social change, they are not “just entertainment.”

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Dear Dan,

A week ago, a close friend invited me to a wedding. I really want to join the celebration, but with the Delta variant and surge in COVID cases, I’m almost certain I won’t go. I have to tell my friend that I will miss this important day, but I want to do it without seeming judgmental. I’m not sure if I should mention my COVID safety concerns. What’s the most graceful way to decline this invitation?

—Megan 

Saying no to social events can be tough, and people are inclined to provide all kinds of made-up excuses. Your question here is whether it is better to invent a pretext for not showing up, or rather, to explain that you will absent due to COVID concerns. The short answer is that in this case, it is better to be transparent and truthful.

In a recent study, some people were asked to imagine that they were “excuse providers,” rejecting an invitation from a friend. Others were to imagine that they were “excuse receivers” whose invitation was rejected. The “providers” were sometimes asked to decline the invitation because of Covid risks.

The researchers sought to understand how people would feel about turning down invitations, or being turned down, on Covid-related grounds. They found that those making the excuse worried about hurting their friends when they offered pandemic-related justifications. Those receiving the excuse, on the other hand, actually reported feeling closer to the friends who cited concerns about COVID. They appreciated being reminded of the risks and viewed their friends as moral and caring.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

July 31, 2021 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,

Working remotely, not only do my employees miss out on social connections, but a lot of good work goes underappreciated as we jump from one Zoom call to the next without much time for spontaneous conversation. How can I change that?

—Nathaniel 

Receiving praise has continuously been linked to improved motivation and wellbeing on one hand and reduced burnout and absenteeism on the other. These benefits extend to the person giving the compliment: Recent research found that giving accolades can actually make people happier than receiving them. On top of that, crafting a compliment requires one to think about the recipient, and this fosters social connection that leads to increased happiness.

To spontaneously meet someone and compliment them is hard during remote work. Thus, it is important to create space that allows for compliments and other small acts of kindness. Consider setting a few minutes aside during a weekly team meeting, or setting up a separate communication channel that allows employees to recognize each other and thank them.

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Dear Dan,

Talking recently with my friends, we all agreed that the pandemic was a stressful time, but some people’s relationships with their spouses seemed to fare better than others. What might explain the disparity among couples?

—Ellen 

There are most likely many reasons for this, but here is one: Stress can take a toll on a relationship. For example, after a tough day at work and a long commute, you may arrive home feeling impatient and irritable toward your partner (who then ends up feeling undeservedly blamed). Taking your stress out on someone unrelated to its source is referred to as “stress spillover.”

The pandemic has created an extraordinary amount of stress and a lot of opportunities for spillover. Those of us who are better able to compartmentalize our COVID-19 anxiety, rather than taking it out on our partners, are likely to be better at protecting our relationships during these complex times.

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Dear Dan,

My aunt and uncle invited me to dinner this week. I’m very much looking forward to seeing them again, but I’m dreading the inevitable conversation about climate change (we all live in the Pacific Northwest) as my uncle is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. How can I get through to someone I deeply care about without getting into an argument?

—Emily 

The odds of changing your uncle’s opinions in one meeting are 0. Don’t even aim for that. You might be able to make a dent in his beliefs over time, but you will need to understand his motivations and approach the conversation calmly and with empathy.

Often people are drawn to conspiracy theories because they feel angry, powerless or disappointed about their lives and the state of the world. For example, perhaps your uncle feels anxious about the recent heat wave and his lack of control over the environment. Research shows that such feelings are common among conspiracy theorists. Concluding that climate change doesn’t exist satisfies an existential psychological need: to feel safe and in control of external events.

Listen to what your uncle has to say. When you better understand the forces underlying his beliefs, you can try to help him deal with these more directly and in this way reduce his need for conspiracy theories.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.