Updates

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.

July 17, 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’ve been corresponding with someone online, and we’re going to meet “in real life” for coffee. What’s the optimal length of time for this first get together? Should I just wait and see how the conversation goes and take it from there?

—Justin 

Most conversations probably last too long, not just awkward dating ones: In a recent study, most people asked to recall their last conversation reported that they had wanted it to end sooner.

But if you arrange for a meeting with a potential romantic partner to be just 15 minutes, your date will read this as low interest. Conversely, if you block out five hours, you will suggest a different expectation. So what should you do?

Set the meeting for an hour, which is a good amount of time to form an initial impression. If things don’t seem to be going in the right direction, shift your goal. Start working on your conversational skills: See if you can get the person to open up a bit more, to change their mind about something or to tell you a joke. Not all meetings need to be romantic. If you have more time than you need, try to make a different use of it.

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Dear Dan,

My employees have been working remotely for more than a year and will be returning to the office in the fall. Is there anything I can do now to help us start to feel like more of a group again?

—Sabrina 

Organize an in-person dinner with your team before it returns to the office—and order family style. Meals naturally bring people together, and the manner in which they are served can affect cooperation among those at the table. In a 2019 study, students ate salsa and chips in pairs. Some duos were served from one bowl of chips and one bowl of salsa, while others were given separate bowls. Afterward, the students participated in a negotiation exercise. The pairs who had eaten from their own bowls went through thirteen rounds of negotiation, whereas those who had snacked from a shared bowl only went through nine. Working together is a mind set that can carry over from one task to another.

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Dear Dan,

The spread of false and misleading information, whether related to vaccines or politics, seems to be on the rise. Why do people share inaccurate information online?

—Calvin 

Researchers recently asked people what mattered most to them in the content they chose to share on social media. The majority said “accuracy,” and when given a selection of real and fake news headlines, the majority were able to tell fact from fiction. But when the researchers asked a separate group of respondents which of these headlines they would be willing to share online, the misinformation was the clear winner.

So why do people prefer to share misinformation, even when they value accuracy and are able to identify falsehoods? The researchers point to distraction and inattention. When they prompted Twitter users, even subtly, to think about accuracy before sharing content, the quality of the postings improved.
Now we just need to get social media platforms to do something that reminds us of our preference for accuracy before we share.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

July 3, 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 partner and I decided to do a DIY renovation of our kitchen cabinets. We spent many hours at the store discussing options and reviewing our sketches, then struggled to fit all the boxes into our van. The assembly was arduous, and we were on the brink of giving up on the project. Despite the rocky road, now that our new cabinets are finished, we love them. Why is that?

—Dylan 

The experience you are describing is something that colleagues and I studied in 2011 and dubbed the “IKEA effect.” The basic idea is that after we devote effort to something, we have more positive feelings toward it; we become attached.

This phenomenon is not restricted to the assembly of furniture. Having to add an egg or some milk to instant cake mix, for instance, makes you feel much more accomplished than getting a store-bought cake, despite the minimal involvement. Personal effort matters, even when it is small.

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Dear Dan,

We often hear in the news about politicians being indicted on bribery charges. Does this mean that politicians are dishonest people compared with other professions?

—Michael 

Yes and no. I don’t think that politics attracts dishonest people, but I do think that systems that become corrupt, political or otherwise, can turn their members dishonest. In a number of experiments, my research team at Duke found that decisions to be honest are largely influenced by what we see other people around us doing. Take highway driving: If drivers around you are speeding, you are more likely to join in. In the same way, a person who enters a corrupt political system may quickly adjust to the norms of that workplace.

This means that the more corruption there is, the more likely it is to spread. Even worse in the political sphere is how visible politicians are, which means that as the rest of us see them act in corrupt ways, it may affect our sense of what corruption is permissible in our own lives.

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Dear Dan,

I just got notified by my employer about the option to work at the office, instead of remotely. Given that my work quality was very low while working from home, I thought I would be excited. Instead, I’m considering continuing to work from home. Why am I feeling so tentative about going into the office?

—Edgar 

Performance can have an impact on self-image. When people have doubts about their performance, there’s a tendency to self-handicap. For example, the night before a big test, a student might stay up too late in order to have a handicap—lack of sleep—to later explain their poor performance.

It’s possible that during the past year you have attributed struggles with work to the challenges of working from home, instead of to your own capabilities. Returning to work in person may force you to face an uncomfortable reality. From this perspective, choosing to work from home could be a form of self-handicapping, to maintain the excuse. My advice: Go back to working in person. The social and emotional benefits will quickly outweigh the possible downsides.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

June 22, 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 employer has me use an app to track the miles I travel, in order to reimburse me for business transportation. This weekend, the app mistakenly picked up a 15-mile bike ride that I took for pleasure. My bike rides soothe my soul and make me healthier and, in turn, certainly make me a better employee. Should I petition my boss to expense the ride as “business” or just be grateful for the experience?

—Laura 

Leaving aside the ethics of charging your employer for a leisure bike ride, one factor that can take the joy out of a pleasurable activity is payment—especially a small payment. A number of experiments have demonstrated that paying people for activities they do for pleasure can transform those activities into unpleasant chores.

If you get a small financial reward for cycling (transportation reimbursements tend to run less than a dollar per mile) your motivation to cycle is actually likely to suffer. Instead, try to focus on how you can make activities you enjoy even more pleasurable.

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Dear Dan,

I’m supposed to go through a fairly routine surgery, but I have a lot of anxieties over it, and I’ve been delaying. Do you have any tips about how I can get over these anxieties?

—Shuki 

It’s likely that what you’re most dreading isn’t the surgery itself but the elevated anxiety you expect to feel just beforehand. There are strategies you can use to reduce anxiety, including meditation and mindfulness, but there are also effective medications. I recommend that you discuss possible medications with your doctor and ask for an anxiety-reducing prescription for the day of the surgery and an extra dose to experiment with at home.

With this pill in hand, imagine that your surgery is an hour away and notice how much anxiety you have. Then take the pill and keep thinking about the surgery. As the medication kicks in, you will notice your worries fading away. Realize that on the day of the surgery, this pill will have a similar effect, and your anxiety will be less than you suspect. Good luck.

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Dear Dan,

I’m looking for a new job. To make a good impression, before each interview I spend a lot of time learning about the role and the person I’ll be meeting. During the interviews I listen carefully, pay attention to body language and respond thoughtfully. The interviews seem to go well but aren’t resulting in second-round interviews or offers. Is there a way I can improve how I present myself?

—Ray 

People often try to make a good impression by catering to the interests and expectations of their audience, especially when the stakes are high. But a recent series of studies suggests that this approach can backfire.
The researchers looked at a large set of business pitches and found that startups which focused on pleasing potential investors were less successful in getting funded. To understand the causes, researchers randomly assigned people to cater to their audience as part of an interview. Both the interviewees and interviewers reported that this caused more anxiety; the interviewers also noted that the interviewees seemed inauthentic.

Given those findings, maybe take a different approach for a few interviews and see if that gets you to be more relaxed and more yourself—and produces better results.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

May 29, 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,

Before giving any talk or presentation, I get incredibly stressed out. My heart starts pounding, I sweat, and I breathe much faster. Unfortunately giving talks and presentations on a regular basis is a big part of my job. What can I do?

—Kelsey 

Changing how we think about stress can, by itself, make us less stressed and healthier. How? Instead of interpreting those physical changes—sweat, pounding heart, heavy breathing—as signs that you’re not coping well with the pressure, try to see them as signs that your body is energized for the task. Interpret your pounding heart as preparing you for action and your breathing as ensuring that more oxygen is getting to your brain.

This strategy is known as cognitive reappraisal. Studies have shown that viewing stress in this way makes people less anxious and more confident. As a bonus, it brings about a healthier cardiovascular profile. How we think about stress affects both our behavior and our health.

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Dear Dan,

Our neighborhood park has seen a surge in litter and trash. As chair of our neighborhood association, I was thinking of putting up signs, informing people about this issue and reminding them to please use the trash cans. Can you think of any other strategy that might help us combat the issue of excessive litter and trash?

—Marcus 

Informing park visitors about how many people litter may actually result in people littering even more. That is because highlighting any behavior, including negative behavior, can normalize it and achieve the opposite of your intention. This is exactly what research at Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona found: Theft of petrified wood was higher when signs mentioned past visitor’s theft, instead of just expressing disapproval.

With this in mind, instead of pointing to the scale of the undesirable behavior, choose a strongly worded message of disapproval, such as: “Litter in our park is disgusting.” You can make the sign more vivid, and trigger a more emotional response, by choosing a picture to go with the message—for instance, depicting a visitor littering, with a red “X” over his or her action.

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Dear Dan,

The managing partners at my firm spent a lot of time and money to recruit a well-credentialed senior associate. Since this senior associate joined the firm, his performance has been underwhelming. Everyone expected he would be fired. Instead, we just found out he was promoted to partner. Why would the firm keep and promote a bad hire?

—Eugene 

A human tendency called “escalation of commitment” could be at work here. If the partners fire the associate, that’s an admission of a mistake and calls their judgment into question. Promoting the underperforming associate instead affirms the initial decision, even though it isn’t good for the firm in the long run.

Doubling down on a bad decision in order to justify it is not unique to your firm. Consider a troubled couple who get married instead of breaking up just because they have been together for years. Or an NBA coach who gives more court time to players based on their draft number, rather than their performance. In short, this bias is rather common, and we would gain a lot by dealing with it more directly.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.