September 20, 2013 BY danariely


Time and time again, you hear students talk about how lonely graduate school can be. To fight the loneliness, graduate students often befriend each other, play board games together, go to trivia nights together, or yes even party together—only on weekends and always responsibly of course. Even though this makes graduate school less lonely, the research itself may remain a lonely enterprise.

Yet it doesn’t have to be: future professors, inventors, and intellectual powerhouses are residing on the desk across from you, why not take advantage of that?

On day one of graduate school I wished someone would have told me so many things (e.g. difference between theory-application, how run certain models) but most of all I wish someone would simply have told me: “Student peers are fundamentally important to your academic life.”

Of course, everyone knows you want to befriend and get along with the students in your department. However, unlike during your undergraduate studies where friendship is the ultimate goal, in graduate school so much more can occur. Graduate students are not just potential friends, they are potential colleagues, co-authors, discussion partners, support networks, and walking encyclopaedias of various literatures. Fellow students are the one of the biggest and most powerful resources in graduate school, yet we often overlook this fact.

No matter who your advisor is, he or she will not be around as much as your fellow students who are almost always there. They hear your ideas in class and lab, attend your conference presentations, talk at length with you over coffee and lunches, and see your ideas develop from day one. In many ways your peers often know your ideas, thought processes, passions, and weaknesses better than anyone else. This is especially true for students working with multiple advisors or switching between advisors.

Yet, often we simply don’t take advantage of our friendly fellow students. We don’t follow the example of the Psych Your Mind students who spend one lunch a week talking about ideas just amongst themselves. We don’t take the time to kick ideas back and forth, or just be someone’s sounding board. Instead, we stumble into advisor meetings will ill-prepared pitches, when a pre-conversation with a peer could have drastically improved them.

Recently, a group of students at a conference agreed to start a purposefully small and private online message board group, so they could communicate about important topics and questions. With this message board system, these students can get insight on complicated questions, methods, cites, and theories within an hour. A network of graduate students supporting each other can be at times more powerful than any individual meeting with a faculty member.

Lastly, even if we talk together or form networks, we don’t tend to co-author with each other. Remember last time you just couldn’t figure out the right stimuli, couldn’t handle the stress of a revision, and got writers block? Or remember that time you needed feedback from your advisor, but the advisor was in a conference in Spain? That’s when a student co-author would have saved you.

Professor Gavan Fitzsimons at Duke University often gets praised for one interesting talent: he’s good at putting graduate students together and building research teams. He knows how powerful a network of graduate students, senior professors, and often also young professors can be and his CV is a testimony of that.

There’s a belief in Improv Comedy that when two performers get on stage and make up a scene together, the performers create something that is greater than either performer would have created own their own. Improv performers believe that putting two passionate people together creates true greatness as they positively build upon one another’s ideas. Whether it is as co-authors, giving feedback on manuscripts, or just chatting about research over lunch, togetherness is a path to greater things.

~Troy Campbell~

Originally posted on InDecision Blog.

September 14, 2013 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 turning 30 in December, and I want to have a “nontraditional” celebration. I’m thinking about re-creating some economics experiments at my party.

Here’s the plan: Lots of alcohol and yummy appetizers at a fancy place here in Dallas. Computers scattered across the room with small apps, each running a different experiment. After all, how many parties do you go to where you get to have fun, have too much to drink and learn something about economics? Any advice?


I really love your idea—and here is a suggestion for an experiment relating to dishonesty. Give each of your guests a quarter and ask them to predict whether it will land heads or tails, but they should keep that prediction to themselves. Also tell them that a correct forecast gets them a drink, while a wrong one gets them nothing.

Then ask each guest to toss the coin and tell you if their guess was right. If more than half of your guests “predicted correctly,” you’ll know that as a group they are less than honest. For each 1% of “correct predictions” above 50% you can tell that 2% more of the guests are dishonest. (If you get 70% you will know that 40% are dishonest.) Also, observe if the amount of dishonesty increases with more drinking. Mazel tov, and let me know how it turns out!


Dear Dan,

My daughter started dating a lazy, dumb guy. How can we tell her gently that he is wrong for her without preaching to her, causing her to ignore us or go against our advice?

—Concerned Mother

It seems that you are experiencing the same reaction most mothers around the world have toward their daughters’ boyfriends. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you are, in fact, correct, and that your daughter’s new boyfriend really is dumb, lazy and up to no good. Nevertheless, don’t tell your daughter your opinion and instead ask her questions. Naturally, people tend not to ask themselves certain questions. But if someone else asks them, these questions get planted in their minds, and it is hard to keep from thinking about them. So thoughtful questions can make people think differently about what they want and how they view the world around them.

For example, you can ask, “How do you and your boyfriend get along? Do you ever fight? What do you love about him? What do you like less about him?” I admit it’s a bit manipulative, but I hope it will get her to think about her relationship in more depth. And maybe she will reach the same conclusions you have.


Dear Dan,

My wife-to-be really wants to get a two-carat ring, but I’d rather get a smaller ring and spend the rest of the money for future expenses—house, wedding, etc.

Her view is that most of her friends have big rings, plus she’s been dreaming about this for a long time. What do you think about this irrational behavior? Any advice?


First, there is a difference between irrational and difficult to understand, and for sure it is irrational to call your future wife irrational in public. If you get her a ring, realize that comparison to her friends is part of the game you are buying into and try to get her a ring that will make her happy with this comparison.

At the same time, what if you could switch to a different jewelry category—maybe a wedding necklace or bracelet? In this case comparison will not be as clear, and you could probably get away with spending much less.

Finally, has it occurred to you that she may want this so much because you are so against it?

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

August 31, 2013 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,

From time to time, people around me discuss a book they have read recently. While I know the book well, and I want to participate in the conversation, I hesitate because I listened to the book on tape. My first question is why am I embarrassed to say that I listened to the book? My second question is what can I do about it?


We learn how to listen and comprehend at a young age and therefore we don’t really remember how difficult it was for us. On the other hand, we learn how to read and write at a later age and we all remember the difficulty of the early struggles with reading and writing. Because of that, people associate greater difficulty with reading than listening. As a consequence, we take greater pride in reading than listening.

My first suggestion is that you realize that it isn’t necessarily the case that reading is more difficult. It’s just that we forget how difficult it is to learn to comprehend. When I got your question I purchased an audio book and I listened to it on a long flight–and for what it is worth, I find it is harder to focus when listening to a book than when reading one.

A second suggestion is that you to find a different word to describe your experience. For example, for books you loved, maybe you can say: “I inhaled that book.” For more difficult books, maybe you can say: “I struggled with it,” or some other phrase.

If these don’t work, perhaps it is time to change the meaning of the word “read.” Maybe we should acknowledge that today there are many ways to get information — audiobooks being one of them. This might seem dishonest, but you might be able to start a revolution, and help lots of people who listen to audiobooks feel more comfortable with what they’re doing. Good luck!


Dear Dan,

I noticed that when I drive around the block looking for parking I spend a lot of time too far away from my destination (I live in Chicago, and hate the cold), so instead, I just wait until somebody leaves and take the spot. It proved to be more efficient, but my friends can’t seem to stand it, and I can’t do it when I’m not alone in the car. My question is why my friends find in intolerable waiting for someone to leave.


The phenomenon you’re encountering is aversion to idleness. There was a story a while ago about an airline that tried to optimize which carousel that the luggage would come out of. There was an engineer with this airline that realized that some carousels were close to some gates, and others were close to other gates. He wrote an algorithm to try to figure out which carousels to send the luggage to so that it would be closest to where the plane was landing. Before this algorithm was created, travelers would get out of the plane, walk for a while and get to the carousel. Sometimes it was such a long walk that their luggage was waiting for them already, and they would pick it up and go home. In the new system, the carousel was much closer and people would walk a little bit, find the carousel and wait for their luggage. People hated this new system because they were standing in one place to wait for their luggage. This idleness was so unpleasant that people complained and the airline rejected this algorithm. My understanding is that they have not gone the whole way in the reverse and tried to get the luggage in the farthest carousel possible, but maybe it is something they are still working on.


Dear Dan,

Many people justify evading paying for public transportation by rationalizing that “public transportation services aren’t value for money,” that “it’s a victimless crime,” and that “as a tax paying passengers, we’ve already paid for my journey once.” Do you have any advice on counteracting these rationalizations?


Make these people buy some shares of the public transportation company.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

August 27, 2013 BY danariely

I just posted a new study that should take you about 2 minutes to complete. If you would like to take the survey (and I would appreciate it very much), please look to the right sidebar under “Participate” and click on the “Take a quick anonymous survey” link. You can also access it right here.


Irrationally Yours,


August 24, 2013 BY danariely

There are plenty of things that might upset Johnny “The Basin Street Butcher” Martorano. Perhaps having murdered 20 people in the course of his career as a mob hitman doesn’t sit so well decades later. Well, no, this is not it,  Martorano recently recounted his murders as part of Whitey Bulger’s trial with a perfectly flat affect, much to the displeasure of his victims’ families. It seems guilt doesn’t keep him up at night.

Then maybe it’s the 12 years he spent in prison after confessing his crimes to the FBI? Not likely, given Martorano now lives in a nice country club neighborhood, after serving barely half a year for each murder. He literally got away with murder(s).
What about revealing himself to his unsuspecting neighbors by testifying in the sensational trial? Doing so could arguably disrupt the life he’s built for himself since his release from prison. According to the man himself, that’s not at the root of his self-professed suffering.

So what wounded this evidently hard-hearted man? A betrayal of friendship and trust!  During the trial, Martorano said of Bulger and fellow gangster, Stephen Flemmi (in perhaps the only instance the expression has been used in earnest) “They were my partners in crime, they were my best friends, they were my children’s godfathers.” Of all the things that could cause The Basin Street Butcher pain, it was the snitching of his fellow murderers.

This is the kind of “irrational ethics” I’ve found through many interviews with convicted criminals. Usually the crimes for which they’re incarcerated aren’t the cause of their moral outrage, it’s that someone from their inside group inviolated a moral rule that was part of their moral code, in this case, cooperating with the “enemy.” This is the power of social norms in its most extreme form. Even though the usual societal rules are disregarded, another sort of code emerges and becomes the basis for judging one’s actions. So it’s “okay” to kill a person outside your in-group for stealing or talking to the cops, but it’s crossing the ultimate line to do so within the group. All that said, you really have to wonder what their get-togethers were like.

August 17, 2013 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 just got back from a trip to Europe, and although I knew that Europeans were much less obese than Americans, it was still shocking to see the difference. It is also not true that they don’t have fast food joints. Can you shed some light on these national differences? 


Some think that the key factor is the European diet: more homemade food and less prepackaged food, smaller portion sizes, less sugar and corn syrup, etc. I have no doubt that there is some truth to this, but I would propose that our differences in weight also have to do with the fact that Europeans use kilograms while Americans use pounds.

Here is my proposed logic, using me as an example: I weigh 170 pounds, which is also 77 kilograms (well, the truth is that right now I might be closer to 174 pounds, but my real weight is 170). Depending on the time of day and what we eat, our weight fluctuates by a pound or more, as most of us know. This kind of fluctuation lets us convince ourselves that when the scale shows 172, our real weight is still 170, even if it has not shown 170 for a while.

If one day our weight is 174, would we say to ourselves “I am gaining weight, and I need to change what I eat” or would we be able to justify this as part of the random fluctuation around our supposed real weight of 170? By contrast, if we were using the kilogram system, the fluctuations would be much smaller, and when we learned that we were one kilogram heavier, we might act on this change more quickly.

My suggestion: Switch to kilograms (and while we’re at it, maybe we can move to the metric system more generally).


Dear Dan,

There are people in my office who have a hard time focusing for even 20 minutes on their jobs. Nevertheless, they seem perfectly capable of exercising for long stretches, and they are quite persistent in that. Can you explain this contradiction?


This might actually not be a contradiction but rather, as I learned recently, two faces of the same mechanism. A few weeks ago, I flew to California for some meetings. I left home at 4:30 a.m. and got to San Francisco at 10 a.m. I had a few meetings, and by 5 p.m. was exhausted. I had a lot of work-related tasks and was determined to get at least some of them done, but I felt devoid of energy. So I went for a run.

Ordinarily, I go for a run maybe once every 10 years. But this run was fantastic! I ran a bit, walked a bit, listened to music along the way. It was challenging, and I ran out of breath, but in no way was it even close to the mental exhaustion of doing the things I was supposed to work on.

Here is my new understanding: I think that people who either don’t enjoy what they’re doing for work or don’t have the mental stamina to focus on it can take long breaks for exercise. On top of that if your co-workers took a two-hour book or movie break, they would be seen as selfish slackers, wasting time. But because society tells us that exercising is good for our health, it is a perfectly good excuse to escape work. Now that I have discovered this way to take time for myself and not feel guilty about it, I am going to do more of it.


Dear Dan,

The health-care benefits provided by my employer have just been updated to include a hefty monthly surcharge to smokers. I put little effort into quitting smoking, although I know this is the right thing to do. This smoking tax might motivate me to quit, but at the same time it infuriates me that my employer has the power to charge me for smoking. What is your opinion?


The smoking rate in the U.S. is about 20%, and companies that add such smoking surcharges usually find that the smoking rate drops overnight to less than 10%. Or, more precisely, they find that the smoking surcharge dramatically reduces the number of people who say that they smoke.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

August 11, 2013 BY danariely
Perhaps you’ve heard the advice to avoid hospitals in July on account of the legions of just-graduated doctors who will kill you with their inexperience. Thus far, the claim, though plausible, remains unsubstantiated. However, a recent study showing a variation in mortality after surgery depending on the day of the week it’s performed seems to have more to it.

According to a report that came out in the British Medical Journal, the risk of death after undergoing non-emergency surgery is lowest on Monday (1%), and goes up every day of the week thereafter. People who have surgery on Friday are 44% more likely to die than those who have it on Monday (the rate increases from 1% to 1.44%). The news is still worse for the small number of people who have surgery on the weekends, when the risk of death from complications rises 82% compared to Monday (the rate increases to 1.82%).

Researchers think one explanation for this is the relatively high-risk 48-hour period following surgery, when people are at the highest risk for complications like post-operative bleeding and infection. People who have surgery later in the week may not have as ready access to care, as fewer doctors and nurses work on the weekends than during the week.

It’s important to note that the risk is still low (it reaches around 1.82% on for people who have weekend surgeries, an increase of 0.82%). That said, obviously there should not be such a notable variation in mortality based on day of the week surgery is scheduled. One solution might be that going forward, high-risk or major surgeries should only be performed in the beginning of the week, saving lower-risk procedures for later in the week. Combined with increased efforts to educate patients on recognizing signs that they need to seek medical attention, perhaps this increased risk can be brought back in line.

August 6, 2013 BY danariely

I just posted a new study that should take you about 5 minutes to complete. If you would like to take the survey (and I would appreciate it very much), please look to the right sidebar under “Participate” and click on the “Take a quick anonymous survey” link. You can also access it right here.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Irrationally Yours,


P.S. I switched out that survey and posted a new new one, so even if you already took the other survey, there’s more!

August 3, 2013 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,

From personal experience, I know that some people delay making a choice as long as possible, while others make quick decisions. What differentiates these two types and what advice would you give to get people to make decisions faster and to feel better about them?


In my own studies, we hardly ever find large differences among individuals. In the social sciences in general, individual differences are usually smaller than people expect and matter less than the environment. So if we look at your question, I would phrase it slightly differently and ask, “What kinds of things get people to delay decisions and what kinds of environments get people to take immediate action?”

I would suggest that things like deadlines are incredibly helpful. One British granting agency used to have two deadlines for professors to submit grant applications. When this system was in place, everybody was rushing to submit papers and proposals in time for those grant deadlines. Then the agency let people submit proposals whenever they wished, with decisions on grants made twice a year. No more rushing! But the number of proposals submitted dropped dramatically. Why? Because deadlines allow us to clarify our thoughts and create an action plan. They are good at getting people to perform a particular act, like submitting a grant proposal.


Dear Dan,

I work in high tech but can’t seem to get ahead. A good friend of mine on the police force gets promoted all the time. He claims that it has to do not with him but with the lower quality of the people working there. Would it be better to choose a line of work where everybody is mediocre and I’m the best, instead of a high-profile workplace?


The problem has to do with the joy people derive from feeling that they are advancing and developing in their careers. This sensation really is important. It provides gratification, self-esteem and recognition from your peers.

Widespread recognition of this need explains why so many companies have invented titles and intermediate positions for senior executives, vice presidents and deputy CEOs. They want managers to experience the gratification of moving ahead even when they have reached the top of the ladder.

At first, this trend only affected management—engineers remained engineers, even when their salaries increased and responsibilities expanded. But over the years, companies made up new titles for lower-level employees as well. And for clear and justified reasons, it seems that you are in need of such a title.

Your predicament is whether to be a small fish in a big pond, as you are now, or a big fish in a small pond, like your friend—a situation that would seem easier and more gratifying.

But before you quit your job for one where the people aren’t as good, I would advise you to try two things: First, see if you can receive, or even create, a promotion. Speak to your boss. Try for a change in your responsibilities and thereby your feeling of accomplishment. Second, talk to more friends, maybe even find some new ones who are not doing as well as your policeman friend. You may find that you are extremely successful compared with some.


Dear Dan,

I spend a lot of time in not-very-interesting conferences calls using Skype and Google Hangout. I try to get things done during this time by using my computer to answer emails: I turn off the video capability, so that no one can see me, and try to type quietly, so that no one can hear. But the sound of the keyboard seems to vibrate through the computer, and the person on the other side knows I am not paying attention. Any advice?


This is exactly what tablets are for.


See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

July 20, 2013 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,

We recently got married and are having a hard time deciding where to live. Should we live in the city, close to where we work? Or would we be better off finding some place cheaper, greener and farther away from the city?

—A Couple from the Center

Your decision should take a few things into account. First, most of us can get used to most things: houses of different sizes, for instance, or a neighborhood that is green or drab. And we adapt to most changes faster than we expect. Many years ago, for example, I suffered a serious injury that changed my life dramatically. But over time I got used to these changes, and now my life is much better than I would have expected.

But there are some things that we don’t get used to, at least not that easily. One of these, sadly, is commuting—that annoying daily trip from the small neighborhood where we live to our place of work in the big city. We don’t get used to such trips because we never know what’s in store for us in traffic. If we know that we can leave home each day at 7:30 a.m. and arrive at 9 a.m., we can live with that. But because of traffic and bottlenecks, we never know when we might arrive. And this uncertainty makes it difficult to get used to commuting, making each day start out so badly.

This is why I suggest that you take distance from work into account as a significant factor in deciding where to live. It will play a larger role in your life than you think.


Dear Dan,

What is the best way to inject some rationality into our decision-making?


I am not certain of the best way, but here is one approach that might help: When we face decisions, we are trapped within our own perspective—our own special motivations and emotions, our egocentric view of the world at that moment. To make decisions that are more rational, we want to eliminate those barriers and look at the situation more objectively. One way to do this is to think not of making a decision for yourself but of recommending a decision for somebody else whom you like. This lets you view the situation in a colder, more detached way, and make better decisions.

For example, in one experiment we told people, “Imagine you went to your doctor and the doctor recommended a very expensive treatment. You’ve been seeing this doctor for 10 years. Would you go for a second opinion?” Most people said “no.” We asked another group to imagine a friend in the same situation. Would they recommend that a friend seek out a second opinion? Most people said “yes.”

This suggests that when we think about other people, we take our emotions out of the picture and are able to recommend something more useful—such as going for a second opinion.

But when it’s us, and we have a longtime commitment to a particular doctor, it’s hard to ignore this relationship and our feeling of obligation. Taking the advice approach may not be the best way to inject some rationality into your decision-making (and it’s certainly not the only way), but it is useful to imagine how you would advise another person, particularly someone you care about.


Dear Dan,

What do you think about democracy, since everybody gets the same right to vote, whether they are smart or less smart? Because the number of the less smart is so large, in a democracy they end up having greater influence. Is this kind of equality in choice good for society?


Churchill answered this one: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” (from a speech in the House of Commons, Nov. 11, 1947)

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.