March 30, 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 am writing to you from a train in Germany, sitting on the floor. The train is crowded, and all the seats are taken. However, there is a special class of “comfort customers” who can make those already seated give up their seats. This status is given to those (like me) who travel a lot on the train. It would be nice to get a seat and, according to the rules, I deserve one. But I can’t see myself asking one of the “non-comfort customers” to give up his seat. Why is this so difficult for me?


Your question has to do with what we call the “identifiable victim effect.” The basic idea is that when we see one person in need, our hearts go out to them—we care and we help. But when the problem is very large or far away, or we don’t see the person who is suffering, we don’t care to the same degree—and we don’t help.

In your case, I suspect that if the train conductor were the one picking a random passenger to clear a seat for you—and especially if the conductor did it before you boarded the train—you would have been able to enjoy the seat. Taking this a step further, if you knew who that person was (for example, if the conductor pointed him or her out), you would have felt worse. Picking the person yourself is most likely the most difficult, because you would have no choice but to see the effect of your actions on the other person, as well as his or her reaction.

What’s the lesson here? It’s that direct contact with other people makes us care and act accordingly. And when the distance is great, or the actions are taken without our knowledge, we care much less. Now the question is how to get politicians, bankers, CEOs and everyone else to feel more directly the consequences of our actions on the well-being of others.


Dear Dan,

I work for a government agency that is in the early stages of making telecommuting an option for its workforce. The idea is generating a lot of distrust among managers, and Yahoo, of course, just cracked down in this area. I know that managers are supposed to trust their workers, but it seems obvious that employees will work less from home. What is your take on working from home?


There are lots of possible reasons for the recent decision at Yahoo—some benevolent and some malevolent. Let me focus here on just two of them: work and attention. In terms of expected hours, those who work in an office are exposed to two different standards: the 40-hours-a-week official standard and the standard that is set by the people around them. We all know, for instance, that the social standard in the high-tech industry is much higher than the official 40 hours a week. In such cases, people who work in the office will conform to the social standard and work many more hours. For those who work from home, the 40-hour workweek is going to be a highly salient reference, and accordingly they are likely to adopt this as a reasonable commitment to work.

In terms of attention to the work, my own experience tells me that when people are together in the same room, they pay attention and focus on the task at hand with much of their cognitive capacity. But when people are at a remote site, participating via phone or video conferencing, they are not fully engaged and in many cases they even try (unsuccessfully) to multitask during important meetings.

My mother, by the way, always knows when I try to multitask while talking to her, so maybe Yahoo should hire her to monitor their online conferences and to reprimand those who aren’t focusing sufficiently.


Dear Dan,

What is the best way to make sure Americans have sufficient funds for retirement?


There are basically two ways to help people have enough money for retirement: getting them to save more and getting them to die younger. The easier one by far is getting people to die younger. How might you achieve this? By allowing the citizens to smoke, subsidizing sugary and fatty foods, and making it hard for them to get access to preventative health care. But, when you think about this, it seems like we’re already doing most of what we can on this front.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

March 24, 2013 BY danariely

You will now be able to pose questions to me for my biweekly advice column through Twitter (rather than just by emailing AskAriely@wsj.com) and Facebook. This means that everyone will get to see your questions instead of just my email inbox.

To submit through twitter, just tweet to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely.

To submit through Facebook, post a comment on my new Ask Ariely page: https://www.facebook.com/AskAriely

Looking forward to seeing your tweets and comments!

Irrationally Yours,


March 23, 2013 BY danariely

Watch this video about my online class on coursera, A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior. (And if you haven’t checked out the other short videos, they should also be pretty entertaining.)

If you haven’t signed up yet, do it now!

March 23, 2013 BY danariely

Over the last few years, I’ve had some harsh words for bankers, banks, and the culture of the industry. In truth, I could have said worse, and it would have been justified.

That’s why the story of this bank—the Hancock Bank of Mississippi—deserves to be told, watched, and learned from. This is a case where banks play the role they are ideally meant to play, that is, they invest in the stabilization and growth of the community they’re part of, and wind up profiting in the long run from those investments.

It’s the way they did this that’s particularly remarkable—by literally laundering debris-covered dollar bills and handing them out to people in the days immediately following the Hurricane Katrina. How and why they did this is best left to the film clip; suffice it to say that Hancock gave out around $50 million in cash, with handwritten IOUs for contracts, and lost (only) about $200,000 of that when all was said and done. But in the 3 months following the storm, Hancock grew by $1.4 billion. It’s not hard to imagine that the kind of genuine investment they made in their community—both customers and not—earned so much loyalty.

Banks and their leadership have a long way to go to get out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves in the minds of most people. While disasters provide a great opportunity to show caring, I don’t think that banks need to wait for another hurricane to do something –there are many ways to show care and commitment to the community, and it’s in everyone’s interest that they start soon.

March 22, 2013 BY danariely

Sign up for A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior. It’s not only FREE and open to everyone, but will surely keep you amused for the next six weeks.

March 21, 2013 BY danariely

george mason images

Every year, March Madness gives us an underdog story and millions flock to a momentary allegiance with a college they could not locate on a map. In the past it has been George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth University and Butler, and this year we eagerly await a new momentary hero.

So why do we love underdogs?

Well, no matter whether you are Republican or Democratic, work for Microsoft or Apple, or are a janitor or CEO, you most likely see yourself as somewhat of an underdog.

In America, especially compared to other countries, the underdog narrative is an honorable and respectable narrative. From the American patriots in 1776 to the George Mason Patriots in 2006, the Cinderella story, as it is specifically called in the NCAA tournament, has always been an attractive one.

So with underdogs you have 1) a narrative people like and 2) a narrative people see themselves in. Is it any wonder people want to cheer for underdogs? It’s like cheering for yourself.

These serve to energize us with the hope that people like ourselves can do anything. People like to believe that those above us aren’t that great after all, and that people like us are just as good, if not better than the people in power.

In fact, the narrative is so strong that Neeru Paharia, of the Harvard Business School, and colleagues named a psychological effect after it, simply “the underdog effect.” They found that companies gain goodwill from consumers when companies present themselves as a group that has overcame disadvantages through sheer determination. This effect was stronger for people who personally related with the narrative and stronger in cultures (e.g., America) where the narrative was more prevalent.

This narrative dominates American culture not only in sports but in all other popular media. From Luke Skywalker to Cinderella, Americans crave stories about underdogs. Even the more privileged characters in storylines, such as the elite James Bond or billionaire Tony Stark, end up in situations where they must overcome disadvantages through sheer determination.

Even politicians are forced to conform to the narrative, regardless of reality. This is a challenge that proved difficult for Mitt Romney and may have greatly have hurt his campaign.

The underdog narrative doesn’t only sell fiction, politics and sports, it also sells nonfiction books in my field of social science. The nearly unparalleled success of Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” owes a lot of that success to the intuitive appeal of his “10,000 hours doctrine.” Gladwell concludes that if someone spends 10,000 hours at something they can become an expert, implying to readers (who don’t carefully read Gladwell’s other more nuanced chapters) that they can make it just by trying hard.

Hip Hop artist Macklemore of the “Thrift Shop” fame even opens his chart-topping first album with a song called “Ten Thousand Hours.” He directly references Gladwell’s name in the song, chants “Ten thousand hours, felt like thousands hands, they carry me,” and then raps “Take that system!”

Oddly enough, many political pundits on both sides of the spectrum have argued (mostly for political reasons) that such a dream is fading in America. But psychological research shows that when beliefs we value are threatened, we try to find ways to defend such beliefs and keep the belief alive. Believing that an underdog will win in Atlanta this year might be a good way to keep alive that wonderful American underdog dream.

This article was originally published in the Providence Journal and can be read here.

~Troy Campbell~

March 21, 2013 BY danariely


Sign up for A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior. It’s not only FREE and open to everyone, but will surely keep you amused for the next six weeks.

March 20, 2013 BY danariely


Sign up for A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior. It’s not only FREE and open to everyone, but will surely keep you amused for the next six weeks.

March 19, 2013 BY danariely

Sign up for A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior. It’s not only FREE and open to everyone, but will surely keep you amused for the next six weeks.

March 18, 2013 BY danariely

Today is the day that my free online class on coursera, A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior, opens to the public.

And in honor of this class, my three books will be available as an e-bundle at a discount ($19.99 for all three) until the day after the class starts, March 26th — but only until that date.

You can purchase the e-bundle through KindleNookiBookstoreKobo, or Google.

Irrational Bundle

And if you haven’t already signed up for A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior, it’s the perfect time to do it now! It’s not only FREE and open to everyone, but will surely keep you amused for the next six weeks.

Irrationally Yours,