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  • feedwordpress 12:30:49 on 2018-02-17 Permalink
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    Ask Ariely: On Scanning Suitcases, Aligning Anticipation, and Validating Valentine’s Day 

    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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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


    Dear Dan,

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

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


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

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

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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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

    See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

  • feedwordpress 12:30:31 on 2018-02-03 Permalink
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    Ask Ariely: On Stick Safety, Community Cleanliness, and Bitcoin Buying 

    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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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

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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

    See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

  • feedwordpress 12:30:38 on 2018-01-20 Permalink
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    Ask Ariely: On Public Products, Coworker Conflicts, and Pleasant Plans 

    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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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


    Dear Dan,

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

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


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

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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

    See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

  • feedwordpress 21:35:52 on 2018-01-17 Permalink

    The Power of Positive Persistence 

    Strategies to flip negative attacks by Republicans into positive progress for Americans Like some foreign dictator, the Republican in the White House will launch a planned attack on the free press today. But he’s been in an ongoing campaign against the truth since Day One. It’s alarming because presidents don’t act this way. Dictators do. […]
  • feedwordpress 20:31:39 on 2018-01-13 Permalink

    A Modest Proposal: #ProtectTheTruth 

    America’s tweeter-in-chief plans to attack the free press next week. He desperately needs your help to succeed. You can help him by repeating his words and lies. You can help him by focusing outraged attention on his antics. Or we can work together to redirect the energy, counteract rather than react, and reframe the conversation. […]
  • feedwordpress 17:42:15 on 2018-01-06 Permalink
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    Ask Ariely: On Ending Exercise, Accounting Accurately, and Revising Resolutions 

    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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

    See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

  • feedwordpress 14:02:42 on 2017-12-18 Permalink

    when you let a social scientist designs for better weight management 

    What happens when you let a social scientist designs for better weight management


    Happy holidays!  It’s the season for gratitude, celebration, time with family… and weight gain.  That’s right, most of our weight gain happens during this time of year, and the problem is that many of us don’t lose it after the season.  This continuous weight gain over time contributes to the fact that over a third of the US population is obese.  Obesity-related conditions, from heart disease to type 2 diabetes to certain types of cancer, are some of the leading causes of preventable death.


    If we think about weight management through the lens of social science, what solution would we come up with?


    There are many angles we could take, but my team and I started with the scale.  Specifically, we recently created a scale with no display.   Sound odd?  Perhaps.  Let’s suspend judgement for a few minutes and walk through what we know about scales:


    1) Stepping on a scale daily is good, especially when done in the morning.


    Stepping on a scale daily is correlated with weight loss.  In particular, when we step on the scale in the morning, it has the power to serve as reminder of our commitment to health.  Think about it – if you’ve just stepped on your scale, will you then have oatmeal or a donut for breakfast?  When you get to work, will you take the stairs or the elevator? … and so forth.


    2) It’s normal for our weight to fluctuate a lot.  But psychologically the gains affect us more than the losses.


    Loss aversion is a well-known principle in behavioral economics – it means that losses loom larger than gains.  In weight, this would be reversed, of course: a three-pound gain will make us miserable, but a three-pound loss does not make us equivalently happy.  Imagine that your weight fluctuates up and down but on average you’re staying within the same range.  Because of loss aversion, your overall experience with the scale is negative.  You might even avoid stepping on it entirely, losing the benefit of using it as a reminder of health.


    3) We expect our weight to react quickly to good or bad behaviors, but it doesn’t.  This causes confusion and demotivation.


    Imagine you do everything you’re supposed to today.  You eat salad for lunch, you skip dessert, and you go for a run.  When you step on the scale, your weight has gone up.  How does this make you feel?  Or, on another day, you sit at home binge-watching the latest show on Netflix while eating junk food all day.  When you step on the scale, your weight has gone down.


    This is confusing and demotivating.  We think that our body’s feedback mechanism will be quick to react to our behaviors (good or bad), but sadly the it does not work that way.  This means that many of us end up thinking, “well what the heck, what I’m doing isn’t working anyway, so why bother?”


    For these 3 reasons, our team created a display-free scale called Shapa.  We’ve kept the positive elements of a scale while removing the negative ones.


    With Shapa, we celebrate when you step on your scale.  We give you feedback on your weight, but not in pounds.  Instead, we use a 5-point scale called Shapa Color.  If your weight with is in your normal range (within one standard deviation), congratulations, your Shapa Color is green!  If it fluctuates beyond one standard deviation in either direction, your Shapa color changes accordingly.  The idea is to take out the noise of normal fluctuations and provide a better feedback mechanism in which we can better understand the outcomes of our behaviors.


    On top of this, we also took all that is known in social science about the small tricks that create healthy behavior change, and bundled them into personalized recommendations called Missions.  We might suggest that you reorganize your fridge, making unhealthy items harder to reach.  If you commute to work, we might suggest that you get off one stop earlier and walk.


    Our early results are promising and we’re still capturing data.  In our first trial, we randomly assigned people who wanted to lose weight to either use Shapa or a standard scale.  We found that after just 12 weeks, people who used Shapa did better.   The Shapa users lost between -0.88% and -0.40% of their weight.  For standard scale users, the range was much broader and included weight gain: between -0.78% and +1.22% (95% confidence intervals).


    Ultimately, in today’s technologically advanced world, we should be thinking about how to use technology to our benefit.  Just because it’s possible to build a scale that can report very precise granular information (e.g. your weight is 145.27 pounds and yesterday it was 144.87) does not mean that this kind of system is aligned with human psychology.  Our focus should be on behavior change, not decimal-point-level accuracy.


    We’re very optimistic about how Shapa can help people make behavior changes to improve their health.  If you think it could help you, here is where you can learn more and order one:



    Irrationally yours,

    Dan Ariely

  • feedwordpress 12:30:56 on 2017-12-09 Permalink
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    Ask Ariely: On Mug Matters, Smoking Stoppers, and Pregnancy Preferences 

    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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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

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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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


    Dear Dan,

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


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

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

    See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

  • feedwordpress 17:51:54 on 2017-11-29 Permalink

    Mental Design at PopTech 2017 

    How can we use findings from social science to improve health, financial decision-making and overall quality of life? I gave a talk on the power of designing for the mental world at PopTech 2017.

    Watch the video below and learn more about PopTech on their site.

  • feedwordpress 20:30:06 on 2017-11-26 Permalink

    Protect Internet Freedom 

    Donald Trump and the Republicans are trying to restrict American freedom and destroy the Internet as we know it. They want to hand control of a crucial public resource – the Internet – over to corporations. These corporations will then be able to restrict the flow of information, effectively censor voices of dissent, and charge […]
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