Updates from March, 2018 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • feedwordpress 12:30:48 on 2018-03-03 Permalink
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    Ask Ariely: On Ticket Tips, Coding Concerns, and System Setups 

    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,

    Early last year, I bought five tickets for $200 apiece for the hit Broadway show “Hamilton.” In the end, two members of my family couldn’t attend, so I sold the two extra tickets—for $800 each.

    The three tickets that we used cost me $600, but I could have made $1,800 (over their face value) by selling them for $800 each. We all really enjoyed the show, but I kept thinking about the other ways I could have used $1,800, and that cut into my pleasure. What’s the right way to think about the cost of our outing?

    —Thanks, Willy 

    If you had thought about this choice a few days in advance, when you could have changed your plans without too much disruption, you might have given serious consideration to the opportunity cost: the potential $1,800 profit on the other three tickets. You might have thought about what else you could do with the money and whether you’d rather use it that way.

    But once you decided to go to the show—and certainly once you were in the theater—you should have been thinking about how to maximize your
    enjoyment. After all, you’d made your decision, so why not enjoy the experience to its fullest? At
    that point, it’s best to forget about the $1,800 and just think about the $600 cost of the three tickets you used.

    But there’s an even more favorable way to see your situation: The five tickets cost you $1,000, but you got $1,600 from the two tickets you sold. That’s a profit of $600 on the deal—and you got to see “Hamilton” with people you love! Now you can use that extra cash to take your family out for a nice dinner, all thanks to your wise decisions.


    Dear Dan,

    I’m a college freshman and am debating whether to major in computer science. Last semester, when I took a course in the subject, I felt challenged during the first couple of weeks, but by the end of the term I found the assignments tedious and difficult.

    Should I keep studying computer science, hoping that I’ll eventually enjoy it, or should I focus instead on engineering or business courses?


    Since computer science remains a major with great career potential, I’d suggest that you explore it more deeply before giving up. When we are learning a new subject, from bird watching to social science, it often becomes more gratifying as we learn more and immerse ourselves in it. So maybe you should broaden the scope of your computer-science courses and explore things such as videogames, new programming languages and app design. They just might boot up your excitement about the field.


    Dear Dan,

    I’m a hard-core videogamer, but I’m trying to quit, since it all feels like a waste of time. Now I’m hearing about a new gaming platform, and I’m really tempted to buy it—even though I know I’d spend too much money and time on it. Any advice?


    Buy the platform for your parents and set it up at their home. That way, you can play on it sometimes, but you’ll also get to see your parents more. I imagine that they’ll make sure you don’t spend all your time with them just gaming.

    See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.

  • 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 AskAriely@wsj.com.


    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 AskAriely@wsj.com.


    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 AskAriely@wsj.com.


    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 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 AskAriely@wsj.com.


    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 AskAriely@wsj.com.


    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 12:30:10 on 2017-11-25 Permalink
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    Ask Ariely: On Ticket Troubles, Business Bonds, and Aging Attitudes 

    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,

    Last week I went to a website to buy a ticket for a talk you were giving. When I saw that the ticket was $28 and that they charged an additional $7.50 processing fee, I balked. I ended up not going to see you. Ironically, I probably would have just bought the ticket if the original price had been $35.50. Would you call this rational behavior?


    It’s irrational, for sure. Rationally, you should care only about the total price of the ticket—additional fees included. It should be irrelevant whether the charge is 100% for the ticket itself or partly for the ticket and partly for processing the transaction.

    But, of course, we are not rational. The small outrage you experienced at the high processing fee is about perceived fairness, and it is very human. That $7.50 processing fee is more than 25% of the price of the ticket. If that same fee were slapped onto a $1,000 airline ticket, you probably would not give it a second thought.

    Ticket sellers should recognize that this pricing strategy is clumsy and not in their best interests. They would do themselves a big favor simply by bundling the processing fee into the face price of the ticket. Then, next time, you might show up to hear me talk!


    Dear Dan,

    In my job I meet lots of new people all the time, and I’d like to build trusting relationships with them as I advance in my career. What’s the best way in business to foster trust with others?


    One key strategy is to show that, even though you’re doing business, you care about the other person’s interests—even at a cost to yourself.

    Imagine that you’re at a restaurant and order a pricey fish entree. One waiter tells you that the dish is sold out and suggests that you instead try the chicken, which is just as tasty and is also less expensive. A different waiter, by contrast, directs you to the caviar dish—which, you learn, is three times more expensive.

    You will certainly put more trust in the first waiter than in the second one. The first has shown that he’s willing to accept a smaller tip (for a less expensive entree) because he wants you to have an enjoyable experience. And the next time you’re in the restaurant, you will ask for him. The best way to build trust is to show people that you have their best interests in mind.


    Dear Dan,

    As I’ve aged, it seems to me that the people around me have become kinder and more thoughtful—and, in response to them, I’ve become more liberal and compassionate. What drives this change?


    I’m not sure what explains your increased compassion, but it’s very much to your credit. I’ve seen the same thing with my aging father: He’s become a lot kinder. I could suggest that long experience breeds wisdom and appreciation, but another explanation keeps nagging at me.

    Maybe it’s about hearing loss? Perhaps when we can’t hear everything people are saying, we fill in the gaps in an over-optimistic way and end up attributing more positive attributes to the person on the other side of the discussion.

    Then again, I know plenty of other people who have gotten crankier as they have grown older—and perhaps that is related to hearing loss, too.

    See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

  • feedwordpress 00:45:56 on 2017-11-23 Permalink

    Getting people to agree: A TED experiment 

    In April Mariano Sigman and I (mostly Mariano) carried out an experiment at TED on how to get people to make better decisions and to agree!  Here is the video and the writeup describing this and other experiments on the topic of how to get people to agree on difficult questions.  An important challenge these days…..

    The video:

    And the ideas piece:


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