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  • feedwordpress 11:30:35 on 2018-03-17 Permalink
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    Ask Ariely: On Missing Motivation, Distressing DNA, and Picturing Progress 

    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’m raising two teenagers and have discovered just how hard it is to teach them to be polite, to clean up after themselves and to leave the house on time. Would it make sense for me to pay them for better behavior?


    Simple rewards may seem like a good idea, but they often have unintended consequences. Consider the case of Kelly the dolphin, who lived in a marine institute in Mississippi. To teach her to keep her pool clean, her trainers started trading her fish for any litter she collected.

    Kelly soon learned that litter of any size would win her a treat. So when a visitor dropped paper into the pool, she would hide it under a rock and tear off one piece at a time to get more fish. Her response was logical but not exactly desirable.

    Something similar can happen with children. In studies conducted in the 1980s, psychologist Barry Schwartz had a teacher pay children for every book they finished. The children started choosing shorter books with large print in order to get more rewards—and they reported liking reading less. I think it’s best to teach your children how to act, not how to maximize their pay.


    Dear Dan,

    I recently bought a DNA test to learn about my ancestors’ roots. The test had an option to let me find out if I carry DNA mutations that increase the chances of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. I chose to include those tests, but now I can’t help feeling anxious about getting the results. What would you have done?


    Genetic information is becoming more and more available, for good and ill. Though medications exist for the diseases you mention, scientists think that Parkinson’s and most Alzheimer’s cases are not preventable, so if I were you, I would stick my head in the virtual sand and not find out about the DNA mutations. A bad result would cause you needless stress and might weaken your immune system.

    We all stand a chance of getting these diseases, and the best way to deal with that prospect is to take better care of our bodies and minds in preparation for old age. We also should be kinder to our significant others and children, because they’re likely to be our eventual caretakers.


    Dear Dan,

    The state of the world is depressing me. It feels that whatever good I do is a small drop in the bucket compared with a daily flood of illogical, ignorant and evil actions. How can I keep going and find hope?


    Over the past few years I’ve spent time with people who had suffered very complex injuries and were trying to regain their drive and sense of purpose. One thing they did was to set achievable goals and measure their progress toward them—the classic idea of “light at the end of the tunnel.” If you can focus on positive changes that you can make in the near term, it should help your motivation—and make you happier. Good luck.

    See the original article in the Wall Street Journal.

  • feedwordpress 19:25:56 on 2018-03-07 Permalink

    Medicine is Personal 

    Today, my team and I are launching an exciting new project. The Medical Professionalism Project is a 12-episode online course for healthcare providers that explores the complex expectations, challenges, and responsibilities of being a healthcare professional. In it, we bring together experts in behavioral science and medicine to address some of the most pressing issues in field today, including conflicts of interest, burnout, shared decision-making, and social norms.

    This topic is very important to me. As you may know, as a teenager I was badly burned in accident. I spent three years in the hospital recovering, and returned regularly for several years after for continued treatments and check-ups. In that time, I came to know and deeply respect the medical team that provided my care. They were a group of incredibly smart, driven, and compassionate people.

    But in my recovery, I also observed something else – healthcare providers are not perfect. That is to say, they are human. They have biases, maintain misconceptions, and make mistakes.

    A few years after I was released from the hospital, one of my favorite surgeons approached me about an exciting new treatment. With enthusiasm, he explained that he had an innovative fix to the fact that my facial hair grew unevenly. His solution? He was going to tattoo the burned side of my face to mimic a stubble.

    Despite his eagerness, the procedure did not interest me. When I turned him down, the surgeon began to berate me – What was my problem? Did I like looking this way? Did I enjoy the attention I got because of my burns?

    I was shocked. This doctor had never spoken to me this way, and I couldn’t understand why he was so worked up about a procedure that was not essential to my health. Dismayed, I went to his deputy and asked what was going on. The deputy said, “Oh, we’ve tried it on two people, but we need at least three for an academic paper.”

    This doctor was not a bad guy – he was dedicated and empathetic physician to whom I owe a lot. I think incredibly highly of him to this day. But he was not immune to other forces, and here he had a conflict of interest that allowed him to prioritize his desire to publish over respecting my wishes. 

    Research shows that we are all susceptible to these slips, and a crucial way to combat them is to be reminded our moral integrity. Medicine is profession of great integrity and sacrifice, but in today’s pressured practice environment, there is not a lot of space for reflection and reminders. That’s where we come in. Our hope through this course is to inspire an ongoing dialogue about the role of ethics and professionalism in medicine – and the challenges to maintaining it – in order to create more honesty and accountability, to better support the providers who have dedicated their careers to helping us.

    Learn More Here

  • 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


    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


    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

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