Hey reddit, I'm Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist, professor of psychology and author of Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.

I'm working on a documentary called (Dis)Honesty – The Truth About Lies, a fascinating look into the human tendency to be dishonest, from little white lies to infidelity and plagiarism. You can check out our Kickstarter here.

Here's my proof. Ask me anything!

EDIT: Thanks everyone for all the questions and the hospitality.

Comments: 2402 • Responses: 64  • Date: 

moom2381 karma

I heard an interview with you on NPR, promoting The Honest Truth about Dishonesty. It was interesting, so I purchased the book. That too was interesting, but in some parts it struck me as, I don't know, a bit quick on drawing conclusions (I want to be clear at this point that I don't mean any offense, and that in general I thought the book was good and thought provoking).

A specific example I can think of is in the chapter on the supposed relationship between creativity and dishonesty. In there, you describe an experiment that you performed in which people who described themselves, in a variety of ways, as being creative turned out to be more willing to cheat and lie in certain other ways.

Now, that's interesting. However, when you summarize the results, you don't say "now we know that people who describe themselves as creative are more willing to cheat and lie". Instead, you say "now we know that people who are creative are more willing to cheat and lie".

That seems like a very large difference to me, yet you glossed over it without even briefly acknowledging it. It seems problematic in and of itself on a purely semantic level, but even more so given that these people who are known to cheat and lie might have been more willing to cheat and lie about being creative, too.

I guess none of that was a question, so I guess my question is: What do you have to say about this?

Anyway, once again, I enjoyed the book, generally speaking. Thanks for writing it.

danariely1144 karma

Sorry if this was not clear. In one experiment we measured creativity with the standard scales for creativity. In another experiment we mandated creativity -- which means that we primed people in a way that make them more creative for a few min and we measured their dishonesty during that time. In yet another experiment we measured the type of job that people had and the creativity requirements of that job.

So -- non of these experiments is perfect, and it is hard to measure dishonesty, but across all the experiments the pattern is the same and I feel confidence in the results.

I hope this is more clear now.



lafeeverte17638 karma

I am disappointed that this wasn't addressed.

ETA: This question received a response eventually, after OP had left the AMA and then returned later. See here

danariely472 karma

I only allocated an hour to this, and I did not have time to answer all the questions. I had to run for a fundraiser that I was helping with, but now I am back -- have some patience.

danariely297 karma

This is my first day in Reddit -- so I am not sure how this works, so ia m sorry if I am posting this twice.

Sorry if this was not clear. In one experiment we measured creativity with the standard scales for creativity. In another experiment we mandated creativity -- which means that we primed people in a way that make them more creative for a few min and we measured their dishonesty during that time. In yet another experiment we measured the type of job that people had and the creativity requirements of that job. So -- non of these experiments is perfect, and it is hard to measure dishonesty, but across all the experiments the pattern is the same and I feel confidence in the results. I hope this is more clear now. Best Dan

colinthemack965 karma

What is the most common irrational human act that you come across?

danariely2015 karma

Having kids

apperant661 karma

Knowing what you know about irrational behavior, do you still find yourself behaving irrationally (in some context) despite your better instincts/judgement?

danariely778 karma


sarajulia0534 karma

I am a professional at procrastinating. Any tips on how to make sure I'm productive when I'm studying? Is procrastination in any way good?

danariely903 karma

More seriously -- the right approach is to create strong habits, eliminate temptation, and build an environment that would reduce your ability to act on your temptations.

seanjtaylor444 karma

If you had the opportunity to ask the government to change or institute a public policy based on your research, and they had to comply, what would you ask for? What would do the most for social welfare?

danariely1080 karma

I would make taxes simple and more equitable. I also think that the complexity of the tax system makes it hard for people to remember what taxes are for, and not just see taxes as an adversarial relationship with the government

ajm105440 karma

You have the most painfully awkward jokes in your coursera lecture videos. What's your comedic inspiration?

danariely1256 karma

I'm terribly hurt by this. My kids think I'm hilarious.

RedditUser1574422 karma

What was the one thing that surprised you the most in your studies?

danariely925 karma

The ability of people to rationalize. In one study, we gave people a chance to cheat -- which they took, and very quickly afterwards, they believed their own lies.

danariely386 karma

Thanks a lot of the questions -- this is my first time on Reddit, and I am going to try this again in the future.

Thanks for the hospitality


neoncork290 karma

Do your studies about dishonesty make it hard for you to trust people?

danariely477 karma

More generally, my studies on irrational behavior make me worry about people. In terms of dishonesty, I don't think I worry more than others. But now that you've pointed this out, maybe I should be concerned that people think I am more dishonest because I study dishonesty!

bobby_g3284 karma

What has been your favorite social experiment to try on a college campus and which experiment has changed your opinion on a certain topic the most?

danariely940 karma

Probably the vaccination experiment -- they took a group of students and gave half of them information about the importance of vaccination, but also gave the other half directions to the health center and asked them to indicate a time in their calendars that they would show up. Amazingly, the information did very little but the map and schedule was very effective at getting people to show up and get vaccinated. For me, this is an important building block -- providing people with information is not very useful, and we need to change the environment to facilitate better decision-making.

s-mores209 karma

Are you going to lie in this thread?

danariely503 karma

Not sure yet. I'm new to reddit.

aaaabbbbcccchhhh168 karma

What is the best marketing strategy you ever seen? The cleverest one.

danariely438 karma

There's a company that sends a very large letter. Not just kind of big, but HUGE. It's so out of the ordinary that people are much more likely to open it rather than toss it into their pile of spam letters.

ozymandias34146 karma

Hey Dan, what other topics are you interested in studying beyond of dishonesty and irrationality?

danariely421 karma

Right now we have a new study on bribery, we are also looking at how physicians break bad news to patients, we are trying to get poor people in Kenya to save a bit of money for rainy days, and if I tell you the rest I might have to kill you

mfansince1983141 karma

Dan, Enjoying taking your coursera course! What, in your opinion are some of the best applications of behavioral economics to health and supporting people making changes around their health? thanks!

danariely169 karma

Preventative care is all about people doing the right thing way in advance, before the medical system can catch what's going on. This is the place where behavioral interventions are most likely to have the highest impact.

Vatr0slav125 karma

Hey Dan, do you believe people are selfish rather than altruistic? (not sure how to ask this as not to suggest an answer). Is it meaningful to ask this question and to what extent do you believe this has to do with the threat of punishment rather than trying to act in accordance with moral principle?

danariely391 karma

I believe that people are deeply altruistic, and selfishness comes later. One piece of evidence for this is that we have some data showing that when people are drunk, they react more extremely to injustice -- even at a cost to themselves

bobby_g3104 karma

Thanks for doing an AMA! You're my favorite economist!

In your book Predictably Irrational, you talk about the difference between social and market norms.

I recently found myself in a situation where a friend of my friend was picking me and my friend up from the airport and I didn't know if I should pay him or if it would just be considered a favor. I ended up giving him money. Do you think there is a better option in situations like these?

Perhaps I should have given him a gift? "While gifts are financial inefficient, they are an important social lubricant."

danariely238 karma

Money was a mistake. You could have bought gas, which would have been better, but it would be ideal if you gave him a gift outside of this exchange

lockermom93 karma

Hi Dan, big fan of your books and courses.

Here are my questions: 1) Do you know that in the gaming industry your book is the handbook regarding microtransaction ("free to play") monetization models? 2) ... and how do you feel about that?

edit: I am speaking about Predictably Irrational!

danariely116 karma

I did not know about this, and because I am not familiar with the handbook, I'm also not sure how I feel about it

cooldude199190 karma

What would happen if the whole world behaved rationally? What would have existed that we dont have today?

Please, please, please answer and make my day.

danariely218 karma

I would hate to live in this world. A world without irrationality would have no help, altruism, caring, love. Count me out.

seanrose87 karma

Which conclusion(s) from your studies do you find people have the most difficult time accepting?

(also thanks so much for your books – they've literally changed my life)

danariely190 karma

That they too might be irrational. I think that people have an easy time seeing others as irrational, but have a very hard time accepting that they would make the same mistakes

Andrejia84 karma

So amazing you are doing this, I'm a huge fan! Will take a shot for an answer:

Some people tend to have an imaginary world where they escape that sometimes makes them completely uninterested in their own lives (see how popular TV & movies world is). Is this behavior considered socially acceptable or have there been some studies regarding the general profile of an individual that has this sort of inner fantasy world? Is this how humans lie to their conscience to cope better with day to day life or is it just a form of the Peter Pan syndrome?

Is this irrational behavior?

danariely169 karma

I would not give up my own fantasy world

growmap65 karma

Hi Dan. I'm here because I respect what you share. Thanks for being here.

danariely99 karma

Assuming this is honest, thanks a lot for the kind words.

paradoxes_turn_me_on57 karma

Is it true that people who like big butts can not lie?

danariely13 karma

Obviously, this was one of the first questions we tested -- and the answer is no!. They can lie.

mse4056 karma

Do you think the finance world will ever be ethical? People/banks continue to cheat/manipulate markets/prices on daily basis - 5 yrs after the crisis - can 'market norms' ever not be selfish?

(full disclosure, I was an investment banker for 9 yrs)

danariely149 karma

It will probably never be perfectly ethical, but I am hoping it will become much more ethical than it is now -- after all, I have a hard time imagining it could be any less ethical

carancib52 karma

Dan, have you heard about the phrase "Don't ask what you dont want to know the answer to", how can we explain the sudden urge we feel about knowing everything and then feeling bad because of having "asked"?

danariely176 karma

Some time ago I had a friend who smelled very badly. And every time we were together, I promised myself not to breathe from my nose. But every time I failed. I was so tempted that I would take a small whiff and it was awful every time, no surprise. What am I trying to say? Sometimes curiosity is too strong and we do things to calm our curiosity that are not necessarily in our long-term interest

strlings47 karma

Not to any public personalities on the spot, but there is a slew of self-help books/speakers/retreats - in other words, a multi-billion dollar industry out there that operates on making people believe that they can profoundly change themselves. In my own case, personal shortcomings like procrastination for example, how likely is it that someone in her 50s can still successfully tackle these types of personal problems? In other words, is the self-help industry a hoax? Is is irrational to expect change on a deep level?

danariely154 karma

There is clearly a demand for self-help, and it is a very interesting industry. To look into this, I went to a 3-day event with Tony Robbins and one with the Landmark Forum. In each, there was some grain of scientific evidence but they were building giant castles from these grains of sand. I also saw lots of pain in these meetings, and people who were dealing with very complex problems. And it upsets me that these organizations are selling them the "answers" at such a high cost.

JOQUZ42 karma

Can animals or other living creatures lie too?

danariely88 karma

Yes they can and they do -- only in different ways from us. They are actually more rational, and they don't feel any guilt.

luckyflux40 karma

Hi Dan, Im wondering what you think of a lot of these referral based programs online. Since they reward people monetarily for sharing/referring friends, do you think the monetary incentive takes away from the the intrinsic motivation to share/refer someone to a product or service?

danariely90 karma

For sure these programs are anti-social and I think they are likely to hurt relationships.

justicesquad39 karma

Hey Dan, on your experiment on sexual arousal and decision making, you gave your test subjects laptops in order to get sexually aroused. So my questions are, naturally- in what condition did you get the laptops back What did you do with them?

danariely98 karma

We thought about this in advance and covered them in saran wrap before giving them to participants. I should point out that it was still a bit difficult to work on these laptops knowing their history..

banana_tango34 karma

What do you love the most about being at Duke?

danariely68 karma

The relationships with different departments are very open, and I get to interact a lot with people in other departments -- Duke is an incredibly interdisciplinary place and allows for a lot of conversation between disciplines

christchild2830 karma

Why are lies, myths and conspiracy theories so persistent?

danariely92 karma

The conspiracy theories, at least, must be true

mzhang1330 karma

Dan, you are a tremendous inspiration to me and was one of the people that got me interested in economics. Any future book plans?

sati833522 karma

Hi Dan,

Do you hire interns to work with you in your research? If yes, what is the best way to approach you? What qualities do you look for before hiring the intern? Do you accept undergraduate students as well? What about students not having major in Psychology or Economics?

danariely34 karma

Yes, I will have an internship this summer: http://advanced-hindsight.com/about/research-opportunities/

yvchen22 karma

Can you comment a little bit on the rise of behavioral economics and where you see it going in the future? And maybe its importance? I'm an economics undergrad student and the department is currently trying to hire someone to teach this side of econ. Thanks for everything by the way. Predictably Irrational really solidified my love for and interest in economics.

danariely49 karma

I am hoping that behavioral economics will become a path for applying all of social science into real decisions. I'm hoping it would take input from psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and of course economics, and impose the experimental method to test which solutions are most promising.

bowp21 karma

Hi Dan, I'm currently taking your Beginner's Guide to Irrational Behavior MOOC on Coursera. I have a couple of questions about it. 1. What has been your biggest surprise based on your MOOC experiences? 2. Have you used any of the data you collect from the MOOC in any of your papers or articles?

danariely30 karma

We haven't used the data in any papers yet, but we are doing a few studies and we will see. In terms of what has surprised me the most, I'd say it has been the incredible feeling of an international community with the students.

cyberlipe21 karma

how do you think the world cup in Brazil is going to turn out? People here are pretty concern it will be the worst organized event ever in all time!

danariely72 karma

Just on Friday, someone offered me tickets to the world cup. And I happily took them! So I'm looking forward to examining the chaos firsthand. I've been to Brazil many times, and I mostly worry about the transportation -- but given that nothing will probably start on time and the relaxed approach that Brazilians have to schedules, it will certainly be an interesting experience.

yurrd16 karma

If man are, as you said, superb creatures are rationalizing our own irrational behaviors, then where do you think we stand on topic of morality?

Are we then moral creatures who have occasional lapses or immoral creatures with an occasional shimmer of brilliance?

danariely53 karma

We are often moral. And in fact we lie much less than economic theory would predict.

cimorene1212 karma

Have you ever thought of setting up a perfectly designed company or city which accommodates human nature while shooting for the optimal outcomes? I think that you could easily get a book out of it.

danariely34 karma

I've thought about it, but I'm not sure who would want to put me in charge...

ahariton1311 karma

So what happened to your cookbook?

Big fan by the way

danariely20 karma

Working on it! I need a few months with no new projects, but sadly life is interesting, many projects are exciting, and I have a hard time saying no.

FlyKVegas9 karma

It seems as if your class at times encourages cheating, or rationalized. What would you do if you caught a student cheating in your class?

danariely54 karma

No way!! The punishment for cheating would probably be some form of public acknowledgement such as standing in front of the class and asking the class for forgiveness. This might be followed up with their favorite a cappella Barry Manilow tune

jenjabear9 karma

Hi dan! I took your coursera course last year and it sparked an intense curiosity in the subject. I just finished Paul bloom's coursera course and obsessively listen to the very bad wizards podcast! I What is your take on the attack of the existence of free will using neuroscience? I fear I may have let the guys on very bad wizards impact my opinion too much and since you are the one that impacted me first, I would love to hear your views on the subject!

danariely21 karma

Very bad wizards is one of my favorite podcasts, but it's clear that there are lots of serious side effects that come from listening to it. My suggestion is to avoid it at all costs.

SpaceTravlr9 karma

How did you figure out, why we lie?

danariely26 karma


mse406 karma

Thoughts on recent study by Francesca Gino linking cheating with increased creativity?

danariely21 karma

For me, this was an essential aspect of dishonesty because what we find is that dishonesty is all about the ability to justify our actions. When we can rationalize, we are more dishonest. And creativity is one of the basic tools to help us rationalize with greater ease -- so finding that creativity and dishonesty go hand in hand was an important piece to the puzzle.

EPDK6 karma

Hello Dan, did you send Daniel Kahneman a card for his 80th birthday?

danariely15 karma

I did.

WillyWonkasRetarded5 karma

Why are some of the leaders in your field (ie you and Khanemen) Israeli?

ahariton136 karma

It's spelled Kahneman.

But I'd love to have this question answered; I've always found it particularly interesting.

danariely12 karma

These are not independent events. I met Danny as an undergrad, many of my professors were students of Amos and Danny, and everything I learned was from their particular sub-discipline of psychology.

Plus, I am sure there is some effect due to living in a small country that writes from right to left.

mikelgan5 karma

Does the irrationality of the human mind undermine the argument for democracy? If the public is irrational, easily manipulated and can't accept the future benefits of current sacrifice, then should they be in charge?

danariely9 karma

I think it definitely shows some of the problems with democracy and some of the needs for regulation. I'm hopeful that people could make reasonable decisions from time to time when given the right structure. On top of that, if we have people who are experts they might (sometimes) be in a better position to make better decisions for the rest of us. So I believe in representative democracy that is based on professional and scientific examination of evidence, and using this evidence to make policy decisions.

Amwhenderson3 karma

I'm very interested in this emerging field of behavioral economics. I'm a junior in high school and have begun my search for colleges. Any suggestions for the best universities to study this field at the undergrad level? I know I can just double major in Econ and Psych, but are there any universities that I would be able to jump right into Behavioral Economics without having to wait until grad school? If so, what are the best ones?

danariely6 karma

Probably Carnegie Mellon or Harvard

wooshagenda3 karma

Also, do you think MOOCs will disrupt higher education? If so, what are the implications for higher ed administrators to either embrace or evolve to accommodate MOOCs - or put simply, what should universities be doing now that MOOCs are becoming more mainstream (and seem to be on a path to continue to do so)?

danariely9 karma

I think there will always be a place for higher education. It will evolve, of course, and universities and professors have to figure out how to deal with the complexities that MOOCs bring. I do worry that for the sake of cheaper education we will get more homogenous, less nuanced, less thoughtful education.

wnnbl2 karma

How does one distribute time over multiple tasks which have equal priority in a day

danariely6 karma

If they really have the same priority -- just pick one at random (and if you regret your choice, pick a different one). But née you picked one, stick to it.

SunSatION2 karma

What's behind the "Do not click this" button?

danariely7 karma

I'll never tell.

FPS_Foster2 karma

at social events, how hard is containing yourself, knowing people are lying left and right to impress their peers?

danariely9 karma

It is hard, but I try to experience everything from the inside perspective and just experience the event, but also trying to see the outside view and reflect on what is going on from a more objective perspective. Overall, it is not a bad way to reflect on social evenings.

mofowheh1 karma

Howdy, Dan! I loved "Predictably Irrational."

Any advice for a soon-to-be bachelor of anthropology who wants to be like you? What would you study in graduate school if you were me and loved the crazy things that people do?

EDIT: a letter

danariely4 karma

Molecular biology. There has been a huge explosion in our understanding of biology, and it's incredibly important for mankind, and I wish I could be at the forefront of both understanding what's going on and use this understanding to change the world. So, my advice to you is to be a molecular biologist.

SpaceTravlr1 karma

lie for us right now. por favor

danariely8 karma

I have never told a lie.