Cialdini Asks is a series of video interviews in which I ask experts in behavioral science about the journey that spurred their literary and academic work: how they wrote about it for a larger and more popular audience, the aspects of their content, and the motivations behind their work. 

Today, I interview Dan Ariely, who is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. He is the founder of The Center for Advanced Hindsight and also the co-founder of BEworks. He is the author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, both of which are New York Times bestsellers, as well as The Honest Truth about Dishonesty. His newest book is titled, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our MotivationsHis 2008 TED Talk has been watched almost 5 million times.

It was a pleasure speaking with Dan for the Cialdini Asks Interview Series

Read the transcript of this interview below.

Robert Cialdini: 

Hello. I’m Bob Cialdini, a behavioral scientist and author of the book Influence, as well as the new book Pre-Suasion. I’d like to tell you about a series of video interviews I’ve conducted with individuals who I admire and who have written about behavioral science not just for the academic community, but as well for the larger community. Individuals such as Dan Ariely, Adam Grant, Amy Cuddy, and Richard Thaler. In this series of interviews called Cialdini Asks, I try to get beneath the surface and behind the scenes, inquiring into the motivations that spurred the work of these individuals and their decisions to write about it for a popular audience. I also ask them about aspects of their work that exceeded their expectations in terms of impact, as well as those aspects of their work they felt have been most underappreciated. I even ask them to tell us a funny story or revealing one that nobody knows about them and their work.

I know that in the process, I have been surprised, fascinated and informed by their answers. I hope that the same will be true for you, so I do hope that you will look out for and tune in to the Cialdini Asks video series as we make it available online over the next several weeks. Thanks.

Hi, Dan.

Dan Ariely:

Hey. Good to see you again.

Robert Cialdini:

It’s good to see you.

Dan Ariely:

Last time we met, was it in London? In the BIT Conference?

Robert Cialdini:

It was. I was impressed by that event. In the extent to which behavioral science had become not just trendy, but a thing. A real thing that attracted a lot of people from a lot of different domains so I was encouraged by that.

Dan Ariely:

Yeah. No, it is great. For you I think it’s extra special because for how many years have you been trying to get people to use psychology to drive behavioral change?

Robert Cialdini

Too many years for me to admit, but it’s been a sizeable number yeah.

Dan Ariely:

Also, the way that they’re using social proof so effectively in so many different areas is just wonderful. You’ve been knocking on doors for lots of years and all of a sudden, boom.

Robert Cialdini:

That has been heartening to me. I think the key was to get it out of the academic domain where we found solid evidence of it to places where people who are using it are now seeing that they’re getting positive outcomes for their own goals.

Dan Ariely:

Yep. It was great. I think we’re all riding on your coat tails in this happiness of taking basic findings and trying to make an impact, so thank you.

Robert Cialdini:

Yeah. Well, that leads directly into my first question for you. I’ve always been a big fan of your work but I was especially taken by your most recent book, Payoff. In fact, I read it twice. Once for content, once for style and was impressed by both times. I wonder if you can tell us about the series of events that led to your decision to write that book. That is, that made you decide to turn the research and ideas that you covered there into something directed not just to the academic community, but to the large community.

Dan Ariely:

Yep. My first attempt to write something beyond academic community was when I wrote Predictably Rational almost 10 years ago and that was an interesting exercise because I took a lot of myself. I put a lot of myself into that book. Not in the sense of working hard, but in the sense of describing some of my challenges and personality and struggles. It was very … I remember sending it off to the publisher and saying, “What have I done?” It’s a book that talks about my burns and removing bandages and it’s a social science book but it was about my journey through life and how it led me to think.

The reaction I got was relatively positive. I remember sitting on the flight next to a woman who was a diabetic patient and she was so happy I was sitting next to her because she said she read Predictably Rational. She said she was debating whether to have an insulin pump installed or whether to keep on taking injections and in her mind she had to debate with me about what I would say. She decided I would say go ahead and install an insulin pump and that’s what she did. She asked me if that’s true so we went through the arguments and I said yes.

It was incredibly gratifying to talk to somebody who read, who took some of the findings, internalize it to their own life and thought about this.

Robert Cialdini:

Yeah.

Dan Ariely: 

When I wrote my second book The Upside of Irrationality, I was a bit more courageous even in the things I described. I described the first [inaudible 00:05:58] hospital, but this book I think for me is even a stronger deviation. It doesn’t start from research. It starts from my own questioning about how I spend my time.

Robert Cialdini:

Right.

Dan Ariely:

Because I was badly injured and because I wrote about it in a very personal way, I get lots of people with injuries write me. Maybe a couple times of week I get people to write me. All of those discussions are difficult and painful. I’ll tell you one example. Not one that is in the book but about a year and a half ago, I get a very short email from somebody and said, “I’m injured badly. Please call me.” I call this guy in the evening and it turns out it was about a year after he became paralyzed from the neck down.

At that point, he got to the realization he was not going to get better and he wanted to figure out what he could do. How he can find happiness and meaning and contribution and so on. We talk about all kinds of ways to do it. We decide on two paths. One was that he hated all of these books that said that injury was the best that ever happened to me so we decided he was going to write something on his beliefs and then he was going to help his uncle with a project he was working on. Then he asked me what do I think about committing suicide.

Robert Cialdini: 

Wow.

Dan Ariely:

I said I’m not against it. I’ve thought about it myself at times, but I said, “We just have two other paths. Let’s explore them first.” He agrees and we talk once a week for the next few months about different progress and he submit an outline and all kinds of things like that and I try to help him out. Then at the end of those four months, he did commit suicide. There’s lots of things about that case and many other cases, but I have lessons about him and why I think he decided to commit suicide and so on, but if I think about … He’s not the only person I talk to.

I talk to lots of people with these kind of things and none of those are what you would call fun.

Robert Cialdini:

Right.

Dan Ariely:

I don’t have these discussions and burst into laughter. There’s nothing about them that is joyful. In fact, if you looked at me from the outside, you would say I’m suffering and I am. It’s painful and difficult and sometimes I cry and I have nightmares and it’s a engaging experience that you would not say it’s pleasurable, and nevertheless I find myself spending a lot of my time on those things. The question I started asking is why. We have this idea of pursuing happiness. It’s not a definition of pursuing happiness. I’m kind of pursuing misery.

Robert Cialdini:

Yeah.

Dan Ariely:                             

You can say maybe I’m an S&M kind of a person and what I’m really after is misery, but that’s not the case. I think what’s the case is; is that happiness, there’s kind of two types of happiness. There’s the type of happiness that you get from sitting on the beach drinking mojito, watching a sitcom or something light and fun and on a daily basis, but the type of happiness we should really pursue is the type of happiness that gives you meaning and satisfaction and oddly, it doesn’t come with daily happiness. It comes with daily misery.

Robert Cialdini:

Yeah.

Dan Ariely: 

Think about something like running a marathon. If you came from outer space and you recorded people running a marathon, you looked at them, you would say these are terrible people. They must have done something terrible, decide to punish them with this cruel punishment and hopefully they will pay their debt to society when they finish and they’ll forgive them. It’s true that there’s not a second in a marathon that somebody say, “This second is more pleasurable than watching YouTube.”

Robert Cialdini: 

Yeah.

Dan Ariely: 

The experience as a whole gives people a sense of meaning and progress and achievement and overcoming and so this book is really my … Started with my struggle to figure out what kind of things drive me that seem on the surface to be so antagonistic to happiness but in fact give me so much more of other things. I have some answers, but it’s such a big open question. I took this book as an opportunity to explore it.

Robert Cialdini:  

Yeah. It seems to me that the choice of the concept of motivation fits very well with the opportunity to explore on a lot of levels something that is central and incessantly part of what we do every day. When I first wrote my book Influence, it turns out that that concept has a lot of tendrils, it reaches all through our lives and so it’s turned out to be something that people have been interested in. The idea of motivation struck me when I read this. Oh yes. Another one of those fundamental undergirding constructs that allow us interesting thinking and ways of behaving inside its borders.

Dan Ariely:                          

Yep and much like Influence, I think it’s going to be multi-determined and there are many things going on at the same time and there are many paths to the same aspect so we’re not going to have a simple fun answer, but the exploration is wonderful.

Robert Cialdini:            

Right. Well, let me go on to the next question. That was a great answer. This is a little more of a fun question. Of all the work you’ve done, what would you say has been most underappreciated and why do you think that is?

Dan Ariely:  

Okay. Underappreciated by who? I’ll just take academics.

Robert Cialdini:

Yeah.

Dan Ariely:

We had this paper in which we tried to get very poor people in Kenya to save money and we created this system where people could text money into their M-PESA account, their online phone account and every night the money would move to an investment bank so it would be easy to put the money in, but taking it out would be hard. Then we added all kinds of things to it. Some people just got that condition. Some people got a text message once a week. Try and save 100 schillings. About a dollar. Some people got a text message from their kids. Try and save 100 schillings for the family. Some people got a 10% match. Some people got a 20% match.Some people got

Some people got match with loss aversion so we gave them the match in the beginning of the week and if they saved they got to keep it. If not, we took it back. Some people got the coin. The coin was golden color. It had 24 numbers on it. We asked them to put it somewhere in their hut and we asked them every week to scratch the number for that week. One, two, three, four, five, and so on to indicate if they saved or not. Because we don’t have much time, I’ll just tell you that when we asked people to predict the results, people think that 20% will get people to save a lot, 10% less, and zero doesn’t matter. Message, message from kids, coin, doesn’t matter.What happened was that reminders help, text help. Adding money to it 10% helped. By the way, 10 and 20% no difference. Loss aversion help some more but again 10, 20% don’t matter. Kids were just like 10 or 20% plus loss aversion. It means that the kids are incredibly powerful.

What happened was that reminders help, text help. Adding money to it 10% helped. By the way, 10 and 20% no difference. Loss aversion help some more but again 10, 20% don’t matter. Kids were just like 10 or 20% plus loss aversion. It means that the kids are incredibly powerful.

Robert Cialdini:

Yeah.

Dan Ariely:

The big surprise in that a paper was the coin. The coin dramatically increased savings compared to everything else. By the way, when you look at the results over the week, we texted everybody on a particular day. The coin did not have much benefit on that day. The benefit of the coin came from all the other days of the week. We suggest that from time to time, people saw the coin and from time to time they remembered and from time to time they took an action. Now, here’s the thing. The coin, we’re not sure what’s going on there. We can speculate and we can say, “Oh, we think it’s about reminders,” or we can say, “We think about all of a sudden the family understands that there are savings because usually when you save, the only visible thing for the family is that you take things away from them.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Yep.

Dan Ariely:                             

[inaudible 00:15:11] on the table by insurance, you’re taking away from the family in the most direct way. All of a sudden the family could see that they’re getting something back but academics don’t like it and maybe for a good reason. Certainly not all papers should have this character that says, “Hey we had this really surprising result. We don’t exactly know where it’s coming from.” I think as academics, we have this mistake where we think that every paper should be somewhat complete. I think we don’t appreciate saying, “Hey this is puzzling. Maybe we’ll deal with it at another time,” and it’s enough to basically show the puzzle to stimulate more research and to show that it’s working.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Right.

Dan Ariely:                             

I think if I wrote that paper without the coin condition, loss aversion, 10%, 20% it’s a package but you add the condition that is much more interesting and all of a sudden rather than making the paper more interesting, it makes it less interesting. That I think is a little bit of my frustration with how we think about papers and I don’t think we think enough about the accumulation of science as a process.

Robert Cialdini:                  

I don’t think there are outlets specifically for those kinds of papers although it would be very valuable if we had intriguing results and we don’t quite know the way to explain them. What do you think folks? Why can’t we build a platform of research on this question because it exists as a phenomenon.

Dan Ariely:                            

Yep. In medicine, they have case studies.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Yeah.

Dan Ariely:                             

Side by side, they publish papers with the scientific method and they also say, “Hey. Here’s a bizarre thing I observed. Let’s think about it.”

Robert Cialdini:                  

Great. Well, next question has to do with the flip side of the last question. Of all your work, what was most surprising to you in terms of its big impact? It was more than you expected in terms of its impact.

Dan Ariely:                             

Okay. You mean impact in terms of experimental, not in terms of the effective-

Robert Cialdini:                  

What I’m going to allow you to move around categories. Where did you get oversized impact?

Dan Ariely:                             

Effect.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Yeah.

Dan Ariely:                             

As you know, we do all of these experiments to tempt people to steal money from us.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Right.

Dan Ariely:                             

We have all kinds of ways that people can exaggerate the results and get more money than they deserve. In one experiment, we described the experiment to people and we say, “Hey we have these two methods here. Two version of the experiment.” In one of them the payment is up to $4. Another one is up to $40. Why don’t you flip a coin and we’ll see if you get the $4 experiment or the $40 experiment. People flip the coin. No matter what they got, we said, “Oh. You got the $4 version.” Now the research assistant looks around and he says, “Listen. My boss is not here today so I’ll tell you what. You got $3 to show up to the experiment. If you give me the money, I will pretend you got the other coin flip.”

It’s basically asking him for a bribe. What percentage of people bribed him? 90%. 90% bribed him which is shocking. What did they do after the bribing? They moved from a $4 condition to a $40 condition. They’re going to make much more money. They also increased their cheating and they started stealing. What do I mean by stealing? After they failed the task, they wrote down how much money they deserve. Let’s say $23 and they circle it. Instead of paying them, we give them an envelope with $50 and we say, “Why don’t you pay yourself the amount of money you deserve. The amount of money you don’t deserve, leave in the envelope and as you leave the room, drop it in a big box of envelopes.”

Robert Cialdini:                  

Right.

Dan Ariely:                             

This was the first time we saw people stealing. Usually people write $23. They cheat on the reporting but once they write $23, they take $23. Here we saw stealing. The effect of course is something that social psychologists would predict which is that if the person running the system is corrupt, people switch very quickly and become corrupt. The magnitude of the people who are willing to pay the bribe and the ease in which they started stealing is incredibly disturbing. It’s incredibly disturbing if you look at the politics around the world.

You say, “Can you think about countries where the leadership seems to be corrupt or dishonest?” What are the odds that when people encounter that system they will not become corrupt and dishonest themselves.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Right. That’s reminiscent of an old set of studies I saw. Not on cheating, not on stealing, on aggression. There’s research by a sociologist that show that after a war, after a country has engaged in warfare, whether they’ve won or lost, violence increases inside the country. There are more armed robberies-

Dan Ariely:                             

And domestic violence as well.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Domestic. It’s not just from veterans who’ve returned from the wars. No. It’s people who were never in war. When someone in charge endorses aggression as a way to solve problems, that has this trickle down effect similar to what I think you saw for lying and cheating being endorsed by someone in charge. Next question.

Dan Ariely:                             

Can we make a happier question? I’m a little depressed now.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Oh okay. Yes there is a happier question. In your experience as a researcher or author, I’m going to give you some latitude here. Is there a revealing or humorous story you can tell us that only a few people know?

Dan Ariely:                             

Okay. I’m not sure how humorous this is. I grew up in Israel. I came to the US and the first study I did was on beer. I basically got undergrads to taste beer either in the blind tasting condition or when they could see the beer. I did it to freshman, I did it for seniors. What I found was that freshman when they tasted the beer while seeing the cans said they liked the heavy German beers more and the light American beers less, but when they drank without knowing what it is, they like the light American beers first and the heavy German beers less.

By the time people were seniors, they said they liked German beers more than they liked American beers and that’s also how they like them. My conclusion was that the goal of college is … You have the goal of thinking that you want to learn how to like heavy German beers and through college, you learn how to do it. The problem with that study was that I had no idea about drinking age.

Robert Cialdini:                  

A ha.

Dan Ariely:                             

I didn’t understand the IRB so it was an illegal study in many ways. I was just a grad student in the first semester. I worked in the lab of Tom Walton and I just kind of did this on the side for fun and I basically got freshman to drink. I could never publish these results so basically nobody knows about it but I think it’s a really fun interesting result.

Robert Cialdini:                  

I think it is funny so great. Then there’s a last question. As you know I’ve written a book recently called Pre-Suasion that explores what communicators do before delivering a message to increase its acceptance. I wonder can you describe a situation in which you’ve seen a communicator, it could be you who said or did something first that led to the success of an immediately following appeal.

Dan Ariely:                             

Yep. I’ll tell you what one of the things I do. When I present, I always run the risk that people say, “Oh but people are rational”, or, “I am rational,” and so on. What I now do and I think it’s successful is before I talk about rationality and irrationality, I get the audience to admit some of their own mistakes. I start by saying how many of you in the last month have eaten more than you think you should? I ask people to raise their hands and virtually everybody raises their hand. Then I said how many of you in the last month have not exercised as much as you … Have eaten more than you think you should. How many of you have ever texted and driving? Texting and driving is a clincher because most people admit that they do it and then there’s just after people admit that they over eat, under exercise, and text and drive, what can they say?

“Oh, yes I am rational?” You can always say, “But listen. Don’t you know that texting and driving is stupid? Haven’t you just admitted that you said it?” I get people to admit that they fail and because of the hand raising that everybody around them fail and that basically I think creates an openness to it.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Right.

Dan Ariely:                             

The one thing I tried once that doesn’t succeed is to ask people how many of them in the last month have not always washed their hands when they left the bathroom. The reason that one is not successful is not because people don’t do it. It’s because they don’t admit it.

Robert Cialdini:                  

They don’t want to admit it. Especially if they’re going to be shaking hands with certain people in the audience.

Dan Ariely:                             

Now, if I use that example I say, “Look. You’re all lying. There’s no chance that you’re all doing it.” What I want to do is I want people to go through a few things where they admit, they’re willing to admit publicly and they see everybody around them behaving this way and after that, you can’t really have arguments. Yes, but people are rational.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Right.

Dan Ariely:                             

You’ve established that up front and I think they’re resistant because when you talk about being rational, it’s an abstract idea. When you’re translating specific behavior that you say nobody is doing or everybody is behaving badly, now we’re starting the discussion in a very different state.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Brilliant I thought. That’s great. Well thank you very much for taking time with us today. I enjoyed it. I always enjoy our interactions. This one especially. Thank you and congratulations on Payoff. It’s really terrific.

Dan Ariely:                             

Thank you very much and I’m looking forward to our next interaction.

Robert Cialdini:                  

Good. So long for now.

Dan Ariely:           

Take care. Bye.


payoffcover

Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations

Bestselling author Dan Ariely reveals fascinating new insights into motivation—showing that the subject is far more complex than we ever imagined. Payoff investigates the true nature of motivation, our partial blindness to the way it works, and how we can bridge this gap.

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book-cover

Pre-Suasion:  A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

The author of the legendary bestseller Influence, social psychologist Robert Cialdini shines a light on effective persuasion and reveals that the secret doesn’t lie in the message itself, but in the key moment before that message is delivered.

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