Dan Ariely has become a world-renowned expert in what motivates human decision making. Dan Ariely has become a world-renowned expert in what motivates human decision making. Dan Ariely has become a world-renowned expert in what motivates human decision making. (Photo: Courtesy Dan Ariely)

5 weird things we learned from Dan Ariely in 2016

From the hidden benefits of disaster dates to the ways lying changes biology, the acclaimed professor taught us a lot about human nature this year.

Dan Ariely, the Israeli behavioral economics legend who teaches at Duke University, has had a busy year. Studying human decision-making is his jam, and he's looked at everything from dating to lying to making small talk in 2016. For instance:

Lying changes your brain

liesNew research shows that lying snowballs. (Photo: northallertonman/Shutterstock)

You may think you're in control of how often you lie, but you're not. Your brain is. Ariely has found that, when people lie more, their brains actually change to get used to lying. The more you lie, the easier it gets.

He and other scientists hooked people up to MRI machines and found that the emotional centers of participants' brains lit up less over time when they lied.

"Once people lie, they have an easier time lying later," Ariely told From the Grapevine.


It's a good idea to manufacture a disaster on a date

First dates can be both fun and frightful.First dates can be both fun and frightful. (Photo: Shy/Shutterstock)

People often focus on trying to make dates run as smoothly as possible, but Ariely has found that this is a recipe for problems down the road in a relationship. It's hard to really get to know someone in a sterile environment like a restaurant or coffee shop.

Rather, Ariely recommends going kayaking with your new potential love. There's a good chance that problems of a "smashing into a stone riverbed" variety will occur, and that's a good thing: the two of you will get to know each other much better by going through turmoil together than by making small talk over spaghetti. Besides, if your date is the kind of person who blames you whenever a problem arises, you might want to know that before you move in together.


Willpower is overrated

Hanukkah doughnutDonuts make the world, and your stomach, go round. (Photo: grafnata/Shutterstock)

Willpower, as it turns out, is a pretty bad strategy for getting things done. That may be why so many New Year's resolutions fail; people make big promises to themselves and then imagine they can control their instincts and avoid chocolate forever. But there's a far simpler and perhaps more effective strategy to change behavior: put yourself in situations where you'll be more likely to avoid problematic temptations. That means keeping candy hidden away in the back of the pantry, rather than on the kitchen shelf.

"We don’t understand the influence of the environment on our decisions," Ariely told us. "Your phone vibrates, and you become a slightly different person. The moment you pass by a donut shop, you become a slightly different person. You are a person who is more interested in donuts."


You value things you make more than things you buy.

baking cakeSometimes lumpy, homemade cakes are better than perfect ones. (Photo: eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock)

Despite what advertisers tell you, you'll probably be happier with a homemade casserole and IKEA table than with a restaurant meal and a fancy mahogany dining table. Ariely has found that people attach much more value to things they make themselves than things they buy, even if their homemade items are less pristine or beautiful than the ones they find at stores.

So grab a fabric marker and fix that stain yourself before you throw out your jeans and buy a new pair. Your brain (and wallet) will thank you.


It's possible to have a dinner party without small talk

dinner partyConversations about deeper topics build relationships. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

It sounds unimaginable, but Ariely set his mind to having a dinner party without small talk. He found an incredibly simple way to do this: he let his guests know ahead of time that small talk was not allowed. It seems too good to be true, but it actually worked.

"By establishing a common rule for behaviour we created an environment with a new set of social norms that redefined people's best interests," Ariely wrote about the dinner. "And everyone was happier."

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