Bringing research to the mass market

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Too often, academics’ research stays within the ivory tower.  Not so for behavioral economist Dan Ariely, a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and a visiting professor at the MIT Media Lab. Not only did Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational become a bestseller, but highlights of his research have recently been published in a venue few would have predicted: Oprah Winfrey’s magazine OAriely, who has published in a range of scholarly journals, such as the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making and Pyschological Science, is featured in the September 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine based on a survey he did of almost 3,000 visitors to the site. The topic? Procrastination.

What did the participants in Ariely’s survey procrastinate most about? Given a list of 12 activities, respondents said exercising, beginning a diet and reviewing their retirement plans were the things they put off most. Work duties such as responding to voicemails they did more promptly. Favoring short-term wants over longer-term goals is a “major source of human misery,” Ariely told O. How to battle it? Ariely’s advice: Outsmart your short-term temptations (say, don’t let the waiter show you the dessert menu) and translate strategies you use successfully in one area of your life into other areas.

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