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Ariely’s iPhone app helps users make decisions

At the touch of a fingertip, three iPhone applications created by Dan Ariely, James B. Duke professor of behavioral economics, and his research team will help users make better, more rational decisions. 

Forecast to launch in the Apple iPhone app store next month, these applications will provide a channel for Ariely to study people’s behavior in real time as each person who purchases one of these applications can be a subject in one of his behavioral studies. 

The three applications, tentatively named “Perspective,” “At A Boy,” and “Procrastination Buster” will be a window into subjects’ lives, said Samuel Iglesias, a graduate student in the Fuqua School of Business and a member of Ariely’s research team. 

“Perspective” lets a user choose 10 to 15 people he trusts and deem them his “Outside Perspective.” When making a decision, users select a person from an “Outside Perspective” and is asked to imagine what that person would do in their position. “Perspective” can then send an e-mail to the chosen person, who responds with what he or she really would have done. This feedback creates an opportunity for long-term learning Ariely said. 

“Simply by thinking about what other people would do… helps you make a more rational decision,” Iglesias said.

People have a difficult time choosing between two things if they are very different but yield about equal amounts of utility or happiness, Ariely said. The “Procrastination Buster” app prevents users from prolonging decisions like this. A user enters a dilemma and sets a deadline for the decision. If users have not made a decision by the due date, the application will decide for them. If they do not like the outcome, they can choose the other option.

Ariely compared the “Procrastination Buster” to flipping a coin.

“When the coin is in the air, you often will know which side you want it to land on,” he said. In essence, the application does not make the decision for the user, but terminates the cycle of comparing one option over the other and sheds light on what she truly prefers.

The third application is not about decision-making. It is about happiness. “At A Boy” gives users random compliments on demand. 

“At A Boy” was fueled by past studies that showed compliments, even from strangers, could better a person’s mood. Users could turn to their phone and see Iglesias’ compliment: “You have the extra something that can take you to the next level.” Compliments can be rated and users can submit their own. The goal for Ariely’s team is to build a database of compliments and send out highly rated ones more often. 

Iglesias and Nithim Varam, a research assistant from Ariely’s team, said they are confident these applications will be popular among iPhone users.

“I see great value in apps,” Varam wrote in an e-mail. “When I have discussions with friends to get their feedback on the features of the apps, I can clearly see that they are excited and would be interested in using them.”

If users buy the new applications, Ariely’s team will profit in more than just dollars and cents.

 “We will find out what people are contemplating,” Ariely said. “Each application gives insight to the small detail of how they are making each decision.”

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