Dan Ariely will never run out of material to research and write about.
"Well, you know I have a usual shtick," he jokes when asked about what he'll discuss during his South by Southwest Interactive Conference appearance today . "I talk about the mistakes people make when they make decisions. Thankfully, there are lots of mistakes to talk about."
Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, as well as the author of "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions" and the upcoming "Perfectly Irrational: The Unexpected Ways We Defy Logic at Work and at Home," due out in June. In his books and on his Web site (predictablyirrational.com , where you can occasionally sign up for his studies), he writes about his work in a way that entertains and illuminates. Some of his insights might come in especially handy during SXSW. Appropriately, given Interactive's musical sister conference, he's considering some music-related topics for his first visit to SXSW.
"We did this one funny study on music," Ariely says. The study compared how attractive audience members rated musicians before they started playing compared with at intermission.
"And what we found was that everybody got a big boost, aside from the drummer." (Drummers did get some boost in their attractiveness ratings, but not as much as the rest of the band members.)
Why does this happen? Ariely thinks it might have something to do with "misattribution of emotions": "Sometimes we have an emotion and we don't know where it's coming from, so we kind of stick it on something that seems sensible." In other words, your strong feelings about the music might make you think you're having strong feelings about the lead singer.
Ariely's insights on willpower might be useful if you're prone to overindulging, whether on cocktails or barbecue, at SXSW.
He argues that the you who's reading this story now doesn't have much understanding of the you who'll be facing temptation later.
"Fighting temptation when temptation occurs is often beyond us," he says. "Therefore, what we need to do is to not put ourselves into situations of temptation." You'll be more successful if you take steps ahead of time instead of relying on your own willpower to resist temptation when it comes.
That could even apply to a vice that's probably lured its share of SXSW Interactive attendees: texting and driving. Instead of resolving to not pick up your phone when you're bored and in traffic, don't put yourself through that trial, Ariely says. Instead, turn the phone off or put it in airplane mode ahead of time.
Ariely's work might even help you attract the attentions of your SXSW crush. On his Web site, he says that he used all his knowledge about decision-making to win the heart of his future wife. What were his secrets?
"I tried to put myself in situations where I looked good in comparison," he says. He's only partly joking: Ariely has actually researched who makes the perfect wing man (or wing woman) when you're on the prowl.
"It turns out it's someone similar to you, but slightly less attractive," he says.
It also helps to keep showing up around your crush. "The more you see something, the more you get used to it and like it more."
‘Perfectly Irrational: Who Put the Monkey in the Driver's Seat?'
When: 12:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Ballroom D, Austin Convention Center
Open to registered SXSW Interactive attendees