“Am I a Bad Mother For Spending Money on My Looks?” — Psychology Professor Answers the Tough Questions

28 Aug 2014 at 3:50pm

RealSelf caught up with friend Dan Ariely, a three-time New York Times bestselling author and Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. We hit him with more of the toughest questions asked on RealSelf.com regarding cosmetic surgery’s effect on friendships and relationships.

Woman Looking in the Mirror

I went to a plastic surgeon to get rhinoplasty and he recommended a number of other procedures. I never considered them before, but now I can't get them out of my mind because I know he's the expert. How do I weigh my options?

It’s true that he’s the expert, but he also has a conflict of interest. This is actually something very general that we should think a lot about. When we do research, we find that conflict of interest biases people in a very deep way. You don’t have to be a bad person [for it to have this effect on you], you just have to be a person.

Think about it this way: When a referee makes a call against your favorite team, you can’t possibly help but see the referee as being evil, vicious, stupid — something like that. We all see this in sports with no problem, but we have a harder time seeing it in other things. Medicine is not very different. When somebody is getting paid — and paid well — they can’t help but see the reality from their perspective.

The reality is that we really have to worry about conflicts of interest. This is why getting a second opinion is incredibly important. It’s wonderful to have trust in our physicians, but we also need to have some degree of skepticism from people who may benefit more from performing more treatments.

If this is a question of how to look at things more objectively, one way that helps is to think about something called the “outside perspective.” The way to do this is to ask yourself what you would recommend to someone else if it wasn’t you. Would you recommend that this other person get another procedure? If the answer is yes, then maybe you would want to do it. If the answer is no, then maybe it means that you shouldn’t. In this instance, I would consider both outside perspectives and conflicts of interest.

I'm a middle-class mother of three and I'm considering Botox. But when I mentioned it to my friend, she made me feel like I was a bad mom for spending money on myself and not my family. Am I justified in wanting to do something for myself? Do I approach my friend about the way she made me feel?

Mother of ThreeThis is money, but it’s just money. When it comes to money, the question is: How do we make decisions? The answer is very difficult to execute, but easy to conceptualize. Money is all about opportunity cost. Every time you do one thing, you can’t do something else. What you should be asking yourself is, “What am I getting and what am I giving up?”

Some people prefer to spend money on vacations, some people prefer to spend money on renovating the kitchen, and you might prefer to spend money on Botox. As long as you think about the opportunity cost, then it’s just another calculation. If you prefer Botox to a new sink, who is to say that one is better than the other? They are trade-offs, and you just have to decide which trade-offs you are willing to make.

I’m a mom who’s had plastic surgery and get judged by non-mothers for it all the time. Is it fair for non-mothers to judge mothers on their behavior and/or parenting skills?

I don’t think it’s a question of fairness. We can never be in someone’s shoes exactly. We can never understand somebody’s exact mood and preferences and so on. And we can never understand somebody who has kids and someone who has different kids. That said, it’s OK to pass some judgement. It would be very nice if we could understand that we could never be in that person’s shoes, that we only get some insights into their behavior, and that we should be a bit more modest about our judgement. That’s true for everything, not just parenting.

Dan Ariely

About Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and author of Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality, and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty. Pick up his app, the Pocket Ariely, and "never make another bad decision!"

Photo credits: Some rights reserved by Gerhard Pratt; Some rights reserved by Ed Yourdon