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Useful family advice for students

February 1, 2017

From Behavioural Economics Saved My Dog by Dan Ariely

Dear Dan, As a university professor who has been teaching for a long time, what advice would you give to students who are starting their academic year? —PETER

Simple: cut all ties with your family—particularly your grandparents. Here’s why: most professors discover that family members, particularly grandmothers, tend to pass away just before exams.

Deciding to look into this question with the kind of rigour that only academics are able to (and have the time for), Mike Adams, a professor of biology at Eastern Connecticut State University, collected years of data and concluded that grandmothers are 10 times more likely to die before a mid-term assessment and 19 times more likely to die before a final exam. Grandmothers of students who aren’t doing so well in class are at even higher risk, and the worst news is for students who are failing: their grandmothers are 50 times more likely to die as the grandmothers of students who are passing the class.

The most straightforward explanation for these results? These students share their struggles with their grandmothers, and the poor old ladies prove unable to cope with the difficult news and die. Based on this sound reasoning, from a public policy perspective, students—particularly ones that are failing—clearly shouldn’t mention the timing of their exams or their academic performance to any relatives. (A less likely interpretation of these results would be that the students are lying, but this is really hard to imagine.)

Joking aside, social relationships are very important for our health and happiness, in good times and bad. And fostering these bonds is a wise goal for anyone at any stage of life.

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