Why is E-mail so Tempting?


The psychologist B. F. Skinner came up with the idea of random reinforcement, where you give a rat a lever and every hundred times it presses the lever, it gets a piece of food. For the rat, that is exciting. But if the number is a random number—any number between one and one hundred—it actually ends up being more exciting. And the rat keeps on working much, much more, even if you take the reward away altogether. I think that e-mail and social networks are a great example of random reinforcement. Usually, when we pull the lever to check our e-mail, it’s not that interesting. But, from time to time, it’s exciting. And that excitement, which happens at random intervals, keeps us coming back to check our e-mail all the time. -Dan Ariely, Manage Your Day to Day