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Episode Transcript

DUCKWORTH: I can’t believe an educated person would think like this.

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Is holding a grudge really worth it?

DUBNER: Come on in. The grudge water is fine.  

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DUBNER: Angela, we have a question today — it’s short and sweet — from one Bobby Fortanely. He writes to say, “My wife holds grudges indefinitely. Although, thankfully, none against me. Why do some people hold grudges and not others? How does one let go of grudges? P.S.,” Bobby writes, “I’m sending in this question with my wife’s blessing.” That’s a preemptive “Don’t hold a grudge against me for asking Angie and Stephen about grudges.” So, Angela, why do some people hold grudges and not others? Is that knowable?

DUCKWORTH: You know, there is a research literature on grudges. I don’t know why some people are grudge-holders, other than to speculate that, given this is about ruminating, and given that a lot of people involuntarily hold onto grudges kind of despite themselves, my guess is that people who are worse at emotion regulation and lower in emotional stability are probably more likely to be grudge-holders. I think — roughly speaking — a grudge is the opposite of forgiveness, right?

DUBNER: Hang on a second. That’s an interesting thought. I need to get my mind around it. “A grudge is the opposite of forgiveness.” 

DUCKWORTH: Well, let’s try to define “grudge.”

DUBNER: Let’s do.

DUCKWORTH: I think what a grudge is, is when somebody has wronged you — you think — and you are ruminating about it. And you feel like that transgression, that slight, that insult, that attack — however you frame it in your mind — that it has not been canceled. That there is a debt that hasn’t been paid, so you’re hanging onto it.

DUBNER When I think of the word “debt,” I think of a loan that needs to be repaid, but loans are usually borrowed with permission. To me, a grudge feels more like a theft rather than a permitted borrowing.

DUCKWORTH: It’s not like, “Oh, I forgot to return this library book,” or “I still owe you 10 dollars.” 

DUBNER: Exactly.

DUCKWORTH: But there’s something about, like, almost some kind of violence was done.  


DUCKWORTH: I have to point to some of the, I think, best thinking about this, which was done by Roy Baumeister and his co-conspirators. Roy Baumeister is a social psychologist. He wrote this article — I think more than two decades ago, now — on forgiveness and grudges. Roy’s point is that when we say, “I forgive you,” we use that phrase for when you forgive someone a debt — some monetary transaction or piece of property. But also, we say that when it has nothing to do with monetary compensation — you didn’t borrow anything. You lied to me. You cheated on me. You tripped me. You hurt me. And I’m going to use that same word. And the reason why I think Roy Baumeister is so interested in the etymology of “forgiveness” — which, I am proposing is the opposite of holding a grudge — is that there is something about restoring the value of a relationship that happens when we forgive someone. And there is the refusal to do that when we hold a grudge.

DUBNER: So, that makes perfect sense. I did just happen to Google around a little bit while you were talking — not that I wasn’t also listening. I was multitasking successfully.

DUCKWORTH: You were completely listening, and also looking at Roy Baumeister’s work.

DUBNER: But here’s a component of his explanation that I find particularly interesting. He writes that, “Forgiveness is an individual or intrapsychic phenomenon.” In other words, I’m deciding to forgive you or someone, and that implies not actually engaging with the other person. Can you talk a little bit more about that? Is an apology necessary? Is a conversation necessary? Or can you kind of sprinkle some Baumeister-Duckworth dust on this grudge and just have it disintegrate without the offending party even getting the satisfaction of knowing how ticked-off you were?

DUCKWORTH: So, Roy’s proposition is that there are two dimensions of forgiveness, and one of them is interpersonal — there has to be some kind of conversation. And then there’s an intra — he calls it “intrapsychic,” but you could call it “intrapersonal.”

DUBNER: Or just “internal,” let’s say, right?

DUCKWORTH: Exactly. So, there’s an “external” and an “internal.” And he calls total forgiveness when both happen. And I can with hesitation share with you my grudge story.

DUBNER: Yeah, I think we need to put the spotlight on an example, and I think the example should come from you.  

DUCKWORTH: But you know what, it’s a grudge that is no longer a grudge. So, maybe I shouldn’t feel so bad about it. 

DUBNER: It’s a happy-ending grudge story. Okay. So, this is good. We can use you as a case study.  

DUCKWORTH: As you are wont to do.

DUBNER: I am very fond of your examples. Let me tell you what, Angela. And I just am less fond of my examples.

DUCKWORTH: Okay. I will be the example-human here, for grudges. So, here’s the story. I am living in San Francisco with Jason. We are newly married. So, I guess it’s the late nineties. And I invite two friends from college, who I’m not sure I should name or not.

DUBNER: Why don’t we call them Adolf and Benito, just as placeholders?

DUCKWORTH: Well, they’re women. Let’s call them A and B.  

DUBNER: Okay. 

DUCKWORTH: A and B come — or they say they’re going to come — and visit me in San Francisco. And it’s a little bit of a college reunion, because we were, all three of us, good friends in college. And by the way, I think three is a lousy number for friendship, because somebody’s always, relatively speaking, the third wheel. And I think, in this case, the grudge is very related to my having always felt like a little bit of the third wheel in this three-way friendship. So, they say they’re going to come out on a certain day. And this is my memory, not theirs. But my expectation was that they were going to come from the airport to my little apartment on Stockton Street in San Francisco where Jason and I were living. Because of course they were there to see me, and they wouldn’t be able to wait.  

DUBNER: Of course.

DUCKWORTH: So, that was my expectation. The insult, the transgression, the theft — if you want to call it that — is that they ended up spending a day together before coming to my apartment. At any rate, the two of them, A and B, had a grand old time together without me, and then came to see me the following day.

DUBNER: And you greeted them with all the warmth that one might expect in the frozen-food section of a supermarket?

DUCKWORTH: I’m pretty sure I didn’t say, like, “Oh, I understand.” I also definitely held onto this internal feeling of resentment, and having been slighted.  

DUBNER: Can we deepen this story, just a tiny bit? I want to know: What was their relationship with Jason? Did they like Jason? Did they know him? Had they been to the wedding, et cetera?

DUCKWORTH: Both of them had been to the wedding. Both of them were thumbs-up on Jason. So, I don’t think they were avoiding my new husband.

DUBNER: But is it possible that they’re thinking, “We’re going to fly to California, going see our old friend Angela and her husband Jason. But, you know, Angela and Jason are now married. They have their own lives. And, like, we’re just going to spend a day doing stuff, and then we’ll go there the next day.” Is it possible that it was just casual — no insult intended at all? Or do you believe that there was some exclusion of you as, “Oh, Angie’s the third wheel even more now, because she had the temerity to go and get married.”

DUCKWORTH: I did get married first, and maybe there was some, you know, “Well, let’s let the married people do what married people do.” I don’t think they were trying to hide it either. Right? So, I think they were like, “Oh, wasn’t that fun yesterday when we saw whatever?” Like, I was so mad. I was so hurt. I refused to see them.

DUBNER: Hang on. I’ve got to make a few notes to self: “Do not ever tell Angela you are going to be in the town where she lives and not go see her on the first day of your visit.”  

DUCKWORTH: Well, I think that’s a good rule, honestly. But grudges are things that, by definition, you ruminate about. And I think there was a quality of that — like, “I can’t believe you didn’t come see me from the airport. I can’t believe you made me feel so left out.” It reminds me of this experimental paradigm in psychology called “cyberbully” where you are on some online computer game. And you think that there are two other players, because there’s a little avatar of you, and then there’s these two other avatars, and you just assume that everybody’s sitting at a computer somewhere in their room. And it’s a little bit like in, you know, elementary school where you, like, pass the ball to each other, but then it quickly becomes “monkey in the middle.” And then, the two other avatars just keep passing the ball to each other. It’s a paradigm which reliably induces stress, even when you’re just playing a computer game. So, I think I had that feeling of being excluded. And actually, I do think they’re better friends with each other. The forgiveness that eventually happened was because I realized that these two people are better friends with each other — like, they are.

DUBNER: It sounds like you came to the conclusion that they didn’t really have anything to apologize about. I need a few more details here. So, you ultimately saw them, finally, on that trip, or you didn’t?

DUCKWORTH: I think I did see them. I probably gave them, like, silent, glaring looks at dinner.

DUBNER: Did you say anything to them? Like, “Boy, my feelings were really hurt.”

DUCKWORTH: I don’t think I did. At least, I didn’t have a complete conversation. I probably said something.

DUBNER: Sounds like Bobby’s asking the wrong person here. I hate to say.

DUCKWORTH: Well, I told you this is a reasonably happy story, because eventually I did not only forgive these two friends, A and B, “interpersonally,” as Baumeister would say — like, externally — we actually had a reunion in a city that none of us lived in. So, there was no confusion about, like, who would spend time with whom. We went out to Arizona. They make movies about this sort of thing. Like, middle-aged women have a reunion in a desert-like place, drinking white wine and sharing stories.  

DUBNER: Isn’t there usually some terrible outcome? Like there’s someone that’s been following you, and they ransack your wallet, and they steal your identity —

DUCKWORTH: No, no, no — different genre, Stephen. It was not a thriller. It was just, you know, three middle-aged women — actually, four, because there’s a little sister of one of these, uh, friends.

DUBNER: Imagine how left out she felt.

DUCKWORTH: Yes. Well, to the point of the happy ending, Stephen, none of us felt left out. I mean, I’m not saying this is ever going to make it into a Nora Ephron screenplay, but I recall that we talked about this San Francisco fiasco.  

DUBNER: Well, your Arizona mid-life jubilee will not become a Nora Ephron screenplay for sure, because she’s dead, unfortunately.  

DUCKWORTH: But it was so fun. But when I heard Bobby’s question, it immediately brought to mind not only the trip of these friends, A and B, to come visit me, but also, several arguments that I’ve had with Jason in our marriage, where I think I am pretty good at holding a marital grudge. In both cases, though, Stephen, it is so interesting to me that we ever hold onto a grudge — especially after the person who has transgressed, they apologize. I’m now thinking about when Jason and I have had arguments. And if one of us apologizes — let’s say, him. Why is it that when somebody like your husband says, “I’m sorry,” why is it that that doesn’t, like a magic spell immediately cancel out the debt? 

DUBNER: I think that’s a great question. I mean, I’ve read a lot about the so-called “science of apologies.” There was a great paper a few years ago in the economics literature by John List, who’s at the University of Chicago, and Ben Ho, who’s an economist at Vassar College. They look at the science of apology as a psychologist might, but with data that economists use. It was spurred on by John’s working with Uber, the rideshare company. When he was working with Uber as their chief economist, he had a really bad Uber ride, and he was ticked that he didn’t get an apology from the firm, and so that triggered this empirical study of it. They had some strategies for what needs to work for an apology. And part of it is that it needs to feel sincere, but also that it needs to cost the person. It needs to feel to the person who’s being apologized to that the apologizer is really giving up something, whether it’s pride or whatnot. So, when you say that a lot of times, in your marriage, the apology won’t really, quote, “work,” I wonder if it’s because it’s just words. And, I mean, really, is an apology of just words even an acceptable apology in your mind?

DUCKWORTH: Well, this gets to: What are the costs and benefits of grudges — and the opposite, forgiveness? What’s really going on there? And why would there have to be something other than words? And if you think about the rationale, or the logic, of holding grudges, what this is all about is the value of an interpersonal relationship? The value of relationship between a wife and a husband, between three best friends from college. And when we feel like that relationship has been devalued, what you are doing is: You are kind of, like, holding that other person accountable, you are making them do something to restore the value of the relationship, and if I forgive you too quickly, you will, for example, in the future, take advantage of me again. So, I think that’s probably the primary benefit of holding a grudge. And there’s an evolutionary angle here, too. Like, no individual member of a species is going to survive very long if they’re continually the rube who gets taken advantage of.

DUBNER: But we should say that different relationships plainly have different values. You were telling a story about these close friends from college coming to visit you and your husband. But there are all different kinds of potential grudges. People hold grudges against retail outlets and companies that do them wrong.

DUCKWORTH: Or Uber, in the case of John List, right?

DUBNER: Exactly. Or people hold grudges against people that they don’t know very well. I will say, I’m more of a bright-line grudgist. If I run across someone who is kind of low-character, let’s say, I just cross them off my list. I’m not going to engage with that person or that institution anymore.

DUCKWORTH: Well, if you write them off and you’re not ruminating about that person, I don’t think it’s a grudge. You’re like, “You’re dead to me, but I’m not going to think about you.”

DUBNER: That would be my argument, because I don’t want the psychic cost of the grudge-holding. I will say this, I play golf at this club, and, mostly, they’re very, very nice people. And occasionally you run into someone who’s just a jerk, for whatever reason. So, it’s interesting, because it is a club.

DUCKWORTH: So, you will see them again.  

DUBNER: And so, it’s not like you can just totally cross them off your list. But I just essentially stay out of their way. I try to not encounter them, and if I encounter them, you know, quick wave or smile. That’s it. However, if it’s someone with whom you’ve got a deeper relationship, then it starts to get really tricky. Like, with a marriage, that’s plainly very highly valued — or with anyone in your family, let’s say, there’s a lot of investment in that, and you care a lot about the shape of that future relationship, and so of course, you’re going to put more investment, theoretically, into apology and ameliorating the grudge and so on. And this leads me to thinking about estrangement — family estrangement. So, like, with you and Jason, the price of estrangement is so high that we inherently do a much better job of trying to shave down and ameliorate grudges or fights, and to improve our apology game when the relationship demands that. 

DUCKWORTH: So, I think what we’re saying here — this is, like, Stephen and Angela coming up with their own theory of grudges right here on the spot. At one extreme, where you have a complete stranger — or somebody who’s practically a stranger — and you can easily circumnavigate that human being for the rest of your life, then there’s really no point in having grudges. At the other extreme — let’s say, your children, your spouse — you have such a motivation not to have a grudge that poisons your relationship, because there’s such a cost to them. So, in the middle is probably where we have grudges — people who are neither total strangers nor complete intimates. This would be, I think, the most likely terrain in which people would hold onto years-long grudges.

DUBNER: Well, with a family member, blood is thick, sure. But after a series of, let’s say, hostilities, or cruelty, or really bad decisions, I think blood can thin out really fast. And I would bet that most of those estrangements begin with some form of grudge, even though there is, as you put it, that extra motivation to solve it. I have to say, I would request that, listeners, if you’ve got a good grudge story that you want to tell us, maybe we can share it in a future episode. Just send us a voice memo about a grudge — resolved or unresolved. Make a voice memo with your phone. Just do it somewhere quiet. Get some good recording quality. Just make it a minute or two, not super long, and put your name and where you’re from. And send it in, because I would love to hear other people’s grudge stories.  

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: Stephen and Angela discuss how to go about letting go of a grudge.

DUBNER: They’re the one that did the wrong thing. Why do I have to apologize to them?

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Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about grudges and forgiveness.

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know if you want to take a few questions from a grudge inventory from Mike McCullough, who is one of the leading researchers on grudges?  

DUBNER: If you have a “grudge inventory” — that means a questionnaire, yes?


DUBNER: Yeah. I want it. Bring it on.

DUCKWORTH: Do you want to keep a grudge in mind when you think about this?  

DUBNER: You sure you don’t want me to ask you these questions about your grudges? I mean, I do have one grudge.

DUCKWORTH: Can you say, like, one sentence about this grudge, Stephen? 

DUBNER: Sure. This was a fairly close work friend. This person, in my view, transgressed.

DUCKWORTH: Violated your trust?  

DUBNER: Yeah. It was a professional betrayal, and it was what I considered, in the moment, really dishonest, and tacky, and bad. When the event happened, I wrote to him immediately. And I remember it was like five in the morning, because I get up early. I said, “What the heck was this?” And he wrote back this kind of baloney stuff. And then, about two or three hours later, two people close to me — one work colleague and one family member — both saw the thing that this person had done. And they said, “Ooh, eff him. Like, he is gone.”

DUCKWORTH: So, then what happened? 

DUBNER: I thought, you know, if this close family member and this very close work colleague are both telling me that this person needs to be excluded from my life, I’m going to exclude him. I didn’t want these other close people in my life to feel like I was violating their emotional truth by hanging onto this guy. So, yeah, I hold this grudge. I don’t encounter this person often. I did once, at a party. He came right up to me and wanted to be buddies. And I just kind of was a little bit of an Angela Duckworth cold fish — based on your San Francisco description of your friends. And so, I guess I do nurse that one grudge. So, when I take your inventory, I will think of that person. 

DUCKWORTH: Okay, so it’s got a very sexy name, this questionnaire. It’s called the Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations Inventory for Non-Close Others. I had to take a breath while I was saying that. I didn’t have enough oxygen. 

DUBNER: Did you say for “non-close others”? 

DUCKWORTH: “Non-Close Others.” So, this is a questionnaire developed by Mike McCullough and colleagues. I have to say, Mike McCullough is a fantastic psychologist. So, I’ll read you a few of the items, and you can agree, or disagree, or anywhere in between. Okay. No. 1: “I would want to make him or her pay for treating me badly.”

DUBNER: I would say mildly agree. I kind of don’t care. 

DUCKWORTH: So, maybe “mildly disagree.” “I would try to keep as much distance between the two of us as possible.” 

DUBNER: Well, based on what I’ve said, plainly, I agree with that. So, I would say, “strongly agree.”  

DUCKWORTH: “I would hope for something bad to happen to him or her.” 

DUBNER: Oh, no. I would strongly disagree with that.

DUCKWORTH: “I would have nothing to do with him or her.”

DUBNER: I would strongly agree. Yep. 

DUCKWORTH: And here, let me give you just one more. “I would try to put aside any reservations I had to develop a good relationship with him or her.”

DUBNER: No. I would strongly disagree with that. 

DUCKWORTH: So, these are questions that are from this long scale. But one of the papers that was just published on this by the same research group is entitled “Forgiveness Takes Place on an Attitudinal Continuum From Hostility to Friendliness.” And, really, the point of the paper is that, when you look at how these items behave, it’s really just one thing. On one end, when we have a grudge, we are still quite hostile to that person. We want to avoid them. I guess, for you, Stephen, you’re not all the way at the end of also wanting bad things to happen to that person. Right. You can imagine there’s room to go towards more hostility.  

DUBNER: So, you’re saying I’m not very good at holding my grudge and I should work on that. I should wish for bad things to happen to him and his family.

DUCKWORTH: Probably not, but if you wanted to, there’s room to go more hostile. And then, on the very opposite end, there’s friendliness. And I think this, again, gets to, like, what is a grudge? And I think it is that you have an interpersonal relationship of some value, but you are holding onto some feeling of hostility, and it hasn’t resolved to restore you to where, presumably, you were before the grudge, which is somewhere closer to friendliness.  

DUBNER: So, I guess the question is: Should one necessarily want to let go of a grudge? In other words, what can psychology tell us about whether, on average, a grudge is bad for you?

DUCKWORTH: In particular, there’s an intrapsychic emotional cost. Like, it feels bad to hold on, in this ruminating way, to this kind of simmering anger that we have towards somebody that, at least at some level, we care about. Because, again, these are not strangers. On the benefit side of grudges, it’s like, you’re not a rube; you’re not a pushover.

DUBNER: Right.

DUCKWORTH: But at least some research has argued that forgiveness, which repairs the interpersonal relationship, doesn’t always lead you to be victimized again. You know, I’m a big fan of Mike McCullough, and I was reading one of his very recent papers on forgiveness. It was published last year in Scientific Reports. It’s about a thousand people who are doing an online experiment on this platform that a lot of scientists use called Amazon MTurk. You’re recruited, and you think that you’re going to be interacting with other people who are also recruited to the same experiments. So, you think that this is a social experience — not just that you’re doing some game on your own. And what you’re going to be doing, actually, is writing a short essay about something that you care about. They give you the topic that you said is the most personally important to you. Say it’s climate change, or, you know, race relations, or whatever it is that was at the top of your list. You write a personal essay about this topic, and then you get feedback from other people who are, ostensibly, in your group. You’re in four-person groups — or you think you are. But there’s this manipulation where the experimenters are giving you feedback in a way that they know is going to be insulting.

DUBNER: This sounds like such a fun study to set up, I have to say.

DUCKWORTH: So, you get feedback from the other people in your group, and presumably two of the comments are politely delivered — they’re neutral to positive. There’s one exception. Participants receive very strong negative feedback on their own essay from one of the three participants: Quote, “I can’t believe an educated person would think like this. I hope this person learns a thing or two!” You then have another phase of the experiment. You are told that there’s another task, and this one is going to be in pairs.

DUBNER: “I hope I don’t get the one that hated my essay!” 

DUCKWORTH: Well, there you go. So, you can imagine, right? Like, one of the three people in your group has just insulted you about something that you really care about. The thing that you’re going to do in pairs is called “the dictator game.” In the experiment, it’s called “the decision-making game.” You get a little pot of money. You can just decide all by yourself — that’s what makes it a dictator game: like, you’re the dictator — how much to give to the other person in the pair. So, you can give them nothing. That’s what pure, selfish economic calculus would suggest. Or you can give them everything — a complete altruist — or somewhere in between, which is what most people do. And so, you are matched with the person that gave you the negative feedback. What then happens, though, is that you are given an apology. So, let me read to you from the paper. “To manipulate apology, we told participants that they could exchange one message before beginning the decision-making game. Participants in the apologetic-message condition received a message that read— And it was really cute. It’s, like, all lowercase, like the way people actually type in these chats.

DUBNER: Uh-huh. 

DUCKWORTH: “I’m really sorry I was mean about your essay. I want to send you some of my bonus to make it up to you.” Then, the apologetic partner sends the participant a dollar. Participants in the neutral-message condition simply receive the message instead that says, “This takes more concentration than I thought. At least it’s more interesting than the last hit I did.” “Hit” is what your experiments are called on this platform.

DUBNER: On MTurk. 

DUCKWORTH: And so, the question is, like: What happens? What is the effect of being randomly assigned to getting an apology, versus not?

DUBNER: Okay. The tension is killing me. Tell me.

DUCKWORTH: What happens is that you do forgive the person more on questionnaire measures. But not only that. When given a subsequent opportunity, you’re more likely — having been given an apology — to choose that partner.

DUBNER: It deepens the bond between the would’ve-been grudgists.

DUCKWORTH: Yes. And I think it’s important that it is not just words. It’s interesting to me that it wasn’t just: “Hey, I’m really sorry I dissed you in that essay,” but, like: “Here’s a dollar.” So, they’re acknowledging that they did something wrong. And the function of money, it’s basically communicating sincerity.

DUBNER: Because nothing communicates sincerity like a dollar. 

DUCKWORTH: Yes, if you’re an economist. In all seriousness, it’s a way to make a repair of a relationship, but the only way you can do that is if you can somehow truly signal that you really do want to repair the relationship. And you kind of have to have a repair kit for things like marital relations and best friendships, because they’re going to get broken or punctured at some point.

DUBNER: What you say about apology, it’s hard for me to disagree with, but I would just add the caveat that, in the case of the grudge, I think that, in many cases at least, it falls to the grudge-holder to initiate the contact that would allow for the apology to happen.


DUBNER: And that’s why I think this is really tricky. So, when Bobby writes in about, you know, “My wife holds these grudges, how does one let go?” It sounds like what he’s saying — and I don’t mean to read too much into Bobby’s email — but it sounds like he’s saying, “I can see the cost this is having on my wife, on my wife’s relationships with the people that she holds grudges against.” Maybe it’s her family, maybe it’s her friends, maybe it’s businesses that she feels have wronged them. And so, it does feel like there is a step beyond, where the grudge-holder — we’ll call it the “grudgee” — needs to go to the grudgist and create the opportunity for that apology to happen. So, do you have any advice for that? 

DUCKWORTH: Well, avoidance has two effects in relationships. One is, it immediately relieves pain, and two, it often prevents you from making any kind of real gain in the long term. So, there’s a cost to avoidance in the long run, but there’s a benefit in the short run. And in this case, my advice comes from the playbook of Bob Cialdini — our friend and social psychologist — who’s thought a lot about interpersonal relationships. And it would be to initiate first what you want the other person to do, because people are so often driven to reciprocate what you do first. So, if you are in the middle of a relationship that you think has been really poisoned by some kind of long-standing and probably silly grudge — or at least something that should no longer exist — I think the thing to do is the opposite of avoidance‚ initiate contact, but also to say, “sorry” first. 

DUBNER: They’re the one that did the wrong thing. Why do I have to apologize to them?  

DUCKWORTH: There’s always something that you, I think, can authentically apologize for. Like, “I realize that this grudge has gotten in the way of our friendship for years. And I want to say, I’m sorry. I’ve been avoiding you, to be honest.” You can say that sincerely. I don’t think you have to pass them a dollar at the same time, but I do think a way of signaling sincerity in however you can do that — like, you could say, “Look, I know you’re busy and I am too, but, like, I’ll come and see you just to have coffee if you think that would make this conversation easier.”

DUBNER: I have to say, it’s a very compelling argument, and it does have me contemplating whether to end this grudge I’ve held against this former friend/work colleague. But honestly, I hate to say it, I enjoy it a little bit.


DUBNER: It’s just this strange little, tiny corner of my life. It doesn’t cause me pain. It’s kind of like a loose tooth that I enjoy wiggling once in a while. So, I tell you what, Angela: I’m going to hang onto my grudge for a while, but if I change my mind, you will be the first to know. And, in the meantime, if you miss your grudge that you’ve so maturely resolved, anytime you want, I’ll share mine with you, and you can learn to dislike the same person that I dislike. How’s that?  

DUCKWORTH: I don’t know whether grudges are transferable, Stephen.

DUBNER: Come on in. The grudge water is fine.

DUCKWORTH: Let me make a counteroffer to you.

DUBNER: Please. 

DUCKWORTH: Which is that if you would like to hang out with friends A and B, and little sister of B, in Scottsdale, Arizona next year — where we plan to go drink Chablis — then, you are welcome to join us.

DUBNER: Well, they call me Mr. Chablis. I am in.

No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.

I fact-checked Angela’s story with friends A and B. Together, their recollection was slightly different. They said that they were staying with friend B’s aunt in Palo Alto, and felt pressure to spend time with her on the first day. Stephen’s hypothesis was correct — they didn’t think Angela would be upset with them because she could spend time with her husband Jason. They recalled that Angela did express that she was hurt, but that she forgave them pretty quickly. Finally, they said that Angela brought a friend to dinner when they arrived in San Francisco — with the hope that another person would act as buffer. Friend A is grateful for this moment, because she ultimately married the buffer friend! Without the controversy, the two may have never gotten together.

Later, Angela mentions a psychological experiment called “Cyberbully” where a subject participates in an online ball-tossing game in which the other participants, controlled by the programmer, exclude the subject from the game. The name of the experiment is not actually “Cyberbully,” as Angela suggested, but rather “Cyberball” — the game is used to research feelings of ostracism and acceptance.

Finally, Stephen tells Angela that her trip to Arizona with friends A and B will never become a Nora Ephron screenplay, because Ephron is no longer alive. The writer and filmmaker died in New York City in 2012, but that’s not the only reason that Angela’s trip doesn’t make sense as one of her films. While the Academy Award nominee did write about women and aging, she’s best known for her romantic comedies — a genre which doesn’t seem appropriate for Angela’s story of rekindling friendships. Perhaps she was thinking of Nora Ephron’s sister, Delia Ephron, who is known for screenplays about female friend groups, like the 2005 film The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Or maybe Angela was imagining Amy Poehler’s 2019 movie Wine Country, which follows a group of longtime female friends who reconnect in Napa Valley as comedy, conflict, and reconciliations ensue.

That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some of your thoughts on last week’s episode about how posting signs can affect human behavior. We asked listeners to send us voice memos sharing their own stories and experiences. Here’s what you said:

Lindsay BERMAN: I was traveling in an urban city in Mexico, and a certain highway was lined with signs that said, “no tire basura,” which means “don’t throw trash” or “don’t litter.” The highways were pretty clean from litter except for these spots directly next to and behind these signs, as if people were wanting to mock them.

Preston AILOR: My college roommate and I were moving out of our downtown apartment after we graduated, but neither of us wanted the couch. So, we put it on the front porch with a sign that said “FREE.” After a few days of sitting there, my roommate grabbed the marker, flipped the piece of cardboard over and wrote, “$100 — knock on the door.” And the next morning, when we woke up, the couch was gone.  

Scott ROMAN: Hello. My name is Scott, and I am the colleague that Adam Wick was talking about who hung up the sign about drying your hands with one paper towel. I hung up the sign because I got pretty annoyed when I was watching some colleagues use six, ten, 12-plus paper towels to dry their hands and throw away a wad of mostly dry paper towels. I had two people contact me and say that they tried the method and that it worked pretty good. And about three weeks after putting it up, the sign disappeared. So, I’m going to put the sign back up and see what happens.

That was, respectively, Lindsay Berman, Preston Ailor, and Scott Roman. Thanks to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. And remember, we’d still love to hear your grudge stories! Send a voice memo to Let us know your name or if you’d like to remain anonymous. And you might hear your story on next week’s show!

*      *      *

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: How do seasonal changes affect the human brain?

DUCKWORTH: The days are getting darker earlier. Cooler temperatures are kicking in. Winter is coming. This is not a Game of Thrones question. 

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. We had help this week from Jacob Clemente. Our staff also includes Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, Greg Rippin, Julie Kanfer, Morgan Levey, Zack Lapinski, Ryan Kelley, Katherine Moncure, Jeremy Johnston, Jasmin Klinger, Daria Klenert, Emma Tyrrell, Lyric Bowditch, and Alina Kulman. We had additional research assistance from Anya Dubner. Our theme song was “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening! 

DUBNER: You’re lucky they came to California to see you at all!

DUCKWORTH: I know! I know. What were they doing wasting time with me?

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  • Roy Baumeister, professor of psychology at The University of Queensland.
  • Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology at Arizona State University.
  • Benjamin Ho, professor of economics at Vassar University.
  • John List, professor of economics at the University of Chicago.
  • Michael E McCullough, professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego.



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