Friday, July 13, 2012

introspection; altruism over unknown social image

Introspection seems like a flimsy basis for science, but in the social sciences, it's just another source of data. If you notice a strange data point, of course that single data point doesn't prove anything (and it might be completely misleading), but it can certainly point towards interesting avenues for research.

This happens to me constantly. That's what's so fun about being a behavioral economist.

For example, awhile ago, a friend of mine who is a wonderfully sweet and considerate person made an accidental faux pas in front of other people who don't know her. My immediate reaction was, oh no, now they're going to be annoyed at her because they don't realize it was an honest mistake by someone who would never do it intentionally. Despite the fact she wasn't even aware of the incident, I don't think, and probably won't interact with those people again, I felt bad for her for accidentally establishing a negative social image.

Why? I don't know. Humans can rationalize anything but I'm puzzled by this when I think about it from the perspective of a social preferences researcher. If she wasn't a friend, would I have had the same reaction? Probably not, but then I also wouldn't have been so confident that she's such a nice person and was sending a false signal. What if it was a friend who isn't so exceptionally nice all the time? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have had the same reaction. I also imagine if a mean person was mistakenly seen as a very nice person, I would have a similarly inverted reaction, so it's not that I care about the annoyance level of the audience. But there are no consequences to having a bad image among people you'll never meet again, not even feeling bad about it herself! since she didn't notice it happen. So why do I care?

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