Never Tell Me The Odds

We could learn lots about what others think of us if we would just ask our associates directly.  But we mostly don’t, mainly because we are afraid of what we might hear:

People control the nature of their relationships, in part, by choosing to enter (or avoid) situations providing feedback about other people’s social interest. … Individuals experimentally primed to feel avoidant were less likely than those primed to feel secure to choose to receive feedback about how another person felt about them. Overall, the research suggests that choices of socially diagnostic versus socially nondiagnostic situations play an important role in guiding people’s social relationships.

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  • Jonas

    I agree, we have a hard time when being judged by others. This however is somehow irrational. If we really wanted to improve and progress, criticism would be the key to do so…

    You can also watch this phenomenon in teams…flourishing teams have created an emotional space where appreciative inquiry is important, however negative emotions (like criticism) also plays an important role. Teams that are stuck in self-absorbed advocacy do not flourish.

  • blink

    Even if we want to know, it may be socially unacceptable to ask. In addition to not really wanting to hear, I think we want to spare others the pain of having to express their feeling directly (or of lying to us).

  • http://branstrom.name Fredrik Bränström

    I’ve always been very naturally curious about what people thought and felt about me. To my own detriment perhaps, because asking makes you look less mysterious and makes it seem like you care too much and are too dependent on other people’s approval, or need to have everything spelled out for you. I’m just very curious and fast grow tired of guessing and being very attentive to non-verbal signals (conscious or not in origin). I could probably train myself to do it without thinking much about it, though.

  • http://williambswift.blogspot.com/ billswift

    This is closely related to your earlier post about the better we know people the less we like them http://www.overcomingbias.com/2009/09/you-dislike-most-folks.html

  • http://www.rationalmechanisms.com Richard Silliker

    I feel asking other people what they think of you is dishonest at best because of the disclosures they give. They are commenting about themselves, not you. Perhaps a better question would be ” how do you feel about us”. At least this puts this in a context where disclosure can be made by both parties. This topic is about behaviour, not one that is personal, and acquiring the necessary experiences to build a robust intuition. If I know what you like I can give that to you to get what I like.

  • Bob Smith

    I don’t agree that being afraid of what we might hear is a major reason why we don’t ask more often. I don’t think I’m unlike most people in that if I could ask, get an honest answer, and then wipe the memory of the person I asked, I’d ask much more often. The problem is that asking will likely lower my status. I think these experiments are just showing that you can be primed to be more or less status-sensitive.

  • Peter St. Onge

    Perhaps asking people what they think invites them to ‘cross a threshold,’ in terms of formality. Similar to ‘writing it down’ with your landlord, or keeping paper score of who bought the last drink.

    So if a husband asks his wife what she thinks about his talk:listen ratio, she says it sucks, now she may feel he needs to do better, seeing as she’s formally complained. Very quickly you’re out of the cognitive and into emotions and power dynamics of the relationship.

    Avoidance-priming could simply make people feel they’ll perform worse at the delicate power play of receiving formal complaints without negatively affecting the relationship (e.g. losing power, freedom of action, or offending the complainant).

    • Steve

      I agree. Modern social sites that support per-comment karma have almost completely replaced the older web forums that did not. They allow psuedonymous participants to get immediate, clear feedback with little or no social, financial, or other risk.

  • Psychohistorian

    Without getting past the gate, the abstract describes most of the experiment as dealing with the behaviour of unusually avoidant people.

    As for the part you quote explicitly, it deals with the behaviour of people who are purposely primed to be avoidant versus secure.

    Absolutely NOTHING of this study backs up anything about the claim of the average person in any way at all whatsoever;

    “But we mostly don’t, mainly because we are afraid of what we might hear.”

    This statement is completely unsupported by anything in that abstract, and thus probably the whole article. Content decisions seemed to be determined by asking, “Can I make a vaguely insulting, controversial lead?” rather than by asking, “Is what I’m saying actually supported by the evidence I’m presenting, or by any evidence at all?”

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      Study 3 shows that ordinary people have a capacity to adjust their level of exposure to social diagnostic info to how comfortable they feel. Which means we could choose to learn more but choose not to learn more.

  • http://shagbark.livejournal.com Phil Goetz

    Individuals experimentally primed to feel avoidant were less likely than those primed to feel secure to choose to receive feedback about how another person felt about them.

    How is this an experiment? Was there any hypothesis that predicted that those primed to feel avoidant would be more likely to choose to receive feedback?