Tag Archives: Norms

What About The Future Matters?

The future of 2050 might be different in many ways if, for example, climate change were mitigated, abortion laws relaxed, marijuana legalized, or the power of different religious groups changed. Which of the following types of differences matter most to you? To most people?

  • Dysfunction: murder, serious assault, disease, poverty, gender inequality, rape, homelessness, suicide, prostitution, corruption, burglary, fear of crime, forced immigration, gangs, terrorism, global warming.
  • Development: technological innovation, scientific progress, major scientific discoveries, volunteering, social welfare organizations, community groups, education standards, science education.
  • Warmth: warm, caring, considerate, insensitive, unfriendly, unsympathetic.
  • Morality: honest, trustworthy, sincere, immoral, deceitful, unfaithful.
  • Competence: capable, assertive, competent, independent, disorganized, lazy, unskilled.
  • Conservation: respect for tradition, self-discipline, obedience, social order, being moderate, national security, family security, being humble.
  • Self-transcendence: honesty, social justice, equality, helpful, protect environment, meaning in life.
  • Openness to change: independence, exciting life, enjoying life, freedom, a varied life, being daring, creativity,
  • Self-enhancement: social power, being successful, ambition, pleasure, wealth, social recognition.

In fact, most people can hardly be bothered to care about the distant future world as a whole, and to the extent they do care, a recent study (details below) suggests that the main thing they care about from the above list is how warm and moral future folks will be. That is, people hardly care at all about future poverty, freedom, suicide, terrorism, crime, poverty, homelessness, disease, skills, laziness, or sci/tech progress. They care a bit more about self-enhancement (e.g., success, pleasure, wealth). But mostly they care about benevolence (warmth & morality, e.g., honesty, sincerity, caring, and friendliness).

Now this study only looked at eight future changes, half of them religious, and I’m not that happy with the way they did their statistics. So there’s a slim hope better studies will get different results. But overall this is pretty sad; like us, future folks will actually care about many more things than their benevolence, and so they may well lament our priorities in helping them.

This result is what one should expect if people think about the far future in a very far mode, and if the main distinct function of far views is to make good social impressions. To the extend they have any opinions about the distant future, people focus overwhelmingly on showing their support for standard social norms of good behavior. They reassure their associates of their support for good norms by showing them that making people nicer according to such norms is the main thing they care about regarding the distant future.

Those promised details: Continue reading "What About The Future Matters?" »

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , ,

Social Norms Are Far

We see social norms as more relevant when predicting the average behavior of a group, relative to predicting an individual’s behavior:

In judgments of morally relevant behaviors, forecasters estimated that a randomly selected individual (e.g., a student) would act more selflessly (e.g., give to charity) than would the population from which the individual was drawn (e.g., the student body). … When considering how an individual will behave, people give weight to an individual-level force on behavior: what an individual’s moral conscience would lead one to do. When considering a population, forecasters give more emphasis to a group-level force on behavior: social norms and pressures. … Individuals were [also] forecast as more likely than populations to perform behaviors that emerge primarily because of an individual-level force—a person’s will—but not behaviors that are encouraged by social norms. (more)

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,

On Play Hell

Our activities split into work and play. And positive and negative extremes are described as heavens and hells. So there are four possible work-play extremes: work heaven, work hell, play heaven, and play hell.

Among common scenarios we discuss and imagine, we know of many work hells, such as galley slaves. We have fewer work heavens, such as where one gets work credit for a play-like activity. We also have a great many play heavens. But we rarely talk about play hells.

But consider: it might take you years to find out that you are embarrassingly bad at your chosen hobby or sport. The radical science theory you pursue for decades could just be just wrong. You might go out dancing every evening hoping to catch someone’s attention, only to always see him or her go home with someone else. Your so-called best friend could spread nasty rumors about you. Your kids could despise you. Your lover could cheat on you. You could get divorced. These are play hells, most every bit as hellishness as typical work hells.

In the US today, only 14% (24/168) of adult hours each week are devoted to formal work. Since we devote far more time to play than work, I’d guess that most of the actual hells around us are play hells. Yet such play hells seem neglected. There are far fewer charities devoted to helping folks cope with them. And there are far fewer regulations designed to reduce them. The law also slights them – rarely can one sue about harms that arise from romance and friendship. Storybook heroes sally off to rid the world of work hells far more often than play hells.

I suspect we inherited this tendency from our foragers ancestors. Foragers have many rules about fights, hunts, and sharing the product of work, but far fewer rules on romance and friends. To foragers, work was more overt, play more covert.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , ,

Women Enforce Norms

It seems women are more in the role of enforcing social norms:

While there is ample evidence of a society-wide cooperation norm, it is not as clear who upholds this norm. In the present paper, we investigate whether there are gender differences with respect to norm enforcement. We let 1403 subjects play games of punishment and reward, individually or in groups with varying gender composition. Broadly, the results indicate that there are no clear gender differences: men are about as inclined as women to punish norm-breakers. However, behavior is context-dependent: men acting among other men are less inclined to uphold a cooperation norm than are women, or men in gender-mixed groups. (more)

A self-protective goal increased conformity for both men and women. In contrast, the effects of a romantic goal depended on sex, causing women to conform more to others’ preferences while engendering nonconformity in men. Men motivated to attract a mate were particularly likely to nonconform when (a) nonconformity made them unique (but not merely a member of a small minority) and when (b) the topic was subjective versus objective, meaning that nonconformists could not be revealed to be incorrect. These findings fit with a functional evolutionary model of motivation and behavior, and they indicate that fundamental motives such as self-protection and mate attraction can stimulate specific forms of conformity or nonconformity for strategic self-presentation. (more)

It isn’t clear how innate is this female norm emphasis, but if innate then female nature probably deserves more of the credit for enabling the farming revolution, and also probably more of the blame for hindering the industrial revolution.

Added 16June: One more:

Why do men have more lenient ethical standards than women? … Whereas men’s ethicality judgments were affected by the identification manipulation, women’s judgments were not. … Fixed [achievement] beliefs predicted lower ethical standards, particularly for men. In combination, these findings suggest men are more pragmatic in setting ethical standards than women. (more)

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,

Rich Happy Individualists

In the last week I found three top academic journal articles on how the key difference between societies today is whether they emphasize conformity to social rules/norms, or individual initiative and responsibility. Poor scared societies tend toward a farming-style big-on-rules approach that today makes people less happy and also innovate and grow more slowly. But more secure comfortable societies tend toward a forager-style reduced rules and more individualism approach that leads to happiness and faster innovation and growth.

Science:

[Researchers] found that societies exposed to contemporary or historical threats, such as territorial conflict, resource scarcity, or exposure to high levels of pathogens, more strictly regulate social behavior and punish deviance. These societies are also more likely to have evolved institutions that strictly regulate social norms. At the psychological level, individuals in tightly regulated societies report higher levels of self-monitoring, more intolerant attitudes toward outsiders, and paying stricter attention to time …

The substantial variation in religious involvement among nations can be explained, in large part, by perceived levels of security. Religion thrives when existential threats to human security, such as war or natural disaster, are rampant, and declines considerably in societies with high levels of economic development, low income inequality and infant mortality, and greater access to social safety nets.

American Economic Review:

The individualism score … measures the extent to which it is believed that individuals are supposed to take care of themselves as opposed to being strongly integrated and loyal to a cohesive group. The individualism component loads positively on valuing individual freedom, opportunity, achievement, advancement, and recognition; and negatively on valuing harmony, cooperation, and relations with superiors. … The individualism-collectivism dimension is the central cultural variable that matters for long-run growth. Other cultural variables may of course affect other aspects of economic behavior and economic performance, but they do not appear to robustly influence long-run growth.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

What is more important: to provide citizens with more money or with more autonomy for their subjective well-being? … [We] examined national levels of well-being on the basis of lack of psychological health, anxiety, and stress measures. Data are available for 63 countries, with a total sample of 420,599 individuals. … Individualism was a consistently better predictor [of well-being] than wealth, after controlling for measurement, sample, and temporal variations. … Wealth may influence well-being only via its effect on individualism. …

Among the more traditional and collectivistic societies, increases in individualism were associated with increased levels of negative well-being. Among more individualistic European societies, increasing individualism was associated with increasing well-being. …

The only study-level variable that significantly predicted mean state anxiety was whether the population was composed of students (vs. general population). Students had significantly higher state anxiety means. Both greater wealth and greater individualism were associated with less anxiety, when entered individually. When entered together, only individualism remained significant, but wealth was not significant.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , , ,

Manners Show Status

A Post article, “The Reasons For Good Manners“, targeted at kids:

Take your elbows off the table.
Don’t talk with your mouth full.
Look people in the eye when you speak to them.
Write your thank-you notes.

You’ve probably heard all or most of those orders from your parents. … Good manners are a way to show others that you care about them. Manners also make it easier for everyone to feel comfortable in social situations. … “The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction. … They make it so that we don’t crash into one another in everyday behavior.” … Our distant ancestors developed behaviors to show others respect, fairness and kindness. …

Some manners are still used even though the original reason for them is largely gone. Have you ever wondered why you’re told to keep your elbows off the table? The rule dates from the Middle Ages, Forni said, when tables often were just a big board placed on a stump. Leaning on the table with your elbows could easily tip the table and make everyone lose his food! Today, it’s not good manners to text at the table, because it sends a message that you aren’t interested in the people around you.

This rationale for manners, “traffic lights of human interaction,” sure sounds good – who wants us smashing into each other willy-nilly?  But a moment’s reflection shows that explanation is bull.

If people ate with elbows on the table, there would be no physical crashes. Instead, what would go wrong is that others may think you don’t care about and aren’t interested in them. Why? Because they’ve been told to interpret your elbows that way.

So yes, no-elbows-shows-caring could be a self-consistent equilibrium.  Except, this is not the world we live in.  There really are plenty of people out there for whom table elbows say very little, relative to other ways of inferring care and interest.

Now the above can apply more to actions that high status folks do more, regarding people who are status conscious and who tend to strictly interpret status signals. Such especially and strictly status-conscious folk will put a high priority on your always acting high status, so that they can be “comfortable” gaining status via affiliation with you. If you ever act low status, they may feel you don’t appreciate the strength of their concern for status, and regardless of how you feel they may not want to associate with you.

In our world, people from higher status subcultures tend to keep their elbows off the table more than other folks. So telling you that “people” will be offended by your table elbows is really telling you to mainly care about especially and strictly status conscious folks. They are the “people” you should count. You shouldn’t count the other people, who care less whether you always act like high status subcultures, and look more at your overall behavior toward them and their associates.

Support for strict manners seems to have weakened with increasing wealth. This could be yet another way we revert to forager like ways with increasing wealth:

Signaling discourages norm violations best when, [as with farmers,] people that matter tend to hear about norm violations, but know little else about violators. At a smaller [forager-like] scale, one norm violation will add only a small amount to what observers know about that person, and at a larger [industry-style] scale observers will probably not have heard about the norm violation. … The fact that norms are enforced best at an intermediate social density helps explain why higher-density farmers had stronger social norms than lower-density foragers, and yet even higher-density modern folk have reverted back to a weaker forager-like level of norm enforcement. (more)

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,

Strictness Aids Hypocrisy

Long ago in traffic school the teacher asked us all how fast we’d gone over the speed limit.  The lowest answer was five miles an hour – it was a black resident of East Palo Alto who had been driving in Palo Alto. Many of us nodded knowingly. Palo Alto is a rich community with unusually low speed limits, and East Palo Alto was its poorer neighbor.  Many of us suspected that the Palo Alto police were especially vigilent against speeding violations by black visitors from East Palo Alto, and that especially low speed limits helped them to discourage East Palo Alto folks from visiting Palo Alto.

This illustrates a general principle: stricter rules typically enable more unequal rule enforcement. With excessively strict rules, more folks are willing to let rule enforcement slide sometimes, which creates a bigger difference in outcomes between folks who are liked vs. disliked by rule enforcers. Social groups with stricter rules need not discouarge ruled behaviors more; they may instead encourage more attention to connections and alliances to protect against rule enforcement. As in:

“Sure George technically violated the rules here, and yes he should suffer.  But George has already suffered so much, and strict enforcement of this rule would end his promising career and shame his whole family.  He’s learned his lesson, and could contribute so much more by staying in his position. Can’t we find it in our hearts to follow the spirit of the law, rather than the letter?”

My homo hypocritus hypothesis is that humans developed huge brains to manage the process of subtly evading social norms while pretending to fully support them. Since those who think themselves better at this process should favor stricter rules, people should prefer to seem to favor strict rules in order to show confidence in their abilities.  In this way the urge toward excessively strict rules may gain quite widespread support.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: , ,

Why Towns Conform

Imagine a group with a social norm against spitting on the sidewalk. If this group is very small, then everyone should know everyone well, and any one act of spitting will have only a small influence on how people think about the spitting person. A consistent habit of spitting might cost you, but any one spit would not.  If the group is very large, there is also little risk that any one spitting will result in an informal social sanction. You’ll probably never meet the strangers who see it again, and they probably don’t know each other, so why should anyone make a fuss? At an intermediate scale, however, spitters should fear that any one act of spitting will produce a widespread rumor about this act, making folks who know them only moderately avoid them after hearing this rumor.  Why deal with someone if you have other options and the main thing you know about him or her is negative?

In general, social norms are enforced via two key informal mechanisms:

  1. When norms are usually followed, rare violators are often undesirable in objective ways. They may lack intelligence or self-control, for example. So people avoid violating such norms to avoid sending bad signals about themselves.
  2. Meta-norms often require observers of norm violations to punish violators, such as by refusing to associate with them. This includes observers of a failure to punish a failure to punish, and so on.

These two mechanisms play out differently on three different social scales:

  • Foragers only interacted with a hundred or so others, all of whom they know in great detail.
  • Farmers lived in larger social networks of roughly thousands of folks near enough by to matter. This is small enough for rumors to tell most everyone about big norm violations, but too big for everyone to know everyone well.
  • Today we live in communities so big that, outside of smaller networks of neighbors or coworkers, rumors only reliably tell everyone about extreme norm violations.  Informal rumors will not tell most people you deal with about your norm violations.

These two norm enforcers seem to work best at intermediate social scales. Signaling discourages norm violations best when people that matter tend to hear about norm violations, but know little else about violators. At a smaller scale one norm violation will add only a small amount to what observers know about that person, and at a larger scale observers will probably not have heard about the norm violation. But inbetween, observers will prefer to avoid someone when they know little else besides one bad sign.

Meta-norms to punish non-punishers also work best at an intermediate social scale. At a very small scale, when few observers see each violation, observers can coordinate to avoid the meta-norm of punishment; “let’s not and say we did.” Punishment can be expensive, after all.  At a very large scale, you many care little about the opinions of those who happen to see you fail to punish a non-punisher.  But at intermediate scales, a single bad signal can induce a strong shunning reaction. Why take a risk on a near stranger with a big negative strike against them?

The fact that norms are enforced best at an intermediate social density helps explain why higher-density farmers had stronger social norms than lower-density foragers, and yet even higher-density modern folk have reverted back to a weaker forager-like level of norm enforcement.

GD Star Rating
loading...
Tagged as: ,