Friends Vs. Family

A French couple recently told me that they would feel more affiliation for a king that a president or premier. Asking around I found that many others feel similarly. Which is curious because you might expect people to feel more affiliated with leaders they can choose.

But then if you think about it, people tend to feel more affiliated with family relative to friends. This might be due to people being more intrinsically similar to family, but then again it might not. Westerners find it hard to believe that couples in arranged marriages often feel very attached and intimate, but people from cultures with arranged marriages consistently report this.

You might think that when an employee gets tied more to a job, so that it gets harder to leave, he or she might resent this dependence. But this doesn’t seem to happen often. You might think we’d similarly resent friends that we’ve come to depend on, but in fact I think we like such friends more. And of course most folks feel attached to their parents, even though we couldn’t choose parents and were very dependent on them for a long time.

While we might resent depending on others, we may be comforted to know others are stuck with us, and so won’t leave us, and this second effect may usually dominate.

Contrary to what many say, I’d guess most people really did love their king, really do love their partners in arranged marriages, and feel comforted by their connection to longtime neighbors, friends, and employers when the relation would be costly to break on both sides. Because we are most stuck with them, we tend to love family most of all.

So, does this effect tend to make slaves love their masters? How much does that reduce welfare losses from slavery?

Added 1p: We like presidents more when they oversee more war deaths:

A strong predictor of [perceived American presidential] greatness is the fraction of American lives lost in war during a president’s tenure. (more)

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  • I tend to be pretty extreme on the side of Exit over Loyalty/Voice, but here you’re contributing to Hirschman’s point that the latter are neglected by standard econ theory.

  • Sid

    Slaves might not love their masters because the masters are not tied to the slaves. Masters can change their slaves if they want to, while the slaves have no such freedom. So the bond is not reciprocal.

    • Poelmo


      Also, you might not decrease the slave’s quality of life by that much in some cases, but you do increase the master’s quality of life (assuming he has no conscience), so it’s always a relative loss for the slave.

  • Stockholm’s Affiliation Adaptiveness Syndrome: people love what they have when there are no alternatives.

    It seems related to Velleman’s sorrow of options; there are cases where being offered a ‘superior’ option is actually harmful to the psyche, and can even be harmful to a perfect emotionless expected utility maximizer.

    It’s not limited to people at all; look at how many are fond of death in spite of how horrible it is.

    People accept what they think they must, even if it’s not actually necessary.

    The sunk cost fallacy could be at work here as well, especially with respect to becoming dependent on a job.

    • Mark M

      Stockholm’s syndrome is the first thing that came to my mind. I don’t see why the same or similar mechanism wouldn’t be in play with family and slave relationships, where there doesn’t seem to be a choice.

      I know there is a specific name for the bias where you decide you like something that you have no choice but to accept, but I don’t recall it at the moment.

  • J Storrs Hall

    In the EAA, you’re basically stuck with what you get: virtually all personal relationships are within the tribe, and the tribe is small. So we are probably evolved to bond with those with whom we are thrown into constant contact, especially from a young age.
    cf (lack of) sexual attraction in kibbutz-raised children, which indicates that a sibling-like attachment mechanism is at work.

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  • Vaniver

    You might think we’d similarly resent friends that we’ve come to depend on, but in fact I think we like such friends more.

    “Hm, if I tick off Bob, I won’t have a place to live anymore. Time to sabotage this relationship through passive aggressiveness!”

    So, does this effect tend to make slaves love their masters? How much does that reduce welfare losses from slavery?

    Good masters? Probably enough to make it a net welfare gain, especially for people not very good at managing their lives. Mediocre masters? Maybe. Bad masters? Doubtful.

  • Alan Frew

    I think Sid nailed it – the bond has to be reciprocal. We attach to people who are required to attach to us. Two people cannot cooperate unless there is a “Schelling Point” indicating that they naturally belong together. Otherwise anticipation of defection spirals out of control.

    • ad

      The question, then, is whether the master is an affectionate master, not whether he is a “good” master.

  • kirk

    If couples were united in a lottery across class – to pick the absurd extreme – any concept of mutualist ties between families would be reduced while the current practice – uniting and normalizing outcomes – reinforces the prevailing culture and the prevailing narratives of communality and stability.

  • J. Patel

    I have been happily married (for 40 years) thru an arranged marriage in India. All most all of my relatives and friends born in India have similar experience. I think love or attachment grows with dependancy and lack of choice. It is similar to marriages prior to contraception and women’s liberation in the West. How the marriage was conceived is not very important.

    Importance of family vs friends vs others is not innate. For the masses culture dictates choices; even in the home of the free.

  • Collusion

    erich fromm: escape from freedom

  • Michael Wengler

    We love our abusive parents and spouses.  Dogs love their masters, and they are part of the same society we are part of.  I would expect that all the neocortex morality is WAY newer than the emotional bonds we form, which are most obviously not driven by neocortical moral story telling.  

    My neocortex is at odds constantly with my emotional brain.  I want to do stuff that I want to do, and I want to do it for the people I love and am afraid of.  My neocortex is constantly pushing me to be more analytical about what I choose to do, and funnily, a big part of the way it tries to get me to change is by telling me stories which are almost precisely at odds with my emotional truths.  

  • tipareth

    This is actually a subject I have put a lot of thought into. The modern, condescending view of kings needs a little debunking. History is written by the victors and it was really aristocratic groups (some of them even foreign in their countries) that benefited from the fall of kings. Often they manipulated the masses into thinking they were fighting for them. Look at communism. My favorite example is Vlad the Impaler. He was loved by his public and ousted by a bunch of shysters in the upper class. All of his evil acts he is famous for were committed on pretty evil people who betrayed him and the common people. Your point of being more affectionate to someone you chose is strong but the social realities outweigh that. While we chose our leaders, the circumstances that make someone even capable of being chosen are out of our hands. This was true of kings as well but a king’s success was more intrinsically in league with the happiness of his subjects. An unhappy commoner isn’t going to fight for you and there was always competition for land. I’m not suggesting we return to royalty but this is a viewpoint that holds water and I believe we can take something from it.