Social psychology and watches – Pt 2

In the last post I mentioned “self” and touched on psychological phenomena related to the self such as: everybody notices us, we are above average, and what we do make perfect sense. 

Next we move on to attribution theory, which explores how we make sense of ourselves and others, and then onto understanding how we think about other people, and what we actually like about other people – we will then try and connect this to watch collecting.

Attribution

Attribution theory explores causes of people’s behaviour. In everyday life, we try to explain why certain events and behaviors occur. An early researcher named Heider proposed that we naturally attribute others’ actions to personality characteristics. This is sometimes known as a person bias, and it’s a bias because it’s not always accurate. We tend to give too much weight to personality and not enough weight to situational variables. This is sometimes known also as the fundamental attribution error, and there are a lot of examples of this. 

One study put two people in a situation where one person asks the other person some really difficult questions that they can make up, and that person has to try and answer the hard questions. Obviously it’s easy for somebody to make hard questions that another person can’t answer! So, you do that, one person asks the hard question, one can’t answer. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Then we ask a third person who has been observing this Q&A session – who is smarter? 

Even if the decision of who to ask the questions or answer the questions was determined through a toss of a coin, people think that the question asker was smarter, since they asked all the hard questions and the other person didn’t know the answers to them… Ignoring the fact that this is entirely the product of circumstances. 

In general, a lot of everyday life works this way. People tend to overestimate the intelligence of professors. They do so because when they listen to professor talk and they see him in class or they see her at a seminar or at a conference, they hear the professor talking in great detail about what s/he knows the most about and they get the impression that the person really seems to be smart. This misses the fact that of course, professors tend to teach and talk about the very small area that they know about. 

The most extreme demonstration of the fundamental attribution error or the person bias is in a fascinating tendency we have to see actors as if they’re the characters they play. For instance, people tend to think Sylvester Stallone is a tough macho guy because he plays roles in movies where he’s a tough macho guy – even though he spent the duration of the Vietnam war in Switzerland, believe to have been teaching at a girls school. Another example is that of the actor, Leonard Nimoy who was an extremely interesting actor; he played many roles, led a rich life, but was forever identified with his main character, the emotionless Vulcan Spock on Star Trek – so much so that he published a book called, I Am Not Spock, differentiating himself from the character. The thing is… our person bias is so strong that eventually even he gave up and ultimately published another book saying, to hell with it, I Am Spock! 🙂

Liking

Including the previous post, we have covered “the self” and others- but how do we think about other people, and what do we like about other people? This is a classic problem we struggle with as scientists, but also in everyday life: What attracts us to others? What can we do to become attracted to others? There are obvious answers that are probably true, traits like honesty, kindness, intelligence, etc; but social psychologists emphasise in the course of human affairs, other more fundamental processes also play a role. 

The first fundamental process is familiarity. The more you see something, the more you like it. This applies for objects, it applies for pictures, and it applies for people. There are numerous studies finding that just being in the presence of another person, makes you more attracted to them over time. In fact, when you look at studies about who gets married to each other, and who becomes friends with each other, you find that proximity plays a huge role. Just being close to somebody down the hall, in the college dormitory, or in the same block in a neighborhood, means you see them more often. The idea that just seeing something, nothing more, causes you to like it more is known as the mere-exposure effect. This effect has been studied over a range of different things. 

The next fundamental process is similarity. You might have heard the phrase “opposites attract”; turns out there is actually no reason to believe that. We tend to like individuals who are similar to us. 

Another fundamental process is attractiveness; meaning physical attractiveness. Physical attractiveness plays a powerful role in who we choose to be with as short-term partners, as long-term partners, as friends, and so on. In fact, there’s a more general attractiveness bias, which is physically attractive people are not only more attractive to us, they are also considered to be smarter, and more competent, and more social, even more moral. There are studies suggesting that teachers rate good-looking kids as smarter, and other studies showing that we give attractive kids more slack too. There are also studies involving mock trials where judges give longer prison sentences two unattractive people. All of this leads to what psychologists like to call a Matthew effect. A Matthew effect is based on a passage in the Bible which says, “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath”… in short: “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer”. In this context, it’s really nice to be blessed with good looks. It suggests great unfairness in the universe that the fact that you’re blessed with good looks, means everything else comes easier to you as well. 

In relation to human attractiveness. there is another phenomenon which most people are fully aware of – that is the power of first impressions. There is a famous experiment where you bring in a speaker and give people information beforehand about the speaker. Half of them are told that the person is very warm, and others are told they are rather cold. This shapes the interpretation of what the guest speaker is thought of later on. If you’re meeting somebody, and before you meet them, your friend tells you s/he has a bit of a temper – everything you see from their behaviour will then be shaped by that first interpretation. The first impression sets up a “schema” or a structure of understanding; this is why first impressions are very powerful.

A final twist in the impressions of others concerns the impact that our perceptions of other people have on those people. It is because we are not judging wines, or houses etc…  where you judge a static thing and that’s it. When you judge people, there’s an interaction effect where your judgement of a person often affects how the person behaves later on. This can be referred to as a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, because your beliefs and expectations about a person create the reality… to be specific, it is actually known as the Pygmalion effect (or Rosenthal effect). 

Formally, the Pygmalion effect is person A thinks person B is a certain way, and person B might behave in accordance with that characteristic. The logic is if you treat somebody like a virtuous honest person, they’re likely to become virtuous and honest. If you treat them as cruel and indifferent, it will cause them to become cruel and indifferent. 

Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson‘s study showed that, if teachers were led to expect enhanced performance from children, then the children’s performance was enhanced. This study supported the hypothesis that reality can be positively or negatively influenced by the expectations of others. Basically, they went to a school, they did IQ tests on kids, and they told teachers that the test was a ”intellectual bloomer test” supposedly able to identify kids whose IQ is going to go up over time. Then they just randomly assigned names to the category of “bloomers” – i.e. there was no test at all. As a result of this, the ”bloomers” actually showed improvements in their IQ test scores, and this is in part because the teachers believed they were the kids to become ”bloomers”, and that made them do better.

What that means is – although we think about people in all sorts of ways, it is worth keeping in mind that how we think about them, affects how they really are.

Concluding thoughts

These two sets of theories are fairly easy to relate to the hobby of collecting.

Attribution theory is arguably one of the biggest influencers of our purchasing habits. Beginners often start out with pre-existing biases like “Rolex is the best” or “only blind people wear Hublot” – and this also leads to passing of judgement on the wearers of these watches – and depending on which sort of attribute you personally identify with, you might have a preference for one brand or style of watch, over another. It isn’t solely about brands – it could be extended to complications or dial colours, or strap/bracelet types as well.

The area of liking, is probably one that has THE largest influence on people using platforms like Instagram; hell, it even uses a key metric measured in “likes”! It goes without saying, that anyone reading this will have experienced the mere-exposure and familiarity effects at some point – the recent meteoric rise in the popularity of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas (blue dial to be specific) is an example of that – this is pretty much how hype-trains leave the station.

At first I thought it would be interesting to understand how much correlation there is between the “critical mass” for people to start feeling familiarity, and the quantity of supply that exists of a certain watch. Then I remembered… the Casio G-Shock GA2100 series (also called the “Casioak”) – that was one watch which grew on me over time… and they weren’t limited or anything, yes they would sell out, and then restock – but irrespective of abundant supply and low price, it was one purchase of mine which I believe was a result of these theories in action!

The Pygmalion Effect in relation to watch collecting is fascinating – particularly on Instagram. You often hear people say how “the #watchfam is the best fam”- and that might be because it is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and all the bad players are effectively filtered out when they don’t conform to the accepted practices of being positive, being constructive, not belittling others for their choices or the value of their watches and so on.

Another related area is around the impact of our perceptions. Now this isn’t directly as the theory states, because it is obvious that your opinion of a watch won’t change the watch… however, your opinion of a watch, might affect the owner’s behaviour! Now whether this is indeed true, and to what extent you will be impacted – is all dependent on your relationship with the other person. While you may not care what a stranger things of your watch, you might think twice before choosing a watch which your partner hates (I don’t care, but you get the idea!).

Related to that final paragraph, I just want to add my final thoughts on sharing watch related advice, or freely voicing your opinions when people ask for them – I’m not talking about banter here – rather, I mean when folks are asking for help with their collection or watch sale/purchase decisions. Don’t take this lightly, and don’t try and project your own desires and world views onto their decision. Take a measured approach, and try and filter out your own biases; they’re obviously asking you because your input is valued – so don’t abuse what is (as shown by the theory) a position of significant power and influence.

Hope you enjoyed the read as much as I did. The next one is even more awesome – its about the psychology of groups! Until then, take care!

-F

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