Peer approval:
Everybody likes to be thought well of.  That’s hardly a surprise.  What’s the point of being liked if you don’t like to be liked.

A recent paper (Sweet Little Lies ECONOMIST vol. 411 no. 8881 April 5, 2014 page 72 reviewing a study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of science) looked into how people will go so far as to lie in search of positive peer attitude.  They found, unsurprisingly, that they will at least go so far as to lie.  The details of the study need not concern us.  Look it up.  But they found that when a member of a team accomplished something that rewarded the team they often, unbeknownst to the others, exaggerated how well they had done.

Oddly, when they did rather badly they did not disguise the fact. 

There is perhaps another side to this.  Many years ago in medical school I was volunteered to participate in a class demonstration of probability.  My less-than-burdensome task was to plunge a little paddle with depressions in it into a bucket that had a mixture of marbles of equal number and of contrasting colors.  I had to make sure all the depressions were filled when the paddle came out.

This is the same test as flipping a coin a number of times, but data accumulate much faster.  To load the drama we were told that the marbles represented patients.  One color meant the patient was cured; the other meant the patient died.  I was told to make several tries, the professor counting the number of lives saved.

On one memorable attempt I brought the paddle out almost completely filled with the good marbles.  The class, with mild irony, burst into applause.  I played along and made a gesture of triumph and of acknowledgment of their praise.

I worked fast, but I kept a running tally of how well I had done.  At the end, as I was sent to my seat, I reflected that I had in fact saved less than half my “patients.”  But the memorable trial was the one everybody was going to remember – for a few minutes, anyway.

So the other side of the coin just might be that when seeking praise one is more eager than when one is avoiding scorn while when seeking to praise another one tends to accept the good and dismiss the poor.

This has something to do with how groups interact.  I rather wonder whether the same holds for kinship groups as well as for peer groups and what the implications of that might be.

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