Wrong way down a one-way street.

I actually keep a list of topics to blog about, because it’s a lot easier to think of something interesting than it is to painstakingly convert that thought into prose. And I’m lazy.

Anyway, about six months ago, I thought of the following topic. I procrastinated like crazy on it (like I have the other dozen or so topics I have buffered up), until just last week, when I read an article that described exactly the phenomenon I wanted to write about. Good thing… saved me a lot of work. So here’s the topic:

Imagine you’re good friends with someone. You’ve known each other a long time, and you’ve had ample time and evidence to come to believe that your friend is a good person.

Then one day your friend does something mean. Not anything earth-shattering, but definitely something that, if observed in isolation, you’d attribute to a mean person. And there’s the crux of it. Do you

  1. weigh the action against the body of evidence you’ve accrued and chalk it up to an anomaly; your underlying impression of your friend is only marginally altered for the worse.
  2. assume that your friend, like most people, puts on a public persona, and view the action as an insight past this persona and into his or her inner, true personality. Your underlying impression of your friend is radically altered for the worse.

I’ve always felt that people disproportionately opt for choice (b). And this article my brother sent me confirms this feeling:

With warmth, the inverse applies. Someone who does something nice, like helping an elderly pedestrian across an intersection, is not necessarily seen as a generally nice person. But a single instance of negative-warmth behavior—kicking a dog, say—is likely to irredeemably categorize the perpetrator as a cold person.

In other words, people feel that a single positive-competent, or negative-warmth, act reveals character. “You can purposely present yourself as warm—you can control that,” Cuddy explains. “But we feel that competence can’t be faked. So positive competence is seen as more diagnostic. On the other hand, being a jerk—well, we’re not very forgiving of people who act that way.”

I guess I understand the rationale, but it makes one huge assumption: that people are drastically different on the inside from how they act on the outside. Furthermore, I’d wager that if you’d have asked someone who chose (b) whether that was the case — that he didn’t really know his friend’s “inner” personality — before the friend committed the act, he’d vehemently deny it.

I prefer to believe the alternative, that any given person has some variation in his behavior (chemical, situational, whatever), and occasionally you’ll see different aspects of it. In the end it just makes sense to consider the totality of your friend’s behavior. Anything in isolation is simply insufficient. But am I still subject to the phenomenon described in the article, even though I am aware of it?


I really want to do a song-a-day blog kind of thing. These are songs I own on CD that I’ve ripped. What’s a good medium? (Not LJ, I don’t think.) Buzz/Facebook? If I embed a flash player (even possible in those media?) is that more legal than just linking to a file? Help me…

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2 Responses to Wrong way down a one-way street.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Subject line? Really?

    [From Dave M. Btw, is it safe to let LiveJournal poke at my FB guts?] I’m not convinced that any conscious thought is involved in strongly judging negative actions. I recently read somewhere that a negative interaction counts for 5 positive ones. It is easier for me to believe that there is an instinct to over-weight negative things in order to reduce false negatives in detecting sociopathy, to account for the fact that people tend to hide antisocial behavior vs. show prosocial behavior, etc.

    That instinct does seem faulty in present environments.

    • aj says:

      Re: Subject line? Really?

      Dude, funny, I knew it was you by your subject line alone.

      Btw, I am dying to get off of LJ but WordPress seems exceedingly hax0rable. Other suggestions?