Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Science of Snobbery

- and how we learn to be stupid.

A $10 wine is obviously going to be less worthy than a $100 wine.  Of course.

An interesting series of experimental studies suggest that even the experts often can't tell the difference.  White wine with red food coloring elicited red wine compliments, the grand crus are described like cheap wines and vice-versa when the bottles are switched, and so on.

Despite protests from wine lovers, there's perhaps not as much science and objectivity involved as you'd like.

Rude salespeople actually increase the chance
that you'll buy that expensive item.

The Science of Snobbery: How We're Duped Into Thinking Fancy Things Are Better  ~ there's an interesting article on the subject in The Atlantic
Is a Mercedes actually better than a Chevrolet?  Well of course it is, it costs twice as much, and it's more cool to drive one.

From the science, it appears that preference is tied to inferred quality, presentation, and name reputation as much if not more than actual quality.

Thin Slicing.  The term thin-slicing refers to our making quick decisions with minimal information. It's how you decide many things, from what you'll buy to what you'll believe. At the gut level, it's based on previously acquired values, of which snobbery is one.

Thinking has always been described as a conscious effort, but thin-slicing is the unconscious behavior of gut response, and we all depend on it regularly. Perhaps 95% of the decisions we make are at this level.

The Drowning Child Dilemma
In what ways should we question our intuition?

Consider this dilemma posed four decades ago. You see
a child drowning.  You could save that child's life, but
if you do, you will ruin your fancy $1,000 suit. People
were asked if it is okay to let the child drown.  Most
say, of course not, that would be monstrous.

In another case, children on the other side of the world
 are desperately in need of food.  By donating money,
you can save their lives.  Do you have an obligation
to do that? Most people say that it’s nice if you do,
but it’s not terrible if you instead choose to spend
your money on luxuries for yourself.

Most philosophers have taken those intuitions at face value
and said, that’s right, there is a moral obligation when the
child is right in front of you, but not on the other side of
the world. "Is there really a moral difference?"
~Joshua Greene, discussing Princeton moral
 philosopher Peter Singer who conducted
the study. Singer asks the question.
Is there?  Of course not.
Thin slicing or instantaneous analysis; it's how we evaluate quickly, and the criteria (values) we use are acquired but not necessarily from logic and objectivity.  It's the things we've learned to actually care about.

The primary source of established gut values in the western mind is the media.  It used to be family and church and school, but things have changed.  Is that good or not?

The things we care about, those values we use so regularly in decision making, can be consciously chosen, but it's an uphill battle against the deluge of proffered norms in reality shows, advertising, and exaggerated drama in the social realm.  

Choosing to care is a surprisingly difficult task, particularly when you consider that caring usually requires doing something.  It's easier to just notice and move on; that's the common path, the easiest way out.  See, and choose against.  The choice is perhaps below the conscious level, but our personal values are visible in our actions, our lifestyle, our choices.

Know what your values are?  Short quiz:

  • Do you admire the successful?  Why?
  • Do you prefer the designer clothing lines? Do you know why?
  • Would you pay $150 for a pair of running shoes?
  • Do you aspire to a larger, nicer home like 'they' have?
  • Is 'having' one of your primary life goals?
  • Do celebrities appeal to you?  Do you know why?
  • How often is 'helping others' on your agenda?

Look into the mind of a teen ... here.