Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

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Ripped Off!: The Psychological Cost Of Wearing A Fake Rolex (Or Other Knockoffs)

Credit: Wray Herbert: The Huffington Post April 7 2010:

Read the original research paper HERE (PDF)

Within just a few blocks of my office, street vendors will sell me a Versace t-shirt or a silk tie from Prada, cheap. Or I could get a deal on a Rolex, or a chic pair of Ray Ban shades. These aren’t authentic brand name products, of course. They’re inexpensive replicas. But they make me look and feel good, and I doubt any of my friends can tell the difference.

That’s why we buy knockoffs, isn’t it? To polish our self-image–and broadcast that polished version of our personality to the world–at half the price? But does it work? After all, we first have to convince ourselves of our idealized image if we are going to sway anyone else. Can we really become Ray Ban-wearing, Versace-bedecked sophisticates in our own mind–just by dressing up?

New research suggests that knockoffs may not work as magically as we’d like–and indeed may backfire. Three psychological scientists–Francesca Gino of Chapel Hill, Michael Norton of Harvard Business School, and Dan Ariely of Duke–have been exploring the power and pitfalls of fake adornment in the lab. They wanted to see if counterfeit stuff might have hidden psychological costs, warping our actions and attitudes in undesirable ways.

Here’s an example of their work. The scientists recruited a large sample of young women and had them wear pricey Chloe sunglasses. The glasses were the real thing, but half the women thought they were wearing knockoffs. They wanted to see if wearing counterfeit shades–a form of dishonesty–might actually make the women act dishonestly in other ways.

So they had them perform a couple tasks–tasks that presented opportunities for lying and cheating. In one, for example, the women worked on a complicated set of mathematical puzzles–a task they couldn’t possibly complete in the time allowed. When time elapsed, the women were told to score themselves on the honor system–and to take money for each correct score. Unbeknownst to them, the scientists were monitoring both their work and their scoring.

And guess what. The women wearing the fake Chloe shades cheated more–considerably more. Fully 70 percent inflated their performance when they thought nobody was checking on them–and in effect stole cash from the coffer. To double-check this distressing result, the scientists put the women through a completely different task, one that forced a choice between the right answer and the more profitable answer. And again the Chloe-wearing women pocketed the petty cash. Notably, the women cheated not only when they expressed a preference for the cheap knockoffs, but also when the real and fake designer glasses were randomly handed out. So it appears that the very act of wearing the counterfeit eyewear triggered the lying and cheating.

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This is bizarre and disturbing, but it gets worse. The psychologists wondered if inauthentic image-making might not only corrupt personal ethics, but also lead to a generally cynical attitude toward other people. In other words, if wearing counterfeit stuff makes people feel inauthentic and behave unethically, might they see others as phony and unethical, too? To test this, they again handed out genuine and counterfeit Chloe shades, but this time they had the volunteers complete a survey about “someone they knew.” Would this person use an express line with too many groceries? Pad an expense report? Take home office supplies? There were also more elaborate scenarios involving business ethics. The idea was that all the answers taken together would characterize each volunteer as having a generally positive view of others–or a generally cynical view.

Cynical, without question. Compared to volunteers who were wearing authentic Chloe glasses, those wearing the knockoffs saw other people as more dishonest, less truthful, and more likely to act unethically in business dealings.

So what’s going on here? Well, the scientists ran a final experiment to answer this question, and here are the ironic results they report on-line this week in the journal Psychological Science: Wearing counterfeit glasses not only fails to bolster our ego and self-image the way we hope, it actually undermines our internal sense of authenticity. “Faking it” makes us feel like phonies and cheaters on the inside, and this alienated, counterfeit “self” leads to cheating and cynicism in the real world.

Counterfeiting is a serious economic and social problem, epidemic in scale. Most people buy these fake brands because they are a lot cheaper, but this research suggests there may be a hidden moral cost yet to be tallied.

Read the original research paper HERE (PDF)

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April 9, 2010 Posted by | Books, Cognition, Identity, Resources, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

You Can Trust Me More Than You Can Trust Them: Cynicism & The Trust Gap

Read the original research paper HERE (PDF)

Credit: Jeremy Dean from Psyblog

How do people come to believe that others are so much less trustworthy than themselves?

Much as we might prefer otherwise, there’s solid evidence that, on average, people are quite cynical. When thinking about strangers, studies have shown that people think others are more selfishly motivated than they really are and that others are less helpful than they really are.

Similarly in financial games psychologists have run in the lab, people are remarkably cynical about the trustworthiness of others. In one experiment people honored the trust placed in them between 80 and 90 percent of the time, but only estimated that others would honor their trust about 50 percent of the time.

Our cynicism towards strangers may develop as early as 7 years old (Mills & Keil, 2005). Surprisingly people are even overly cynical about their loved ones, assuming they will behave more selfishly than they really do (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999).

What could create such a huge gap between how people behave themselves and how they think others behave?

Trust me

People often say that it’s experience that breeds this cynicism rather than a failing in human nature. This is true, but only in a special way.

Think about it like this: the first time you trust a stranger and are betrayed, it makes sense to avoid trusting other strangers in the future. The problem is that when we don’t ever trust strangers, we never find out how trustworthy people in general really are. As a result our estimation of them is governed by fear.

If this argument is correct, it is lack of experience that leads to people’s cynicism, specifically not enough positive experiences of trusting strangers. This idea is tested in a new study published in Psychological Science. Fetchenhauer and Dunning (2010) set up a kind of ideal world in the lab where people were given accurate information about the trustworthiness of strangers to see if that would reduce their cynicism.

They recruited 120 participants to take part in a game of economic trust. Each person was given €7.50 and asked if they’d like to hand it to another person. If the other person made the same decision the pot would increase to €30. They were then asked to estimate whether the other person would opt to give them their half of the total winnings.

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The participants watched 56 short videos of the people they were playing against. The researchers set up two experimental conditions, one to mimic what happens in the real world and one to test an ideal world scenario:

1. Real life condition: in this group participants were only told about the other person’s decision when they decided to trust them. The idea is that this condition simulates real life. You only find out if others are trustworthy when you decide to trust them. If you don’t trust someone you never find out whether or not they are trustworthy.

2. Ideal world condition: here participants were given feedback about the trustworthiness of other people whether or not they decided to trust them. This simulates an ideal-world condition where we all know from experience just how trustworthy people are (i.e. much more trustworthy than we think!)

Breaking down cynicism

Once again this study showed that people are remarkably cynical about strangers. Participants in this study thought that only 52 percent of the people they saw in the videos could be trusted to share their winnings. But the actual level of trustworthiness was a solid 80 percent. There’s the cynicism.

That cynicism was quickly broken down, though, by giving participants accurate feedback about others’ trustworthiness. People in the ideal world condition noticed that others could be trusted (they upped their estimate to 71 percent) and were also more trusting themselves, handing over the money 70.1 percent of the time.

People in the ideal world condition could even be seen shedding their cynicism as the study went on, becoming more trusting as they noticed that others were trustworthy. This suggests people aren’t inherently cynical, it’s just that we don’t get enough practice at trusting.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

Unfortunately we don’t live in the ideal world condition and have to put up with only receiving feedback when we decide to trust others. This leaves us in the position of trusting to psychology studies like this one to tell us that other people are more trustworthy than we imagine (or at least people who take part in psychology studies are!).

Trusting others is also a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, just as we find in interpersonal attraction. If you try trusting others you’ll find they frequently repay that trust, leading you to be more trusting. On the other hand if you never trust anyone, except those nearest and dearest, then you’ll end up more cynical about strangers.

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Read the original research paper HERE (PDF)

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April 1, 2010 Posted by | Books, brain, Cognition, Health Psychology, research, Resilience | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments