January 24, 2022 1 Comment

Going Along Versus Going Alone

Niloofar Saeedi

Shahid-Beheshti University, Tehran Iran

Imagine a piano class full of boys. The teacher has invited a female student to talk about her experiences and her works. She performs 2 popular pieces from Mozart and asks which one the students liked most. The majority vote for one of the pieces and it is Steven’s turn to choose. But there is an issue. Steven has found the girl really attractive and finds it very hard to decide what to do. Should he vote for the same piece that most of the class voted for or should he go for the unpopular one? The thing is, Steven doesn’t really care which piece is really better. All he cares about is to attract the girl’s attention. Which strategy would work better for his romantic goals? Following others or choosing to be different?

What if next, the girl performs two other pieces and asks the class to guess which one was from Chopin and which from Schubert? Here the question is no longer about students’ taste and there is a right answer. How should Steven respond this time? Following others would mean a higher likelihood of being correct but a smaller chance to stand out? These are important questions. We have been facing them since the beginning of human history. How should a man conduct himself to maximize his chances of getting the woman that he wants? 

And what about a woman seeking her favourite man? Do men and women do similar things to attract the attention of potential mates? And what about women seeking other women and men who look for a male mate? Is there something in our evolutionary history about these questions too or is that too unfamiliar for our ancestors?

As we noted about the Shubert vs Chopin problem, following others often leads to more accurate decisions when the question has a correct answer. However, men and women can act differently depending on the romantic goal they have. Men mostly want to impress women by acting differently from others especially when there is no threat to be incorrect, but women try to show their adjustment and how agreeable they could be and think this would be more important for men they want to attract. To test whether these ideas make any sense, Vladas Griskevicius and colleagues designed 3 experiments.

In experiment 1, each participant went through 40 artistic images and rated each one from 1 (not at all interesting) to 9 (very interesting) according to their preferences. One of the images was the key one that participants didn’t know about. Then half of the participants (let’s call them the Test condition) read a romantic story. The other half of the participants (let’s call them Control condition) read a nonromantic story. Next, all participants (test and control) rated the key image that they were informed it was a random computer choice for the second time. Only this time, participants were sat behind a computer and told that they will be working together with three other, same-sex people who were sitting in front of their own respective computers in the other rooms in the lab. People would take turns giving their rating for the photo which everyone else could see on their computer screen, and the participant was always the last one. Half of the time it was planned for 3 other people to have positive judgment about the image, and half of the time the group judgment was negative.

 The results showed that reading a romantic story (i.e., the Test condition) caused men to disagree with other members of their group, especially when the group judgment about the image was negative. This observation suggests that drawing men’s attention to romantic motives may persuade them to present themselves as unique, independent, and (unlike the negativity coming from the rest of the group) pleasantly agreeable, but when the group judgment was positive, nonconformity couldn’t help, so they don’t use it. On the other hand, women tend to show more conformity with the group members especially when the group judgment was positive. This suggests how they strive for group cohesion. However, when the group judgment was negative, conformity could not have a positive effect, hence the motivation of mate attraction was inefficient.

Also, results showed no significant conformity differences in the control condition between men and women

In the second experiment, after participants read the same stories as study1, they answered surveys that included a set of subjective and objective questions. The subjective questions measured people’s preferences, such as (a Mercedes-Benz or a BMW luxury car?) And the objective questions were about the facts, such as (Which color shirt is better at keeping a person cool in the sun, green or blue?). Before answering, the participants were informed that the responses of over 100 people who had filled the survey, would be visible for them in percentage for each answer option.

Similar to the previous study, when the questions were about preferences, women showed conformity and had similar choices to others, but men showed how reckless they could be with the majority choice by choosing different answers. However, when the questions were about facts, men and women both were careful about which answer others put more emphasis on and responded accordingly to make sure they did not answer incorrectly Vladas Griskevicius and colleagues argue that similar mating motives in men and women are at work here: making mistakes about realities that can be verified will not have a positive effect on the person we want to attract.

Altogether, this study is consistent with the idea that fundamental social motivations (such as the wish to attract the attention of a person of the opposite gender to yourself) can activate a mental state to facilitate cognition and behavior. Such motivation could create a functional pattern for (non)conformity even when we are not directly in the mate attraction position. Also confirming previous findings, we saw that women’s behaviour indicated that they may be more focused on the consequences of competition and how the messages reflect their relative position among the men. Men, on the other hand, seemed to be competing for status in such social situations.

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