Question: Does familiarity breed contempt?
DAN ARIELY: So it turns out that there is a very strong correlation between how much we know about people and how much we like them. So our spouses, you know, there are all kinds of people that, our good friends, the people that we know very well and we like them a lot. And the question is what is this caused by? Is the liking driving knowing or the knowing driving liking? And what people intuitively think is that knowing driving liking. I learn a bit more about you I would like you more. I learn more about you I would like you more. But the reality is that more knowing actually creates less liking. And the reason is as follows: imagine I tell you that I like music. What do you think that I like baroque music? No. you probably, your immediate thought is to think that I like something that is like you. But then when you learn what I like, you realize we are not similar to each other. So when you describe things in vague terms, like when you go online and you fill one of those online dating sites profile, these things are quite vague. And when things are vague, they have lots of place for the imagination of the reader to fill the gap. And especially if you’re trying to date somebody, you’re looking for people who are great right? So you’re motivated to come up with great people they have something vague, you find out all these great things and then you get…you get crushed.
So there is this sense in which vagueness allow our imaginations to run wild, to be overoptimistic, and then sadly we get crushed by. But now you can also ask, so why is it that we believe in this correlation? So how does it happen that our good friends, we know a lot about them and we like them as well? What happened is the opposite process. Imagine you go to colleges they want you to meet a thousand people. You say “Oh these 500 I don’t care about. These 500 I like, I’ll go and have coffee with them.” You go to coffee with them. Then 250 you say, “Ahh… so-so… 250…” you said “Oh I really like those, I’ll have lunch with them”. And have lunch with them and so on. And so what happened is that because you like people, you keep them as your friends for longer. So in fact in reality it’s the liking that is driving knowing. The more you like somebody the more they would stay with you and then you get more chances to learn more about them and know them better. But if you just take a random person and you just acknowledge it actually creates less liking.
Recorded on: July 29, 2009