Why Winners Are Geniuses and Losers Are Dolts
Mobbing Behavior and the Media
David Berreby is the author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity." He has written about human behavior and other science topics for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Smithsonian, The New Republic, Nature, Discover, Vogue and many other publications. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Paris, a Science Writing Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a resident at Yaddo, and in 2006 was awarded the Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship for the first edition of "Us and Them." David can be found on Twitter at @davidberreby and reached by email at david [at] davidberreby [dot] com.
Being a social animal saves you a lot of trouble. You don't need to grow huge claws or massive armored plates to protect yourself; your weapons and your shield are in your relationships to other members of your pack.
In many bird species, a flock will ``mob'' a predator. And in Alaska I've seen musk oxen form a circle, horns out and tails in, because we were flying over in a small plane; their group bond assured that each individual was better protected (and helping to protect others) from the threat. If our plane had been forced down we human beings would have radioed for help from other people. Those are all examples of mutual protection based on social bonds.
Still, there's a downside to storing your weapons in the minds of other people: If your social standing changes, then pffft, no more protection for you. Worse yet, social ties can turn against you: Lions' claws don't suddenly attack their owners, but animals that live in flocks or packs sometimes turn on one of their members.
The ethologist Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfelt once proposed that human laughter has its roots in mobbing: ``Many apes and monkeys that live in groups show their teeth when they do this and emit rhythmic threat sounds. Both these elements are still retained in our laughter and there is no doubt that it is often very aggressively motivated,'' he wrote. ``The person who is laughed at experiences the laughter as aggressive. But the people who are laughing together feel themselves to be bound together via this ritualized `mobbing.' ''
Which brings me to my colleagues in journalism.
As Mark Bernstein pointed out in this witty post, in the business press ``CEO’s of winning firms are brilliant (and handsome), while the leaders of losing firms are incredible dolts — pursuing obviously-doomed strategies, saying dumb things, and lacking the personal qualities that distinguish winners.''
The media pattern is the same in matters military and political, obviously. At some point, your everyday mistakes and little offenses are no longer like everyone else's -- instead, they're grounds for universal contempt. Entertainers complain the most about this phenomenon, but they at least have their last-ditch loyal defenders. Nobody ever begged the world to ``leave Mark Penn alone!''
So, what makes a band of people turn on one of their own? Bernstein thinks it's built in to the logic of attention. A mistake could be the reason that you're losing your battle, so naturally you'll pay attention to it. On the other hand, if you're winning, then the exact same behavior doesn't get that anxious scrutiny. How serious a mistake can that be, if we're winning?
It's an interesting idea, and distinct from the usual thinking about why we build leaders up and then tear them down. Perhaps we're innately biased to be too forgiving when our luck is good, and too harsh when it's bad.
These modern-day hermits can sometimes spend decades without ever leaving their apartments.
- A hikikomori is a type of person in Japan who locks themselves away in their bedrooms, sometimes for years.
- This is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, likely due to rigid social customs and high expectations for academic and business success.
- Many believe hikikomori to be a result of how Japan interprets and handles mental health issues.
How a cataclysm worse than what killed the dinosaurs destroyed 90 percent of all life on Earth.
While the demise of the dinosaurs gets more attention as far as mass extinctions go, an even more disastrous event called "the Great Dying” or the “End-Permian Extinction” happened on Earth prior to that. Now scientists discovered how this cataclysm, which took place about 250 million years ago, managed to kill off more than 90 percent of all life on the planet.
A new study discovers the “liking gap” — the difference between how we view others we’re meeting for the first time, and the way we think they’re seeing us.
We tend to be defensive socially. When we meet new people, we’re often concerned with how we’re coming off. Our anxiety causes us to be so concerned with the impression we’re creating that we fail to notice that the same is true of the other person as well. A new study led by Erica J. Boothby, published on September 5 in Psychological Science, reveals how people tend to like us more in first encounters than we’d ever suspect.
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