Trust and Revenge Are Irrational—But Vital to Our Society
Dan Ariely is the James B Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. He is the founder of The Center for Advanced Hindsight and co-founder of BEworks, which helps business leaders apply scientific thinking to their marketing and operational challenges. His books include Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, both of which became New York Times best-sellers. as well as The Honest Truth about Dishonesty and his latest, Irrationally Yours.
Ariely publishes widely in the leading scholarly journals in economics, psychology, and business. His work has been featured in a variety of media including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Business 2.0, Scientific American, Science and CNN.
Big Think: What would the world be like if everyone always acted rationally?
Dan Ariely: I think the world would actually be quite terrible if everybody would be perfectly rational. And, you know, when you a ask people this question initially, you say, “Oh, yes, I want everybody to be rational.” But the fact is, that I picked the title, "The Upside of Irrationality," because I think there’s a lot of wonderful things about irrationality. I’ll give you two examples.
The first one is, imagine that you left your wallet on your desk and you went out for lunch. What are the odds that somebody will steal it, right? And now think about what are the odds that somebody would steal it if everybody you worked with was perfectly rational? If everybody was constantly doing the cost benefit analysis, if that’s all what people were doing, they would pass by your desk, they would say, “Hey, nobody’s here, nobody’s looking, I can steal this and have no chance of being caught, let me do that,” right? In fact, if we lived in a society where everybody was just maximizing their own self-interest all the time, it would be quite a terrible place to live.
Here’s another example: Imagine a game we call the "trust game" and then I’ll tell you about the trust game with revenge. So imagine two players, player A and player B. And the trust game looks like this. We tell player A, “Hey, player A, you have $20. You can do two things, you can either go home or you can give your money to player B. And you don’t know who player B is and you’ll never meet them. If you sent your money to player B, player B will get $80, the money will quadruple magically on the way. And now player B could decide to do two things, they could go home with $80, in which case you will get nothing, or they could send you back half the money.” Now, think about this situation, imagine you’re player A and you’re asking yourself, “What would player B do?” If player B was perfectly rational, what would they do? They will go home with all the money, right? They will maximize their self-interest. Why would they give you back any money? So if you thought that player B was perfectly rational, would you send them the money? Of course not, right? So the rational prediction is that player B will never send the money back and because of that, player A will never trust him to start with.
Turns out people are much nicer than economic theory predicts. There’s a good chance that player A will send the money and a good chance that player B will send half the money back and if you were player B, you can just imagine, imagine you just got in the mail somebody that says, "Hey, here's what happened, would you send the money back or not, right?" Most people would do it.
So people... this is the case when people are nice in economic theory. But imagine if you’re player A, and you send the money to player B, and player B took the money and left. And now I come to you and I say, "Really sorry, player A, you lost all your money, but I tell you what? If you go into your checking account and you get more money out and you give it to me, for every dollar you give me, I will go, I will hunt player B down and I’ll take $2 away from them. You give me $2, I’ll hunt them down and take four. You give me 10, I’ll hunt them down and take 20 from them." And the question is, would you lose more of your own money to exert revenge on them? You just lost $20 and you can lose even more to exert revenge on them. And everybody who had a divorce or a big break up know the answer, right? When we feel betrayed, we would spend lots and lots of money to inflict even more pain on the other side. And when Ernst Fehr and some of his friends did work like this, they basically put people in an imaging so they could image people’s brains while they were executing and plotting revenge. And what they saw was that the activity of revenge was rewarding, it was pleasurable.
Now, again, it’s irrational—why would it be rewarding and pleasurable? Think about it this way, imagine that you and I were living on a desert island and imagine I had a mango and you wanted my mango, and imagine I kind of looked, I was away for a minute, and you could steal my mango. If you thought that the only thing I was doing is a cost-benefit analysis, you would say, "Hey, if I steal Dan’s mango and run far away enough, he will do the cost-benefit analysis, he will decide not to chase me, not to find out what happened, he’ll just go and get a new mango.” And under those circumstances, a good chance you’ll take my mango away. But what if I was a revengeful type, what if you knew that if you stole my mango, I will not sleep and I will not rest. I will hunt you down, it doesn’t matter how long it will take me and how far I’ll have to run and how many nights I will not sleep, I will hunt you down, I’ll take my mango and all your bananas and your goat and your whatever, whatever it is. Under that condition, you will probably not start with me to start with, right? You will not take anything away.
So the way to understand it is that trusting is irrational but we do it. Revenge is irrational but we do it, and we do it because trust and revenge are actually two sides of the same coin. Trust is incredibly important for society. Imagine how we would live in a society without trust. But to have trust, we also have to have revenge and those things together make sense. They are both irrational, but they both make sense and they actually help us to live in a better society. So would I prefer a society where everybody is rational—I don’t think so, not in a long shot.
Recorded on June 1, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman
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"The Yellow Sands", 1888, John Reinhard Weguelin; source: Wikimedia Commons<h3>Naked revolution</h3><p>Yet long before anyone knew about beach fashion, naturism was trendy. Bathing naked in the sea was going on in England as early as 1840. However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, this pleasure was outlawed. But it popped up again among the conservative Germans. In 1898, the first Naturist Club was founded in Essen and in 1900 the Wandering Birds group (<em>Wandervögel</em>) was scouring the country for uninhabited places and naked sunbathing. In the same year, Heinrich Pudor wrote <em>The C</em><em>ult of </em><em>the </em><em>Nud</em><em>e</em>, winning the hearts of contemporary supporters of naturism.</p><p>In the 1920s, on the back of this, members of the Movement for Natural Healing (<em>Naturheilbewegung</em>) organized naked sunbathing for the improvement of health. Persuaded by Pudor's theory of the healing properties of the sun and wind, which could be absorbed through the skin, they launched the naked revolution.</p><p>Pudor's book became the naturists' manifesto and soon after, not far from Hamburg, the Free Body Culture (<em>Freikörperkultur</em>, or FKK) movement was founded. This spread through other German centres and brought together thousands of people. The FKK still operates under the same name today.</p><p>The cult of the naked body even wrote itself into the ideology of fascist Germany, which advocated a pure, Aryan race. But in 1933, Hermann Göring issued an order that defined nudity as "the greatest threat to the German soul" and, with that, criminalized naturist organizations. But this wasn't the end of the movement. The naturists went underground, continuing their activities under the guise of improving physical fitness.</p><p>In 1936, the idea was even floated of having a naturist display to open the Berlin Olympic Games. It was quickly dropped. Despite this, in 1939 the naturists managed to organize their own Games in the Swiss village of Thielle.</p>
Would you ever have sex with a robot?
- In 2016, "Harmony", the world's first AI sex robot was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix.
- According to 2020 survey data, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. This is an increase from a survey conducted in 2017.
- Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries.
From homemade dildos to Harmony, the AI sex robot<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f7451615568e74c6a839f04329c9902"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-cN8sJz50Ng?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><em>"...amid an economic crisis, with restaurants and retailers closing their doors and larger companies laying off and furloughing employees, the sex tech industry is booming."</em><br></p><p>A Bustle <a href="https://www.bustle.com/wellness/the-sex-tech-industry-is-booming-amid-economic-crisis-22819801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">article</a> published in April 2020, weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, explored the drastic boost in the sex tech industry. According to the research, <a href="https://www.dameproducts.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dame Products</a> (a popular sex toy retailer) experienced a 30 percent increase in sales between the months of February to April, and popular sexual wellness brand <a href="https://unboundbabes.com/?utm_source=%7Bsource%7D&utm_medium=%7Bmedium%7D&utm_keyword=unbound%20babes&utm_matchtype=e&device=c&utm_campaign=%7Bcampaign%7D&utm_adgroup=%7Badgroup%7D&gclid=CjwKCAjw1v_0BRAkEiwALFkj5qYbdEwANUjCdRkCeVZ2HZzHjcGmpYbsOXYcMcNneLc2nySvrbaalBoChEsQAvD_BwE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Unbound</a> reported selling twice as many toys as normal in this period.</p><p>While the new coronavirus was crashing the economy in other ways, the sex tech industry was one of the few that actually saw improvements, likely due to people all over the world being advised, encouraged, and in some instances forced to stay at home.</p><p>Something similar happened in 2008, <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/08/23/the-great-recession-is-a-turn-on-for-the-sex-toy-industry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during the recession</a>: the sex toy industry was one of the only industries at the time that didn't gravely suffer. </p><p><strong>The evolution of sex tech from stone dildos to artificial intelligence.</strong></p><p><a href="https://sofiagray.com/what-is-the-history-of-sex-toys-from-stone-to-silicone-and-beyond/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The history of sex toys</a> is quite interesting. A 28,000-year-old siltstone dildo was uncovered in Germany in 2005. Luxury bronze dildos have also been found in China that are at least 2,000 years old.</p><p>Aside from various materials being shaped into dildos, there has always been an interest in how to advance sex technology, even before it involved actual technology at all.</p><ul><li>The 1700s: Steam-powered vibrators (such as the Manipulator).</li><li>The 1800s—1900s: The invention of the first electric vibrator (the Pulsoson) and "beauty tools" being used for sexual satisfaction (such as the Polar Cub massager)</li><li>The 1920s—1940s: The introduction of hand-held massagers (the Andis Vibrator) and compact devices (such as the Oster Stim-U-Lax)</li><li>The 1940s—1960s: Japan introduced the "Cadillac of Vibrators" (The Hitachi Magic Wand), which eventually made it's way to America.</li><li>1965: The invention of silicone, which most modern sex toys are made of.</li><li>The 1980s—1990s: The invention of the rabbit-style vibrator, made more popular with one of the first showings of a sex toy on television ("Sex and the City"). </li><li>The 2000s: Visual porn website Pornhub launched and sex toys became increasingly popular. Erotic literature also became more common and popular, with "50 Shades of Grey" and others like it. </li><li>The 2010s and beyond: Sex toys and technology start to blend, and the world's first internet-controlled sex toy was launched in 2010 by Lovense.</li></ul><p>In 2016, "Harmony", <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cN8sJz50Ng" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the world's first AI sex robot</a> was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix. </p>
From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.
Credit: Willyam Bradberry on Shutterstock<p>In 2020, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. <a href="https://today.yougov.com/topics/science/articles-reports/2020/03/19/2020-both-men-and-women-are-more-likely-consider-h" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">YouGov conducted a study</a> in February 2020 that compared results from a similar study from 2017.<br></p><p>According to the results, 6 percent more people in 2020 are comfortable with the idea of having sex with a robot than in 2017.</p><p>YouGov points out that the increase in consideration is particularly significant among American adults between the ages of 18-34 years old. Additionally, how people feel about having sex with a robot has also changed. In 2020, 27 percent of Americans said they would consider it cheating if they had a partner who had sex with a robot during the relationship, compared to the 32 percent reported in 2017.</p><p><strong>"If you had a partner who had sex with a robot, would you consider it cheating?"</strong></p><p>The results from this interesting study also reveal that many people (42 percent) believe having sex with a robot is safer than having sex with a human stranger.</p><p>Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries. From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.</p><p>According to YouGov, "a <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-12/amazon-plans-high-end-echo-ramps-up-work-on-alexa-home-robot" target="_blank">Bloomberg</a> report outlining Amazon's plans for an Alexa-powered robot that follows and helps you around the home may redefine how these machines service humans in the near future." </p>
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