Social psychology and watches - Pt 2
Attribution theory, considering others, and how this relates to watch collecting
In the previous post on this subject we dived into the “self” and explored psychological phenomena related to the self such as: everybody notices us, we are above average, and what we do makes perfect sense.
Next, we move on to attribution theory1, which explores how we make sense of ourselves and others, and then onto understanding how we think about other people, and what we actually like about other people… and finally, try and connect this to watch collecting!
Attribution theory explores the causes of people's behaviour. In everyday life, we try to explain why certain events and behaviors occur. An early researcher named Fritz Heider proposed that we naturally attribute others’ actions to personality characteristics.
Heider attempted to solve one of the core philosophical problems of phenomenology: the relation between sensory information and real objects. That is, he asked how it was possible that humans perceive qualities of objects in the world even though all they have are sensations in the mind.
Heider argued that real objects shape “media” such as air pressure, light reflections, and sense organs. These media have a considerable degree of variance (for one thing, they reflect many real objects), but the perceptual apparatus reconstructs real objects from their characteristic effects on the media.
Heider labeled this reconstruction attribution – a process that generates inferences of the relatively invariant qualities of things from the characteristic variance patterns they cause in their media.23
This is sometimes known as a person bias; It is a bias because it's not always accurate. We tend to give too much weight to personality and not enough weight to situational variables. This is sometimes known also as the fundamental attribution error, and there are many examples of this4.
One study put two people in a situation where one person asks the other person some really difficult questions that they can make up, and that person has to try and answer these hard questions. Obviously it's easy for somebody to make hard questions that another person will be unable to answer! So, you do that, one person asks the hard question, one in unable to answer. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Then we ask a third person who has been observing this Q&A session - who is smarter!?
Even if the decision of “who to ask the questions or answer the questions” was determined through a toss of a coin, people think that the question asker was smarter, since they asked all the hard questions and the other person didn't know the answers to them... Ignoring the fact that this is entirely the product of circumstances!
In general, a lot of everyday life works this way. People tend to overestimate the intelligence of professors. They do so because when they listen to professor talk and they see him in class or they see her at a seminar or at a conference, they hear the professor talking in great detail about what s/he knows the most about and they get the impression that the person really seems to be smart. This misses the fact that of course, professors tend to teach and talk about the very small area that they know about.
The most extreme demonstration of the fundamental attribution error or the person bias is in a fascinating tendency we have to see actors as if they're the characters they play. For instance, people tend to think Sylvester Stallone is a tough macho guy because he plays roles in movies where he's a tough macho guy - even though he spent the duration of the Vietnam war in Switzerland, apparently teaching at a girls school.
Another example is that of the actor, Leonard Nimoy who was an extremely interesting actor; he played many roles, led a rich life, but was forever identified with