When I meet someone new, I’m pretty open in the first “getting to know you” conversations. I’ll freely offer up information about my career, hobbies, reality TV preferences, and even my sexuality. But there is one topic I avoid discussing for as long as I can get away with — I’m vegan.
It might happen when I turn down a bite of birthday cake for the third time or have trouble mustering interest in going to a restaurant whose sole vegan option is a deflated pile of aging lettuce, but eventually, it comes out. If I’m lucky, reactions are something like, “You’re missing out on so much!” or, “Good for you, but I could never give up bacon.” Other times, though, their face darkens and the inquisition begins: Why are you doing that? Aren’t you worried about getting enough protein? If I paid you twenty dollars, would you eat this burger? It’s not like you’re making a difference, you know that, right? It’s as if the words “vegan” and “vegetarian” are triggers that open up a store of pent-up opinions about food politics and morality.
This reaction of general negativity is not just in my head, either—a paper by Julia A. Minson and Benoît Monin sheds some light on why people might have curiously strong reactions to vegetarians. Their paper, “Do-Gooder Derogation: Disparaging Morally Motivated Minorities to Defuse Anticipated Reproach,” investigates how and why people who eat meat act negatively towards those that don’t. They conducted several experiments asking meat-eaters about their feelings about vegetarians and their morality.
The authors asked meat-eaters to generate a few words they associated with vegetarians. Unsurprisingly, 47% of participants came up with at least one negative word (like “malnourished” or “self-righteous”). When asked, participants also felt that most vegetarians would view themselves to be more moral than the average meat-eater.
The most interesting part of Minson and Monin’s findings, though, was that the more morally superior participants judged vegetarians to be, the more negative words they attributed towards them. For this reason we might be more accepting of the vegetarian that sighs, “I’d love to eat meat, but right now doctor’s orders say no,” than the one in a PETA shirt.
The researchers attributed this effect to what is called “Do-Gooder Derogation,” or our tendency to put down others if we feel they are morally-motivated. When someone’s behavior is overtly moral, we often feel annoyed and resentful, rather than impressed or inspired. Minson and Monin see this as a result of “a knee-jerk defensive reaction to the threat of being morally judged and found wanting.” In other words, when we see someone riding on their moral high horse, we assume that they’re accusing us of being immoral by comparison. No one wants to think of themselves as a bad person, so we naturally respond defensively with resentment and derogation.
While I can’t speak for all vegetarians and vegans, let me assure you that there’s no moral judgment on my part. I think we’ve all got the right to eat (or not eat) whatever we so choose. So let’s make a deal: I’ll eat my veggie burger, you eat your steak, and we’ll both struggle valiantly not to heckle the yuppie charging his Tesla.
~Comic and post by M.R. Trower~
Minson, Julia A., and Benoît Monin. “Do-gooder derogation disparaging morally motivated minorities to defuse anticipated reproach.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 3.2 (2012): 200-207.
When we order a fancy drink at Starbucks (or some fancier coffee house) with funny language, we believe we are sophisticated connoisseurs. But when others do the exact same thing, we just see them as annoying poseurs.
But we don’t just believe we are hot stuff when we order at Starbucks, we also believe that other people will think we are hot stuff. This “self-serving” bias can be dangerous.
Across domains, people believe their dates will be won over by their charm, entrepreneurs believe investors will be won over by their ideas, and “connoisseurs” believe everyone will be won over by their “sophistication.”
It’s one thing to believe you are great, but it’s another thing to project your grand self-perceptions on the others’ perceptions of you. This is when biases can start to multiply and problems can go so awry. While this may not lead to tragic results in a Starbucks line, it can in love, politics, business, and academia.
~By M.R. Trower and Troy Campbell~
~Illustration by M.R. Trower~
A few times a month, I buy a bag of coffee at the supermarket on my street. I enjoy the ritual of standing before the twenty or thirty whole-bean options in the coffee aisle, imagining how the different roasts and origins might taste. This past Sunday, though, I was surprised to see how my coffee choice influenced the actions of a stranger.
I noticed another shopper in the coffee aisle, engrossed in selecting the perfect coffee for the week. Even after I had paused, nabbed a promising-looking bag, and walked off, she was still weighing her options. I don’t blame her – coffee is very important.
As I got ready to leave the store, I almost laughed when I saw her at the register. After all her cost-benefit analysis back in the aisle, she’d selected the exact same coffee that I had! The odds of us choosing the same coffee at random, considering the aisle of options, was pretty low. Instead, it seemed like my coffee choice might have signaled to her that this specific roast was more delicious and well-liked than the others. I could have influenced her choice without even speaking a word.
Although I thought this was funny at the time, I can’t say that I would’ve done differently if I had been in her place. We call this effect “herding,” and it occurs when we act based on how those around us behave. When searching for a place to eat downtown, you might see a long line out the door of a restaurant and think, “That place must be good if everyone else is standing in line, I better check it out.”
Sometimes restaurants really are just more popular because they’re higher quality, but it’s easy to see how it can become a problem. I’m not the world’s greatest coffee expert, so if I ended up leading herds of people at my local grocery store, the other customers might not be better off.
Of course getting worse coffee isn’t the biggest mistake you can make while shopping. Herding can lead to bigger problems in other cases, though (think the stock market), and it’s worth looking out for. I don’t have as academic a background as some of the researchers in the lab, but working here has taught me more about these biases, and it’s been fun to notice these mistakes in day-to-day life.
We all occasionally find ourselves paralyzed by looming decisions, unable to make up our minds with time running out. I was recently afflicted in just this way—I had no idea what to be for Halloween.
Costume ideas will usually just come to me, allowing enough time to prepare at a leisurely pace. I’d then confidently strut my way through Halloween parties full of friends in hand-sewn outfits with witty pop-culture references.
This year was different, though. My anxiety mounted as the big night approached and I had yet to pick a costume idea (let alone gather and assemble the required supplies). Before I knew it, it was the morning of the 31st and my Halloween-induced stress was at an all-time high. As the resident artist for the lab, my calling card is coming up with creative things.
Hundreds of ideas ran through my head, but everything was too difficult, expensive, or obscure. What to do?!
Fortunately, a friend directed me to a simple website which suggested a different nonsensical costume with each visit. Among the suggestions were ideas as disparate as “smutty rice cooker,” “exotic forklift,” and “immoral waffle.” Just a few quick clicks in and I knew what my Halloween costume would be: “The Salacious Rat King.”
Relief washed over me, and I began to mentally piece together my outfit. I could wear my sheepskin rug as a furry cape! I could make a mask from the box of desperately stale breakfast cereal! Suddenly, I was eager to go home and create my salacious rat king ensemble.
How did I go from immobilized by indecision to optimistic and enthusiastic about dressing up for Halloween in just a couple minutes?
By outsourcing my costume decision-making to a website, I was able to relinquish some responsibility over the outcome, lifting a weight from my shoulders. Instead of continuing to fret all day about my choices, the assistance of the costume-suggester gave me one humorous option at a time.
I no longer had to think, “What in the whole universe should I choose to assume as my identity for the night,” and instead, “am I more rakish ironing board or seductive mastiff?” This simplification of the process may have closed off some great costume options, but my enjoyment of Halloween was markedly increased once I accepted the computer’s suggestion.
In the end, my salacious rat king costume was a great success, and my Halloween was saved thanks to outsourcing my decision.
For more on the process of outsourcing decision making and the influence it has on stress and choice, we recommend this paper by fellow Duke Professor Gráinne Fitzsimons and this emotional TEDx talk by Stanford Professor and friend of the lab Baba Shiv.
(All the rights of this illustration belong to our talented lab member M.R.Trower)
Before writing personal bonus checks to your employees this December, have a look at our paper — hot off the press! If you are hoping that a bonus would allow them to buy whatever they wish and as a result be happier at work and more productive, we have a better idea! Rather than giving your employees more personal bonuses, make a minor adjustment and offer them prosocial bonuses, a novel type of bonus to be spent on others.
Across three field experiments, we tested the efficacy of prosocial bonuses against the standard model of personal bonuses. We found that when companies gave their employees money to spend on charities or on their colleagues (as opposed to themselves), employees 1) reported increased job satisfaction and 2) performed notably better.
In one experiment, an Australian Bank gave some of their employees a charity voucher and encouraged them to spend it on a cause they personally cared about. Compared to their coworkers who didn’t receive a charity vouchers, bankers who redeemed the prosocial bonuses reported increased job satisfaction and were happier overall.
Next, we examined whether prosocial bonuses were still effective if they were spent on others people personally knew rather than on charities. We ran experiments in two very different settings – one with recreational dodge ball teams in Canada and another one with pharmaceutical sales teams in Belgium – where we encouraged spending on co-workers and teammates. In both cases, we gave cash to some members of each team to either spend on themselves (personal bonuses) or spend on their teammates (prosocial bonuses). We found that teams that received prosocial bonuses performed better than teams that received money to spend on themselves.
It is difficult to measure the return on investment of corporate social responsibility. With prosocial bonuses, however, we were able to measure the dollar impact on the bottom line. On sports teams, every $10 spent prosocially led to an 11% increase in winning percentage, whereas it led to a 2% decrease in winning when team members received personal bonuses. For the sales teams, every $10 spent prosocially earned an extra $52 for the firm.
Our results come at an important time. Job satisfaction is at a 20-year low in the U.S., and people are spending more and more time at work. If you do what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten. So, we suggest that you try something new this year: Shift the focus of the bonuses from the self to others and create a more altruistic, satisfying and productive workplace!
P.S. If you are interested in testing prosocial bonuses, please feel free to send a gift to firstname.lastname@example.org