Relativity and Defaults

Monday, February 11
Nicole, Sophia, Billy, and Dan

Another topic studied by social scientists is how people value things in relative terms rather than absolute terms. How much are you willing to pay for a cup of coffee? How do you decide how much an iPhone is worth? What factors change our valuations? In literature, we can also recognize these kinds of relative evaluations in which protagonists make their decisions dependent on others. A related topic we might also consider in this unit is the concept of “defaults”: how marketers learn quickly that consumers tend to make choices based on the path of least resistance. For example, consider organ donations: if people are asked to opt-in (“sign if you want to participate”) to be an organ donor, it results in low participation. However, if they are asked to opt out (“sign if you don’t want to participate), it ensures a larger percentage of potential organ donors. This topic raises issues about how difficult it is for us and literary characters to deviate from the status quo.


Social Science

Everything is relative, and that’s the point. Like an airplane pilot landing in the dark, we want runway lights on either side of us, guiding us to the place where we can touch down our wheels.
                                                                         –Dan Ariely


The mind is divided in many ways, but the division that really matters is between conscious/reasoned processes and automatic/implicit processes. These two parts are like a rider on the back of an elephant. The rider’s inability to control the elephant by force explains many puzzles about our mental life, particularly why we have such trouble with weakness of will.
— Jonathan Haidt



After completing the readings, add a Reading Response comment to the comment space beneath this schedule post, and respond to a peer’s comment. Your initial Reading Response Comment should answer these two questions for at least one reading from each of the two categories:

  1. Literature and Social Science: Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source.
  2. What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?


94 responses to “Relativity and Defaults

  1. Social Science: If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not? (Dan Ariely)

    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source?

    Relativity in dating is an extremely intriguing area of experimental research. Indeed, there are certain universal trends in dating that extend beyond cultural, societal, and economic boundaries. One such trend is the universality of physical attractiveness. That is to say, that physically attractive people attract each other, and are esteemed by the less physically attractive. While conceptions of attractiveness may in fact differ across cultures, races, and socioeconomic paradigms, it is clear that within these paradigms, there are certain constants that are highly correlated. To this end, Professor Ariely’s study, “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?” reveals to us that less attractive people have the same ideals about attractive people, as attractive people do. More importantly, the Ariely study revealed that less attractive people do not convince or delude themselves into thinking that their romantic partners are more attractive than they are in actuality.
    While the results of the Ariely study do make intuitive sense, I am not entirely convinced that less attractive people don’t inflate the attractiveness of their mates, at least to an extent. Speaking from experience, I have many male friends and colleagues, who are successful, intelligent, and driven yet who choose very “average” looking girlfriends. When confronted about the relative plainness of their girlfriends, time and time again, it appears as though they present some sort of compensatory explanation. In some cases, the girls they are dating are “really kind” or “really intelligent”. The reality is that there is some mechanism that acts to make them more attractive, in the eyes of my friends, that supersedes their physical plainness. While such an analysis may seem problematic and injurious to my friends’ girlfriends, it forces me to believe that other mechanisms can often blur the universalities of attractiveness. That being said, to Ariely’s point, when asked about universally attractive girls, all of my friends and colleagues (with unattractive girlfriends) all seem to agree on their attractiveness.

    What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?

    Is the attractiveness effect – that less attractive people do not delude themselves into believing their romantic interests are more attractive – present in non-westernized cultures?

    Literature: “The Bet” Anton Chekhov

    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source?

    I found “The Bet” to be a deeply moving story; laden with powerful messages about life, material goods, and meaning. In my eyes, the prisoner who spends fifteen years in isolation, by closing his eyes to the outside world, and turning his gaze inwards provides an allegory for life’s meaning. In those fifteen years, he discovers what takes most of us a lifetime – that material goods do not go with us to the grave, and that many of the societal “ideals” are in fact deeply enslaving and confining. Ironically, it is with imprisonment that the prisoner frees himself and liberates himself from the chains of human greed, and success.
    The banker –an age old symbol of wealth and greed – stands in stark contrast to the lawyer, in that he is so consumed by his own materialism and greed that it ultimately destroys him. He is left, after fifteen years, with a fraction of his initial wealth, and no new knowledge or profundity to show for it. The nadir point of his moral plight occurs when he decides to kill the prisoner so as to free him of his obligatory debt. In so doing, he encounters the prisoner’s letter, which like a mirror, reflects the very ugly truth of the banker’s existence unto himself. The prisoner is left, unharmed, and the banker is left to contemplate the banality and misery of his own existence.
    The question that arises through this story is therefore one of relativity. Is it worse to ware away early on in order to achieve emancipation (from greed, from materialism, from the chains of society and human sin), or to learn, much later, that your life has been for naught? Chekhov portrays the lawyer/prisoner to be the better of the two moral avenues, yet it is clear that the lawyer is not himself the moral law.
    The moral of Chekhov’s story has many parallels to our present society, and I think that far too often we come to such disturbing realizations about materialism, greed, and sin later in life, rather than sooner. The harrowing truth about materialism and greed is that it is an insatiable desire; and only if you can relinquish it in its entirety can you aim to live a purposeful life of meaning, as the lawyer (hopefully) does after he departs.

    What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?

    Must we choose between a materialistically immoral or spiritually moral life? Or is there some rational compromise?

    • I think that most spiritual beliefs do not see the material as immoral, except perhaps asceticism. Rather, many beliefs discourage the overindulgence in the material sense.

      Now a “materialistically immoral” life might mean a life aimed solely at material pleasures (e.g. hedonism). In that case, that would be probably contrary to most spiritual beliefs, since then material pleasures are the goal of man.

      In “The Bet,” however, I don’t think the point is that everything material is bad, but instead, first priority in the material is. It is not said that money is the root of all evil. It is said the love of money is.

    • Gordon I agree with you. Emotions are so irrational and when it comes to emotions what we say doesn’t always line up with what we do. I believe that during the infatuation stage of meeting/dating someone we often inflate their attractiveness because of our interest in them. So while in the study participants said that they do not delude themselves, I believe that if they were to become infatuated with the participants that they are talking to in the speed dating they would inflate their attractiveness and rationalize it by them having “a great personality”, being “intelligent”, having a “great sense of humor” etc.

    • Your analysis of The Bet by Chekhov was really interesting. I especially liked your comment “it is with imprisonment that the prisoner frees himself and liberates himself from the chains of human greed, and success.” I aslo think that during the time the lawyer spent his 15 years in prison, he was able to come to the realization that wisdom in life came from appreciating the beauties and blessings of life. However I also think that the banker was also in a les obvious prison all this time, a prison that he built from his materialism. Even though he realizes that his actions are merely a reflection of his love for money, and he even contempts himself for being so, he still shows that he is unable to free himself of this state by locking the letter in a fireproof safe. So at the very end of the story it is the banker who is still in a self-made prison, whereas the lawyer frees himself of all of his previous material attachments.

  2. Literature
    The Bet
    Outside Resource/Parallel:
    What is wealth? It’s very relative. For some of us, grapes are unappealing! We would rather eat a cucumber anyday. But, somehow, we still have ways of gauging “fairness”, as do monkeys (as exemplified in Equal Pay for Monkeys). We should get what we want, based on arbitrary ideals of better, that often vary from person to person.
    In the above article, he compares the life of a couple of billionaires, and questions what we consider to be wealth. I found this particular section interesting,
    “Then we counted all the possible advantages the non-tomato friend could have because he was not ‘wealthy’, relatively-speaking. He himself went on to list that he had no idea what high blood pressure is (tomato suffers from it); he slept the moment he hit ground (tomato sometimes used valium); he spent most of his non-working spare time with his children (tomato perhaps one-tenth of his time, if ever); he has never been armed robbed (tomato more than twice); 419ners never considered him prey (they have tried on tomato several times); no parasite (dan maula) would ever visit him and sponge (an everyday matter for tomato).”

    In the story, The Bet, we are again confronted by society’s view of wealth. It is clear that they start off the story with the same idea of wealth. The banker pities the young man. But, It is unclear to me if he believes that the young man is overvaluing wealth, because he is willing to give up 15 years of his life, or if he believes that he simply isn’t capable of lasting long enough to attain that wealth. Regardless, in the end of the story, the young man does not value his wealth, and has begun to value things that the banker does not possess, nor value, for that matter. It takes the young man beginning to value those things, languages he learned and the ideas that he thrived on in the volumes, for the banker to consider those wealth. It is clear that the idea of wealth is firmly ingrained in many of our minds. However, the strength in opinion of others can truly help us to rethink this negative idea of relativity. Why must other people view what we have as valuable, for us to value it?

    What do you two personally consider to be “wealth”? Do you think that academia influences a different idea of wealth than corporations do?

    Social Science
    Do Defaults Save Lives?
    A number of articles talk about how technology companies often utilize the importance of defaults in marketing to us. We use the web browser that’s automatically downloaded to our devices, we use apps because our ipod virtually comes with them. This article talks more about this phenomena, specifically with Google:
    After I saw some articles in the news about the controversy that occurred over this issue, I was inspired to look more into the idea of defaults. One particular idea that I found was intriguing was the idea of information-based defaults. This is the idea that consumers sometimes hold where consumers treat defaults as though they contain relevant information about the value of the product, or as though they were recommendations. This is often despite the intention of those making the survey. Sometimes, these types of defaults can create a negative or “backfire” effect. If a consumer believes a marketer is suggesting a default that appears to be firm’s best interest as opposed to the consumer’s, the consumer is less likely to select it. If we think about it, there are a huge number of defaults that we encounter everyday, as Duke students. The defaults that aren’t institutionally created, we create ourselves, by reinforcing them ourselves, as though we are a mini society. Our environment has a huge effect on our choices. Even choices we believe are made in a vacuum, are often made. As a sophomore, I have observed this is as we make choices about housing and study abroad in the fall. The default is to stay here and the varying responses to this default are becoming more and more intriguing. How many of us are willing to opt-in to going abroad? Because opting in requires a careful planning of our academic career, a filtering through of all of the options, and finally an application, there are many options for people to switch from opting in, to opting out. I think it is also interesting to observe how people’s previous intentions align with their choices. Although we may initially think we will choose against the default, when it comes down to action or inaction, many of us choose inaction, regardless of our initial preference.
    How do you think we would plot acceptance of a default against the amount of effort required to opt-in to something? Have you ever opted-in to something merely out of convenience?

    • Hey zanpanda,

      I really appreciate how you have brought in your own outside sources for each of the readings. You also raise some really excellent questions such as “Why must other people view what we have as valuable, for us to value it?” and your questions about the influence of defaults in the Duke experience. I recently had a conversation with a friend about the “Duke default” to graduate in four years. My friend, a senior, told me how other colleges will encourage students to take a year off in the middle of college or that it is not uncommon to take more than four years to graduate. At Duke, however, these ideas are nearly unheard of. Why does this default prevail?

      Good job adding to the conversation! Also I’m glad you responded to the article on defaults (it appears most people did Dan’s article)! Kudos to you for being original!

    • Let me throw another variable into this very beautiful (I mean that word) and insightful conversation. One issue in ethics, at least as far back as Thomistic philosophy but, now that I think about it, also in ancient Greek and Buddhist thought as well, is temptation and access: in other words, are you virtuous if you live in solitary confinement and do not have a choice? The ethical dilemma the lawyer faces is very different structurally than the one the banker faces. Each loses in a sense. Also, an existential philosopher would say the lawyer lost by choosing to remain in isolation for a bet . . . that he wagered his life for 2 million. And the banker wagered away his 2 million by living frivolously in the world. Perhaps is a mirror image of the other? And “Shooting the Elephant” might also make us wonder if that is an accident, or if the wager itself sets the “terms” of the destruction of each party symmetrically but differently. I think of Orwell’s amazing line: “He wears a mask and his face grows to fit it,” of the imperialist’s relationship to the colonials.

      Social science can tell us a lot about masks, wagers, bets . . . it can tell us less about the subtle psychological relationship that mask wearing and mask enforcing has on all the participants simultaneously but asymmetrically in a complex social, personal, cultural, and historical relationship. For that, the data does not serve us very well. We need stories, those crafted brilliantly by others that help us understand the complicated, brewing, indeterminate, predictably irrational story that is our own, unfolding life.

      Thank you for being so inspiring!

  3. Peer Response:

    Zanpanda – Regarding the question you pose in your analysis of “The Bet” I am of the belief that the banker doesn’t believe that the young lawyer can withstand the fifteen years in prison. If the banker was of the belief that the young lawyer was overvaluing wealth, than his crippling realization at the end of the story – that wealth and materialism are empty goals – would not be as poignant. It becomes clear to us that the lawyer learns that he is overvaluing money and materialism; his decision to renounce the millions sends this message loud and clear. Ultimately, however, your closing question is a very profound one – in that we ascribe value to things that are in demand (even if we don’t necessarily value these things, prior to their high demand).

  4. “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?”

    I don’t know how much there is to object to here, in terms of the data and what the data says. I guess I can point to phenomena I’ve witnessed that might be interest follow-up studies.

    In the speed dating setup, the conclusion was that physical appearance is more important to the attractive. I’d like to see that weight divided between gender. Common wisdom says that men value physical appearance more significantly. So how do the weights on physical appearance differ between attractive men and less attractive men versus their female counterparts? (One of my questions.) Does being physically attractive for a woman mean that she becomes more selective in her partner’s physical attractive or other traits, or perhaps both (and how do the weights shift)?

    And the ratings from HotorNot are superficial and objective. However, human relationships tend to be quite subjective. You may, deep down, know that your lover is not the prettiest thing in the world, but inject some hormones and emotions, and she’s the face you’d most to see. She’s beautiful. So maybe a good study would be to take couples, and to ask them to rate their partners versus random people. And random people can rate their partners. I’m pretty sure you’ll find a discrepancy. So, at first, people may admit their partners aren’t that attractive physically, but after a while together, I’d bet that’d change.

    “The Bet”

    The conclusion is the same as that of Ecclesiastes. Solomon, whom the Bible credits as the wisest and wealthiest man ever, tries everything under the sun. He drowns in pleasure, he gleans wisdom, he works endlessly, he builds magnificently, he piles riches, and he observes all men. Yet he says there is a common destiny for all, the grave. “Meaningless! Meaningless! Everything is Meaningless!” And this was his conclusion:

    13 Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
    Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
    14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.

    Relative to eternity, is there any meaning in our actions? Is the only way to find meaning to measure our life relative to perhaps a century or two?

    • I also struggle with the question of meaning. Even when we zoom in the focus from eternity, to just finding meaning over the course of our lives, the scale of relativity is constantly changing in response to our priorities. The richest man in the world could use his money to buy out all his competition and continue making everyone around him poorer, or he could donate all of it to charity; but if his kid dies the next day, relatively speaking, the impact of his actions either way will no longer seem to matter. So I guess that creates a divide between relativities and meaning– there is the relative meaning of our actions at large, and then there is the relative meaning of our actions on our own lives. Which, in turn, makes everything…relative. Arghhh. Darn you relativity.

    • “And the ratings from HotorNot are superficial and objective. However, human relationships tend to be quite subjective. You may, deep down, know that your lover is not the prettiest thing in the world, but inject some hormones and emotions, and she’s the face you’d most to see. She’s beautiful.” — I agree with what you said here and made many of the same arguments in my own response to the study. Even if your partner is not objectively physically attractive, your emotional tie makes them seem more attractive to you. You sometimes hear (in pop culture and real life) someone tell their partner that they are “the most beautiful person in the world”; likely they know this is not objectively true, but it is how they feel.

      To play devil’s advocate, I would counter that someone who says their partner is “beautiful” is perhaps taking other factors into account aside from pure physical attraction. They may be able to objectively rate their partner’s physical attractiveness, but when they speak of overall attraction they are speaking of sense of humor, kindness, compassion, intelligence, and many other factors. In the study you propose, I think it would be necessary to control for this by also asking couples to rate their partner on these additional factors to identify exactly what makes their partner attractive.

    • “Relative to eternity, is tehre any meaning in our actions?”
      That reminds me of Rudolf Otto’s theory of the numinous early in the developent in religious studies. His hypothesis was that rational religion (God as good, religion as ordering) was derived while nonrational religion was natural. This nonrational religious feeling was characterized by what he called creature-feeling, i.e. being aware of one’s creaturehood, of one’s nothingness before te great other (God, the divine, what he calls the numinous). If Otto’s interpretation of religion is right, then it is interesting because religion generally provides people with purpose. That purpose may come from the ‘rational side’ but without the originating nonrational it could never exist/

    • Very interesting responses here so far. I find particularly interesting the discussion of relative value as it relates to perceptions of attractiveness in the dating market, and chose to write my original response on the same topic. I think this discussion ties nicely into zampandas discussion of relative valuations of wealth. People obviously value different things in the dating market the same way people engage in different valuations in economic markets. As it connects to your subject, it would be interesting to look at how society and social groups have influenced what people value in relationships and dating over time. My hypothesis is that mass media and glamorozation of celebrities has caused people to value beauty and youth more over time, which is a possible confounding variable in my initial post hypothesizing that marriage has lasted less as a result of technology and fewer interdependent couples.

  5. Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source?

    In the article “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?” Dan and his colleagues discussed if physically attractive people tend to delude themselves into thinking that their dates are more attractive than others perceive them to be (p.669). They found that less attractive people are more accepting of less attractive dates but they don’t try to persuade themselves into thinking that their partners are more attractive than they really are. I beg to differ on this hypothesis; I think the results came about because of the way the study was constructed. What people say and what people do many times do not match up, especially when it comes to irrational things like emotions. I think that in a speed dating setup people are more likely to say that they do not delude themselves into thinking that their dates are more attractive than others perceive them to be. However, when someone is in a relationship with their partner during the infatuation stage I think their perception of how physically attractive their partner is becomes inflated and they probably see them as more attractive than they did when they initially met them. A classic example would be two partners that start off as friends in a platonic relationship with little to no physical/sexual attraction for each other and then they later delve into a “dating” relationship. During their infatuation stage I think they see their partner as someone that is more attractive than they previously saw them.

    What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?

    Do you think it is possible to take out the irrationalities of emotions when dating so that people end up dating/mating with the most physically attractive people so that their offspring will be as physically attractive as possible (evolutionarily speaking) or is this only possible in casual, uncommitted “hooking up” relationships?

    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source?

    In the article “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell told a story of a man that killed an elephant. I thought this was a great story on relativity. In the beginning of the article I was wondering how the article would have anything to do with relativity and/or defaults but when it got to the point where the police officer was debating whether or not to shoot the elephant in the presence of the crowd I saw the relativity parallel. Mobs have amazing influential power. We have all been in a situation where we have a question that we have been ruminating on. We ask friends for their thoughts (while all together in a social situation) since we are not definitive on what decision to make. After talking with the group of friends we end up making the decision that the group thinks we should make.

    What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?

    What are some ways to combat the influential power of mobs so that decisions do not get swayed by the “crowd”?

    • I am intrigued by the way that you interpreted Orwell’s short story because it is similar, but slightly different from, the way I read it. We both focused on that crucial moment when the officer decides to shoot the elephant against his personal preferences. What you perceive as the influence of relativity, I saw as an example of choosing the default option. Likewise, what you called the power of “mobs,” I saw as constructing social identity. Are we using different words for the same ideas, or are we actually coming to different conclusions about the officer’s decision?

      In your mob psychology framework, the decision to shoot the elephant is made by an equation like this: (my preferences)*weight + (group preferences)*weight. The officer puts more weight on the preferences of the group relative to his own preferences because he is in the social context of a mob, so he ultimately chooses to shoot the elephant.

      In my social identity framework, the decision to shoot the elephant depends not on relative weighting of the officer and group preferences, but instead on relative weighting of the officer’s private identity and his social identity. For his social self, to shoot the elephant is required as the default option, because it is the social norm an officer must adhere to. His choice is whether to construct his personal or his social identity, and decides the latter is more important and/or easier to uphold.

      It’s strange that there are two internally consistent frameworks for modeling the officer’s decision. This leads me to believe that defaults and relativity are just two ways of thinking about the options in a decision. It is easy to tell them apart in simple scenarios (e.g., organ donation forms and hot or not sites), but the boundary is blurry for complex decisions. The difference between them may be in the modeler’s perspective, not necessarily an external difference in the option properties.

      • I saw the Orwell story mostly in terms of defaults, as well, since I think that was the most obvious parallel to draw, but I can definitely see how relativity plays into it. I think that the concept of defaulting relies on the human propensity to perceive social constructs in relative terms, and that is probably why we are studying these two topics together in the same lesson. Sure, defaulting also incorporates general laziness and diffusion of responsibility, but without our tendency to feel over-conscious about our unique behavior relative to social expectations, many instances of defaulting would be moot. Orwell’s story is a classic example of this. The protagonist defaults to the crowd’s expectations because he recognizes the amplitude of their power and influence relative to his own at that moment. We should note, as well, that proximity plays a factor in this story, too, just like it did in the towel study. The protagonist defaults to the crowd’s expectations because the Burman onlookers were closest to the situation. Later, he notes that many of his fellow Europeans thought it was quite a shame to shoot an elephant because of its value. He was glad that the Indian had died because it gave him an excuse to succumb to the crowd’s expectations at the time. If a man hadn’t died, the protagonist would have been subjected to the European population’s judgments when they heard about the story later.

    • I had similar thoughts regarding the short story, and was amazed at how relative it was to this topic. People struggle with decisions every day and it is often difficult to notice how much other people actually influence our decisions rather than ourselves. I think this could partially fall into the attention blindness category as well. A good question to ask would be, “How far are people willing to go in order to get themselves liked by the crowd?” This question could be asked in many different situations.

    • Hi,

      I think you brought up a good point related to political questions such as “tyranny of the majority”, “tragedies of the commons”, the Nazis movement where a collective refuses and is unable to think. However, I think it’s also salient to keep in mind that we are all social beings influenced by opinions, environment we grow up, etc. There is a fine line between mob effect and persuasive thought. Certainly, the former is less (or not at all) self-conscious but many argumentative thoughts are founded upon beliefs, consensus, social norms, traditions that people agree upon.

  6. Dan Ariely – “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?”

    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source.
    As I read Professor Ariely’s work, I was reminded of the principle of homophily – love of the same. Our friends and our romantic interests tend to reflect us and in many ways confirm our set of core beliefs and values. We tend to enter relationships with people who are often of the same race, same socio-economic status, same religion, same education level, etc. A major finding in this work parallels this seemingly inexorable phenomenon: more attractive people tended to prefer dates who were more attractive. And though people did prefer to date others who were “moderately more attractive” than themselves, they did not select from those who were “overwhelmingly more attractive”. This speaks to the notion that comfort in a relationship is contingent upon compatibility. The likelihood of dating someone out of our league is therefore at odds with both the principle of homophily and the findings in this study. But it’s not entirely impossible. Some of us get lucky.

    What is a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?
    How can we apply the findings of this study to a discussion on human decision-making in general?

    Anton Chekhov – “The Bet”

    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source.
    I take issue with the proclamations detailed in the prisoner’s letter. His fifteen years spent in a closed room force him into a state of material rejection and irrationality. While everything that is in this world is temporal and fleeting, it does not mean that it is wrong or foolish to enjoy all that is available to us – other human beings, food, books, language, etc. The key is that we cannot let that which is material control us. So long as we are able to control our desires and passions, we are able to be true to ourselves and fail to be defined by what is around us. And for those of us who believe in some sort of afterlife, this ability to control our consumption of earthly things leaves us with the ability to focus on the more important things that come after we leave this place.

    What is a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?
    For few, monasticism is the solution, the path of least resistance, to living a life full of truth and devoid of materialism. How can we reach some sort of middle ground between total abstinence and total indulgence?

    • Hi jatlantis,

      At the end of your response to Dan’s article you mention that “some of us get lucky,” in reference to the fact that some people are able to date others who are “out of their league”. Why do you think this happens? Are these people really “lucky” or do they have other qualities that make the relationship successful? Can a relationship with such a disparity of attractiveness between two individuals be successful?

      I’m glad that you posed a question on monasticism, because that is exactly what “The Bet” made me think of!

      Great post!

      • Hey Red,

        Perhaps the pairing of an individual with someone out of their league simply reflects that though the norm is to place significant weight on physical attractiveness, other characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and humor can become more attractive to us. But, unfortunately, when we are commonly guided by desire for physical attractiveness, we often miss out on those other characteristics that are far more important.

    • Hi Jatlantis,

      You mention that the lawyer declines into a state of irrationality because he does not want to indulge himself in the material possessions he sees around him. I do not think that he has become irrational, but instead he feels he has transcended the need for material goods to make him happy.

      The lawyer describes that he has experienced a plethora of culture, books, experiences, and adventures through his books. It is almost as if he has seen the world and had every experience imaginable through literature. To me, this does not sound like irrationality, but frankly a pretty good life. He has convinced himself that these adventures are real, but is not held down by the time or monetary constraints that would typically be required to do all of these things in a lifetime. In a way, I envy the lawyer for his ability to utilize his imagination to create many exciting worlds for himself.


  7. Shooting an Elephant – George Orwell

    Orwell’s essay seems to be forerunning postmodernism. When contemplating whether or not to shoot the elephant, he argues that the decision has already been made for him – he has been stripped of his ability to choose for himself. The forces of social and political constructs have already made his choice for him; the expectations of imperialism made it “impossible” for him not to shoot. His choice had been “conventionalized.” Individual autonomy has been hijacked away from Orwell, and replaced by “an absurd puppet pushed to and fro” by convention and constructs. In this respect, the essay paralleled Wide Sargasso Sea – a postcolonial, postmodern novel that was written to serve as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. In this novel, Bronte’s madwomen in the attic who is used to transform Mr. Rochester into a sympathetic character, is explained through a different light. She is not ignored and dismissed as a crazy figure, but rather shown as a tragic byproduct of the colonial culture she was raised in. Much like Orwell’s story it disrupts our preconceived notion of choice – just as Orwell did not choose to kill the elephant, the madwomen could not choose her conduct.

    This leads to the question as to whether postmodernists are accurate in their assessment of our lack of free will and their argument that individual choices are predetermined by a confluence of social, political and economic constructs. Did Orwell really have the choice to shoot the elephant? Was the madwomen mad because of the imperial environment she grew up in? Is it really possible for the individual to truly choose to “deviate from the status quo” by their own freewill?

    If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?

    This essay had an implicit connection to the concept of self-segregation with its discussion of how people tend to choose to choose partners who they evaluate have a similar level of attractiveness. Self-segregation has been an especially relevant issue on Dukes campus in the last week. The controversy regarding KSig and the response by a large population of students in protest reveals a deep chasm in the University’s culture. Duke – in spite of its emphasis on having a diverse student body – is often a polarizing and self-segregating community. A vibrant and diverse group of students are admitted into the school, but once they matriculate they join smaller communities that are often homogenous. While this risks simplifying an incredibly nuanced and complex culture at Duke, the recent events make it seem apparent that there is a divide amongst people of different racial backgrounds at this University. It seems that part of this is the result of self-segregation and the fact that many students feel comfortable to be in communities of individuals from similar backgrounds.

    A few questions emerge – about both Duke’s culture and, more broadly, about human nature – from the research in this paper and its greater implications for the topic of self-segregation. First off, what about Duke’s culture that exacerbates self-segregation? How is it that this norm has emerged in our schools culture? And, more broadly, is self-segregation inherent in human nature? Is the research that people date those who they evaluate to have a similar level of attraction indicative of a human tendency to associate with those who are similar? And, if so, how do we overcome phenomenon and create a new default that promotes a culture that is truly welcoming, vibrant and diverse – not only in terms of numbers but in terms of inclusiveness?

    • Hey Cosmo,

      This concept of self-segregation is largely explained by the sociological concept of homophily. We essentially select friends and significant others who are particularly similar to us, often in terms of race, SES, education level, etc. While you point out that self-segregation contributes to a racial divide at Duke, I think it’s largely a reflection of division on the basis of identity groups. Is the Greek vs. non-Greek divide more pronounced than the racial divide? Trinity vs. Pratt? Athlete vs. non-athlete? International vs. non-international? I think these types of divides often outweigh those of race on our campus.

    The links for the second and third Social Science readings currently lead to the same article. If you were looking for the “Do Defaults Save Lives?” article, you can find it here:

  9. If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?

    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source:

    The main objection I have to this study is its lack of applicability. While the idea that less attractive people do not delude themselves into thinking that their similarly average-looking dates are more attractive than they are is an interesting insight, we obviously have to think about the factors that cannot capture. The website is based on a simple rating system and human superficiality, and is therefore a one-dimensional snapshot of its members, who are also unrepresentative of the general population. This study doesn’t use a random, representational sample, but rather focuses on a subset of a population that is either obsessively shallow and narcissistic, or, at the other extreme, tragically insecure and/or suffering from an inferiority complex that requires strangers to validate their personal self-worth through a one-scale rating system. Not only do these users overemphasize the importance of physical attractiveness in developing relationships, they also relegate physical attractiveness to a 50×50 pixel box on a screen that, in most cases, doesn’t even capture most of the features that the general population thinks of when thinking about physical attractiveness. Most of the pictures don’t even necessarily include the person’s body, which is arguably at least 50% of what hotness is all about. Aside from this, we know that physical attractiveness is not the only thing that men and women consider when choosing romantic partners, and that hotness can be greatly inflated based on personality, chemistry, makeup, and an expertly chosen wardrobe, anyway.

    What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?

    Why do you think men are less selective than women in accepting dates? Is this a biological instinct or a social norm, and do you think this is fair?

    Shooting an Elephant

    Objection or parallel:
    There are a lot of things going on in this story, relatively speaking. The protagonist compares himself to the Burmese people. He compares himself to the Indian. He compares himself to other Europeans. He even compares himself to the Elephant. In every case, he makes the most self-absorbed judgments and decisions based on pride, insecurity, embarrassment, and a flash instant of insecurity. He takes responsibility for nothing, blaming his predicament on the British Empire and his forced absolution of freedom and choice – ironic, since it’s the conquered rather than the conquerers who should feel that way. He’s glad that the Indian died because it absolves him of guilt, and he convinces himself that the choice to shoot the elephant is not his, but rather the will of the crowd. You are the protagonist, and the protagonist is me. He is the person who donates an organ because not doing so requires him to check an extra box. He is the person who pays a monthly sum to a book club or magazine subscription because stopping it requires an iota of added effort. Since he’s nameless, we could just call him “Default,” or “Checkbox,” and it would make no difference. He is completely powerless over his own decisions, and by not checking the box, we are all absolving ourselves of power and responsibility as well. Let’s just hope that one day we don’t find ourselves face-to-face with a mad animal and realize that having to shoot it 20 times and watch it die for a half hour is the default.

    What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?
    Marketers and advertisers make use of the “default” manipulation to take the power away from the consumer and make the choice for them. What is the best defense to use against this trick?

    P.S. Are we supposed to be able to see the “Defaults” article?

    • Mufasa,

      I totally agree with you about the lack of a random sample to draw conclusions from. People in the online dating game are not representative of the whole population. I’m going to stereotype here, but they are more likely to have been unsuccessful in the dating game, maybe having faced significant amount of rejections, and thus are more likely to settle for less, or someone who they perceive to be on an equal level of attractiveness with them.

      With that being said, I still many of Dan’s conclusions are valid. When deciding what was attractive, it was not necessarily put into a 2×2 grid, but rather the overall perception based on the characteristics displayed in the profile. This does include aspects of personality and other attributes, because many of those factors are linked with the profile. Certainly we’d perceive someone as more attractive when they have outgoing, fun interests and characteristics. Therefore, I do not think we can totally dismiss the fact that we do not take into account the personality when looking at the dating profile.


  10. “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?”
    It is difficult to object to the findings of the study, given the support of the data. Indeed, the logic of the study’s findings makes intuitive sense. If we tend to date others of a similar physical attractiveness, we must be able to “pick” these partners out of the crowd. Thus it would make sense that we could be objective about the attractiveness about our dating partners and not delude ourselves into thinking they are more attractive than they are in reality—or else we likely wouldn’t pair up with them in the first place.

    However, like several of my peers, I am hesitant to conclude that these findings apply to more intimate, long-term relationships. I think my hesitation grows from the fact that the study was asking participants simply whether they would be interested on going on a date with the person they were rating. Raters had no emotional connection or even physical connection (in person) with those that they were rating. I echo many of my peers in saying that I would be curious to see a similar study performed with couples who have been in relationships of varying lengths. I wonder if a person’s rating of the physical attractiveness of their partner would change over time. In addition, I wonder if there would be significant discrepancies in the “accuracy” of physical attractiveness ratings for long-term couples compared to couples that recently started dating. From my own experiences and observations, couples that are in love do tend to see their partner as more attractive as they actually are—although, as the study points out, this “deluded attractiveness” may simply be a proxy for “sense of humor” or other qualities which less attractive people value more highly.

    Question for Dan and Cathy: Although it is a rare occurrence, is there a social-psychological explanation for why some people choose mates who are not comparable in terms of physical attractiveness?

    “The Bet”
    Anton Chekhov’s story of the young lawyer immediately reminded me of a documentary I recently watched, called I Am. After watching the documentary, I was moved to learn more about it. It turns out that movie was made by a director named Tom Shadyac, who you probably know from movies like Liar, Liar, Bruce Almighty, and Ace Ventura. Anyway, Shadyac’s story to me has many parallels to that of Chekhov’s lawyer. Shadyac made millions in Hollywood, flew on private jets, and owned a $17 million mansion. He slowly became disillusioned with his overindulgent lifestyle, and after a near-fatal cycling accident he decided to make drastic changes to his life. As a result of the accident, he had extreme sensitivity to light and noise and thus spent his time locked away in darkness. It was here that he realized he had to make a change. Shadyac gave away much of his wealth and traded his Hollywood mansion for a trailer park near the beach. The documentary not only explores Shadyac’s own journey, but also a fundamental with our world: though our economy and society revolve around materialistic motives and ideals, we are hard-wired as humans to be cooperative and united.

    Of course, it is not a perfect parallel between Shadyac’s journey and that of Chekhov’s lawyer. However, I found it interesting that for both men it took a time of quietness, solitude, and self-reflection to denounce that which had previously seemed of the utmost importance. You can learn more about the documentary and Shadyac’s journey here:

    Question for Dan and Cathy: How does relativity impact charity? Why do some wealthy public figures (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett) aim to give away all their wealth while others do not?

    • What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?

      Why do you think men are less selective than women in accepting dates? Is this a biological instinct or a social norm, and do you think this is fair?

      This question made me want to ask a question that the social science doesn’t really ask: why? In other words, if girls from infancy on are trained to groom and present themselves minutely whereas to be “a boy” is not to worry about grooming, do we even know that the men in the study have the same degree of attention to a range of “attractiveness details” that women think are essential, core, obvious, and externally provable? In other words, if women consider grooming to be a high art form (witness cosmetic counters for women v men), why wouldn’t they have a more finely trained and developed sense than men? Thanks for asking a question that made me wonder if there weren’t another, deeper cultural question left unanswered here . . . I hope we get to these too.

  11. “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?”

    The results of this research confirmed my intuition about how the dating world works. It makes sense that we end up dating those with similar attractiveness levels. When reading this article I was reminded of a TV show episode discussing how relationships are composed of one “reacher” and one “settler.” This research seems to refute this notion.
    Despite the legitimacy of the research, I am not convinced that people are purely rational when choosing a romantic partner. It seems to me that there has to be some sort of other irrational factor- the “infatuation” portion of the relationship- that elevates the attractiveness of one’s partner. It would be interesting to compare how perception of attractiveness changes over the course of the relationship. Do you always find your partner to be the same level of attractiveness throughout the relationship, or do outside factors and time influence your perceptions?
    As a final question, how do you think cognitive dissonance comes into play in these experiments and in romantic decision-making in general? (ie- If I am dating this person, I must find them attractive…right?)

    “The Bet”

    First of all, great story! I found this selection to be very interesting, albeit a little disconcerting. I immediately objected to the notion that, “To live anyhow is better than not at all.” I feel this statement ignores illness and quality of life. On a road trip while studying abroad a few friends and I got into the admittedly morbid discussion of where our “breaking point” for living is- the point at which we are so unable to enjoy life that we no longer want to live (unable to walk, unable to eat, unable to recognize family, etc.). This story explores a similar topic in asking readers to think about which is worse, a death penalty or a life sentence. As the story progresses, and we see how the man adapts to confinement and learn of his disillusionment with the world he once knew, we are once again asked to question our own beliefs on life’s value.
    As a question for Professors Dan and Cathy, I would like to know how this story relates to our ability to adapt. I know Professor Ariely has done research that concluded that we are more adaptable, to both good things and bad, than we initially believe. In my own life, I have found this to be overwhelmingly true. Does this story support or refute that notion?


    “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?”
    1) Though perhaps not a perfect parallel, this article took my mind back to one of Professor Ariely’s talks about the relativity of attractiveness, which in turn reminded me of the scene from “A Beautiful Mind” that (rather brilliantly) illustrated game theory. ( The movie does not include physical attractiveness of the men or the other girls as a factor; however, if the article’s principles were to hold true, it would seem that the couples would naturally pair themselves off based on their level of attractiveness. But this did not happen, as it was to their economic advantage to simply settle for a mate, regardless of attractiveness compatibility. However, there is also the disparity between men and women’s self-perception of attractiveness and how that correlates to selectivity, which would perhaps explain the blonde’s actions. Ultimately, my conclusion would be that this clip does not illustrate the principles that we read in the article.
    2) Do you perceive your own spouses to be on the same “physical attractiveness” level as yourself?

    Also, a quick aside about the “Room with a Viewpoint” article: I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels in my life, and I found this idea to be completely fascinating. I never really thought about the “reuse the towels” signs until now– though somehow, in my experience, even when I do hang up the towels to indicate that I will reuse them, they just get replaced anyways. Hm…


    “Shooting an Elephant”
    1) After reading this story, I was left with the distinct sense of horror and utter tragedy that could is comparable to only one other thing I’ve read in my life, which is the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story” from Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” ( The obvious connection lies in the senseless shooting of animals, and subsequent, agonizingly drawn-out deaths. But I think there is also a tie to social norms, and the relativity of morality– both authors write from situations in which the power dynamics have changed, and accepted truths have been challenged. In such circumstances, how do we retain a sense of identity and humanity?
    2) Can there be such a thing as universal morality, even in the most horrifying and demoralizing conditions?

  13. If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not? Dan Ariely
    The study’s finding that ratings of physical attractiveness were not dependent on the attractiveness of the rater lends credence to the claim that society and cultural norms set the standards of beauty. This raises an interesting issue: is aesthetic beauty only deemed beautiful because of societal conformity? To put that question in different but more concrete terms, do we like the books we read only because everyone else likes them? Was the Dark Knight Rises a good movie only because we’ve been raised to believe it’s a good movie? In the Asch conformity experiment (which we’ll probably bring up next week), a participant has to determine the length of a line. All the participants except him are plants by the researching; they give the wrong answer about the lines length, and the original participant comes to agree with them (the actual experiment is a bit more elaborate than that). This raises the issue that our standards of comparison, perhaps even our means of measurement are in a way relative. Of course 1 meter is always 1 meter, 1 gram is always 1 gram- a model unit of measure is locked in a vault somewhere- but according to the notable 20th century sociologist Emile Durkheim, there were societies where space was conceived in the form of a circle, rather than through cardinal directions (and up, down, etc.) While our number system is based on 10, computer science uses a system based on 16, and ancient cultures have varied substantially. Suggesting that everything is relative is undoubtedly much to far- while the systems used vary, and societal definitions of beauty differ, the need to identify space, to measure, and to perceive beauty seems to be universal.
    -Does 2+2=5? Can it equal 5? (I feel like this question is pulling at Plato’s world of forms…)
    -The Pythagoreans (at least according to popular myth) refused to accept the existence of irrational numbers. This example is a shaky lead to my question, but it follows from previous discussion: If society refuses to believe something that is true, how do you go about changing it?

    Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell
    I first read this story 8 years ago, and it’s cropped up in random discussion or classes every few years. The most natural parallel the story presents is the comparison of the reactions of the Burmese to the reactions of Iraqi and Afghani natives to the US occupations. Of course, the British aimed to take resources from Burma, and the US’s goal is to target terror cells, and protect the local population, but in both cases varying degrees of animosity towards the occupiers were present. Cultural misunderstandings permeated both scenarios, and while the lives of Iraqis and Afghanis are not viewed in the same reckless manner as the lives of the natives in Orwell’s story were, the loss of life has been significantly greater. We have a tendency to make mental groups, and the us-and-them distinction (aforementioned in the reading on the stranger a few weeks ago) is one of the most powerful. The Burmese natives were in a sense more unified against the British than they would have been unified otherwise. Likewise, Americans under British rule were unified in opposition to the crown. A friend of make spoke of his time visiting East Asia. Despite hoping to mingle with locals, he ended up spending his time almost exclusively with other tourists from Europe. It seems that we reinforce our social orientations in opposition to outside forces, and that this phenomenon is, in a sense, a tendency to cling to conformity, to avoid to see beyond our own socializations, despite relativity. In other words, we’re uncomfortable.
    -How often do we shoot the elephant in the room because we are uncomfortable?
    -It’s impossible to read this story without thinking of 1984. Can imposed socializations, as in the novel, be more powerful than natural associations?

    • Abu, your insights into the Orwell story evoked some of my previous study of postcolonialism. Your discussion of the us versus them distinction seems to typify what postcolonialists call “Othering.” Groups composed with individuals different than ourselves are labeled as the Other, stripped of their complexity and relegated to inferiority. This concept almost seems to be inherent in human nature — I do not think we shoot proverbial elephant “because we are uncomfortable” but because it is a natural impulse. For me, this concept was best elucidated through an analysis one of my classes had of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Conrad wrote the novella to indict European imperialism and expose its brutality. He sought to elucidate the “othering.” Yet, he could not completely overcome the cultural norms. In spite of his motive to indict “othering,” in my class’s deconstruction of the text, we found that he often perpetuates “othering.” This is the basis of Chinua Achebe’s well known lecture indicting the text as racist. I think Achebe goes too far — I think Conrad had good intentions, but he was confined by the cultural norms he was trying to defy. In spite of trying to expose imperialism, he portrayed Africa as the darkness which needs to be exposed by Europe’s light and he illustrates its inhabitants as mad and savage. This raises a question: to what extent is Conrad responsible for perpetuating “Othering” in spite of his good intentions? I think this raises a similar question for Orwell’s short story: to what extent is Orwell culpable for shooting the elephant? And ultimately, to what extent do cultural norms make us ignorant of the injustices we inadvertently perpetuate?

    • Hey Abu,
      I really enjoyed reading your interpretation of “Shooting an Elephant.” I agree with much of your analysis; however, your comment at the very end about how tourists mingled with other tourists rather than locals needs more description. I agree that when visiting a foreign place, we cling to the comfortable, whether that be a shared native tongue or something else. But I think that there is a same reaction by the locals in whatever Asian country this was in. Locals (in nearly every country on the Earth) will stick together and will be wary of foreigners. As unfortunate this phenomenon is, I think that it is just as strong of a factor as the “yearning for comfort” when talking about the mingling of natives and tourists.

  14. Social Science:
    “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?”

    In this experiment, the authors, including our very own Dan Ariely decided to determine whether or not unattractive people were delusional when viewing possible mates. Interestingly, this research found that unattractive people view their pairs as attractive as everyone else does. I thought that the last paragraph brought up an interesting evolutionary perspective, suggesting that this trait of humankind increases a person’s pool of potential mates. This assertion would mean that, if uglier people did not have this mindset, then they would more often live life without ever finding a mate. Thus, wouldn’t the “ugly genes” be eradicated from the human gene pool, and we would be left with only gorgeous people. I think that this may not have always been the case for mankind. I think that in the beginning of the human race, a sort of natural selection took place in which the ugliest/least attractive people were not selected for reproduction.

    My question for Dan and Cathy is: Has this trait always been existent in humans? For instance, has a very unattractive man managed to pass down his lineage from the beginning of mankind?

    Shooting an Elephant

    I found that this story goes along with the nature of Imperialism. In every situation of dominion, the ruling people stationed in the ruled land have hollow control. Yes, they have the right to make commands, but whoever makes these commands is influenced by the will of the natives. An parallel idea to this story is the police officer in charge of controlling a riot. A police officer must make strong decisions that are very offensive to the people of the crowd. However, the police officer is terrified and influenced by the will of the crowd. If he ever felt that the crowd was going to overpower him, he knew that the crowd could kill him. Thus, he has to make strong assertions, like killing the elephant.

    My question for Dan and Cathy is: Can an imperialistic regime ever exist in a society in which all are equal, or does there always have to be an oppressor and an oppressed? Also this line struck me, “perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.” Does every person from the imperialist U.K. lose his freedom, or only the people ruling in the country?

    • Butter I do no think there has been a natural selection for reproduction from the beginning of the human race since the traits chosen for reproduction have changed throughout history. Strength used to be more important than attractiveness as main trait for reproduction. Now even though attractiveness is one of the main factor for starting and continuing a relationship, when it comes to reproduction there are many more factors to consider such as economic status, intelligence, personality…

  15. Literature –
    I really enjoyed Orwell’s piece “Shooting an Elephant”. It’s interesting that, despite what the general public believed, Orwell knew that the only reason he shot the elephant was to avoid looking like a fool. I think this parallels a lot of situations in any person’s life, where the factors for making one’s decision have less to do with the actual issue itself and more to do with one’s personal placement in a society, or how he/she would be viewed after the fact. I can’t think of a specific situation right now, but I have certainly done this before without explicitly realizing so. Orwell’s last line, “I often wondered whether any of the others grasped that I had done it solely to avoid looking a fool,” resonated with me because it pointed out something I’ve done in the past and summed it up in one sentence. Having said that, I think the reason I am noticing this now is because this is such an extreme example. Is it often that people would really go this far, despite their beliefs, to avoid embarrassment?

    Questions for Dan and Cathy –
    How much do people really not want to put in effort to opt out of something? Is it laziness or is it because they don’t really care either way?

    Social Science –
    “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?” seems to really emphasize that attractiveness is really important when choosing mates. However, I kind of feel that personality has a HUGE influence on someone’s willingness to date someone who is less attractive than his/herself. I know this paper didn’t really analyze that because of the nature of the HOTorNOT site, but I’m wondering if there is research regarding a person’s likelihood to “downgrade” based on personality.
    Questions for Dan and Cathy –
    Do people tend to “downgrade” (for lack of a better term) when choosing mates based on someone’s personality? How does personality weigh into the dating game when discussing physical-attractiveness? What is, in general, a more important factor for people – personality or attractiveness? Is this a function of his or her own attractiveness?

  16. The research article titled, “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?” was particularly interesting especially when discussing the possible reasons for people to be less or more judgmental of the people they are seeking a relationship with. The most intriguing reason being different preferences for different cultures. After reading this article it made me question whether this was one of the most influential reason there are so few interracial couples. People may be simply attracted to people who look more like them, especially if they both hold physically attractive characteristics.
    “Shooting an Elephant” seemed extremely relevant to the subject in that the narrator of the story, a policeman not liked by the majority of the city, was given the option to choose the morally right thing to do and continue to be hated, or he could appease the crowd’s hunger by shooting the seemingly harmless elephant. This is definitely a dilemma that almost every high school/ college student is faced with when attempting to fit into the crowd. Peer pressure has a significant influence on people whether we are aware of it or not and the decisions we make are directly correlated to the way others look at us. Physical appearance is not the only way people judge each other, and the way we act and make decisions is probably the most powerful and accurate way to represent ones reputation.

    My question to Dan and Cathy is: do men and women maintain the same standards for the most part when seeking a romantic relationship?

    • E_rich, I found your observation concerning interracial relationships very interesting. I had a slightly different conclusion that I drew from the article. If we date people who are of similar attractiveness, it seemed to me that that transcended racial or socioeconomic barriers. The idea of homophily is interesting, because obviously we do not date people exactly like us. So, in the absence of that possibility, it is interesting to see what characteristics we prioritize when looking for a partner similar to us. The article would imply that attractiveness is definitely one of them, but perhaps race is also!

  17. **Hey! These were awesome readings. Great job to this week’s team.

    Social Science Response:
    “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?” Dan Ariely et Al
    // After reading this report published by Professor Ariely, I drew immediate parallels to depictions of attractiveness in popular culture, and how these depictions have shaped my expectations about physical attractiveness in relationships. The study concludes that “More attractive people tended to prefer potential dates who were more attractive.” The empirical research derived by the study is compelling and certainly supports the conclusion reached by Ariely et al. And though one’s preference for a physically attractive partner can be tied to theories (evolutionary, equity, market, fitness), I believe that perhaps most influential to one’s understanding of personal attractiveness and the role of attractiveness in relationships are cultural norms. Cultural reflections of relationships and physical attraction therein, in my opinion, have a more significant impact in guiding rules or expectations about attractiveness. For example, from a young age we are bombarded with mass media representations of attractiveness and its role in sexuality and relationships. These representations establish a set of rules (a benchmark) for attractiveness and how attractiveness between a man and a woman in a relationship should be equal. Watch any commercial spot or program on MTV and you will see this: all subjects casted are physically attractive; subjects who are the “hottest” are declared this by their peers and encouraged to date each other, and storylines to most programs revolve these “hot” protagonists. There is an obvious rhetoric of attractiveness that seems to dictate who should pair with who. The most glaring cultural influences of attractiveness are magazine advertisements for cologne, clothing, and popular brands. The “sex sells” phenomenon perpetuates this cultural display of attractiveness between man and woman, as models are often photographed with a “gaze” between the two of them indicating sexual tension or an underlying relationship. The fact of the matter is that I think we evaluate ourselves and our personal attractiveness next to these mass-media models and figures. Therefore, I think we look for partners in our plane of attractiveness after we make a personal, comparative evaluation of our own attraction next to cultural portrays of men and women who are accepted as attractive.
    ▪ Question for Professors: What are your thoughts on couples that significantly vary in physical attractiveness? How does this negate Dan’s conclusion about attractive people tending to prefer partners of equal attractiveness. The term “dating down” is a sad term that I’ve heard thrown around before. We can’t be as shallow as some of these reports conclude…. What role does emotional connection between couples play in the Shallow Hal game?
    ▪ Another Question – The mass media portrayals consistently show equal levels of attractiveness between male and female couples. How does the conversation about attractiveness among partners change when it includes members of the same sex?

    Literature Response:
    “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell
    // I felt that this reading was a great example of how, in literature, we recognize the significance of relative evaluations in which protagonists make decisions dependent on others. This has tremendous practical application to the real world. From a young age we learn about how we see ourselves within or against a group. Many of us are fortunate enough to be be a part of groups that set rules and guidelines for us (religious, social, extracurricular, family) so as to make relative evaluations easy for us. But in the case of “Shooting as an Elephant” Orwell writes about the subject as the foreign member of a group, one who has to violate personal norms in order to please the majority of the group around him. When a wild elephant starts charging at members of the group, he retrieves a rifle. Yet the second the rifle is placed in his hand, he, the outsider, is suddenly considered the leader of the group, the one who can protect the members. So begins his personal struggle violating personal beliefs about how the situation should be handled: “As soon as I saw the elephant I knew with perfect certainty that I ought not to shoot him. It is a serious matter to shoot a working elephant.” But as the crowd beckoned him and became transfixed on him and his weapon, he succumbed to this peer influence. This was a relative evaluation that was entirely dependent on the others. And he, as an “other” himself”, could not possibly oppose the consensus of the people around him. I think this story draws classic parallels to how we often give in to peer pressure, how we like to please people around us, how we might prefer social acceptance at the expense of personal beliefs. The story says so much about human relationship and relativity. I’m sure we can all think about moments when we’ve had to “shoot the elephant.”

    For Dan and Cathy: Could you share some instances when either of you made a decision to not “kill the elephant” in your social or professional careers? What was that like for you and how did you learn from it?

  18. “Shooting an Elephant” George Orwell

    Orwell’s story points to the effect that social expectations can have in leading us to betray our morality. There are countless examples in life where we become the person that people expect us to be, doings things that betray our own morality in order to mesh with others’ vision of ourselves. For me, this story echoes the Stanford prison experiment, where people’s actions are defined by their roles in a social setting. While there are certainly differences between the two scenarios, the core idea remains: we amend our actions to meet social expectations. We betray our own moral compasses to fill the social expectations of our different offices/roles.

    Thinking about jobs and internships, I witness many of my peers gravitate towards I-banking and consulting where before they showed no interest in these areas. I think this is in many ways a product of Duke’s social environment.

    For Dan and Cathy: Does the environment at Duke encourage students to proverbially shoot the elephant? If so how?

    “Do Defaults Save Lives?” Johnson and Goldstein

    What Johnson and Goldstein are urging policy makers to consider (the effects of what the ‘default’ is for choices like organ donation) is something businesses do all around us. Every time we make an online purchase we must un-check a box about receiving more information and product updates from the company. When you get your oil changed at Jiffy lube, sales reps go down a list of ‘recommended’ tune-up services, which you must opt out of before paying for your oil change. Marketers have long been savvy to the psychological effects of default choices and how they can help their business sell more goods/services. While it may aggravate consumers, it probably also helps their bottom lines. I like how Johnson and Goldstein are exploring this in the field of policy, though I am unsure how many situations it can be applied to besides organ donation.

    For Dan and Cathy: What are the moral factors to weigh when considering how policy makers should set defaults for choices like organ donation?

  19. “If I’m not Hot, Are you Hot or Not?”

    I always enjoy reading these behavioral Econ pieces as they relate to dating, romance and sex – especially as it connects to the discussion we had last week. Interestingly, other economists (notably Friedman) have noted that relationships can be modeed as economic contracts, with marriage representing the most binding of these contracts. Friedman contends that the women’s rights movement, and the advent of new technologies that make housework more automated (washing machines, etc.) have devalued the contract of marriage as contracting parties are less inter-dependent. My question for Prof. Ariely is do you think this is a plausible explanation for increasing divorce rates? Moreover, as you posit that attractiveness essentially conveys value in the dating market, what are some of the other indicators beside rejection and acceptance of attractiveness or value? In other words, how can we more objectively view our value in the dating market.

    “Shooting an Elephant”

    I’ve always been a huge Orwell fan so this was a very nice choice. The first time I read this piece, a few years ago, I thought b out cultural assimilation and the notion of being an outsider vs. an insider. Now, re-reading it, I feel it is a piece about groupthink (one of Orwell’s common motifs) and peer pressure. I think the story is probably about both. My question to Prof. Davidson is what explains the change of perception about this piece? My theory is it has to do with surroundings. In middle school, when I first read the story I was concerned with fitting in. In college, I’m much more concerned with and surrounded by peer pressure. My question to both professors is does the way you view something differently potentially indicate anything about your strengths or flaws? In other words, what can we learn about ourselves by the way a piece of literature makes us react?

    • Your insights and questions regarding both of these readings are great! I’m interested to hear how we can more objectively view our value not only in the dating market, but in other markets as well (the job market, for example). I think it’s interesting to think about how we can become better decision makers by improving our ability to evaluate our market value. This ties into your question about what our interpretation of literature tells us about our own strengths and weaknesses. I’m interested to see how these two connecting topics will be addressed in class. Great post!

    • Buck, thank you for your quick review of “Shooting an Elephant” — you pointed out a few ways of interpreting the piece and I agree that the lens you read this paper through will affect your interpretation of it.

      Do you think that groupthink is sometimes the result of people wishing to fit in? Possibly your awareness of groupthink now (almost 10 years later) has allowed you to understand the piece that way versus just trying to fit in as a middle school student.

    • I like how you broke down the Orwell reading into both groupthink and the concept of being an outsider vs an insider. I agree that the story is about both. But aren’t peer pressure and fitting in closely interconnected? Why do you feel that peer pressure is more influential in college? I think that the desire to fit in or feel accepted is a human tendency that follows us wherever we go, especially in college when we are presented with an opportunity to forge new relationships. In the case of the story, Orwell grapples with how desire to fit in enables peer pressure. I wonder if this is the basic framework for relative decisions against a group…

    • Peer Response:

      I am interested by your mention of Friedman’s notion of a marriage as a contract and how technologies (by replacing/expediting many household chores) have changed the economic necessity gluing the contract together. Perhaps more important than technology decreasing the economic value of stay-at-home moms, is women’s increasing value to the salary-earning/wage-paying labor market. To reframe your question in a slightly different way, is the rise of the working, self-sufficient woman heralding the end of marriage as we know it? Moreover, should we view this as a bad thing, or rather the unavoidable evolution of human sexual/relationship politics?
      This issue represents a concise example of how economic/technologic development can greatly impact social dynamics.

  20. Do Defaults Save Lives?

    (1) The results of this study are straightforward and compelling: Setting “yes” to organ donation as the default option saves lives by increasing consent rates. However, I object to the way that the authors presented the political trade-offs of the “yes” default. In particular, I would like to call attention to their discussion of classification errors (p. 1339):

    Second, note that defaults can lead to two kinds of misclassification: willing donors who are not identified or people who become donors against their wishes. Balancing these errors with the good done by the lives saved through organ transplantation leads to delicate ethical and psychological questions. These decisions should be informed by further research examining the role of the three causes of default effects. For example, one might draw different conclusions if the effect of defaults on donation rates is due primarily to the costs of responding, than if they were due to loss aversion.The tradeoff between errors of classification and physical, cognitive, and emotional costs must be made with the knowledge that defaults make a large difference in lives saved through transplantation.

    This excerpt makes the authors’ biases quite clear. Their first response to the possibility of misclassification errors, before they have even presented the ramifications of these errors, is to remind the reader that the negative consequences must be weighed against “the good done by the lives saved through organ transplantation.” Then, they choose to list “costs of responding” (i.e., laziness) and “loss aversion” (i.e., fear of change) as reasons why people choose the default option (presumably the “no” default currently in place). Finally, they echo the title of the article and their first cautionary note in this excerpt by reminding readers again of the life-saving benefits of donating. It is no secret that the authors are strong proponents of organ donation, and that they support policy which makes “yes” the default answer on organ donation consent forms.

    As scientists, the authors should have more thoroughly discussed both sides of this issue. Politically, there are defensible opinions both for and against the “yes” default for organ donation. Those who strongly value the access of others to healthcare are likely to support the “yes” default. Conversely, those who strongly value privacy and individual freedom would more likely support the “no” default. Those who value the common good over individual rights would say “yes,” while those who value individual rights over the public would say “no.” The former group would stress the lives not saved by “willing donors who are not identified,” while the latter group would emphasize the threat to liberty faced by “people who become donors against their wishes.”

    Certainly, setting “yes” as the default will save lives—but at what cost? The authors present their study as proof of the importance of defaults. From this focused perspective—a myopic one as a result of attention blindness—the authors seem to have allowed the relative costs of default donating to have slipped their minds. Relatively, to many Americans, forcing organ donations as the default option would be too great of an infringement of personal freedom to justify saving an estimated 16.3 – 56.5% more lives. This decision, like any particularly difficult one, merits a complex cost-benefit analysis.

    Albeit, if I were the one setting this policy, I would side with the authors and make organ donation the default. But I wish that the authors had granted their political opposition a fair depiction in this supposedly scientific article.

    (2) The Johnson & Goldstein article stresses the importance of defaults in the organ donation decision. However, this is also an issue where relatively comes into play—taking into account that misclassification errors will sometimes occur, the relative cost of an individual’s ownership of his body must be weighed against the lives saved. In general, what do defaults and relativity have to do with each other? How can each come into play in a single decision?

    Shooting an Elephant

    (1) In this story, George Orwell presents a shocking depiction of how far one will go to live up to the expectations of the public. The police officer, not wanting to appear a fool or a coward in front of the Burma natives, shoots an elephant that had run mad through the city. Like American citizens tending to choose the default option not to donate their organs despite surveys that suggest they support organ donation, the officer neglects his personal preferences and opts for the path of least resistance. Moreover, beyond this parallel to the sociology of defaults, Orwell’s story adds another layer of depth to our tendency to side with societal norms.

    For the officer, choosing to shoot the elephant was a way of constructing his social identity. It was a decision he felt he was compelled to make as a white man in Burma. He reflects:

    Here was I, the white man with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd—seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life trying to impress the “natives,: and so in every crisis he has got to do what the “natives” expect of him.

    Johnson & Goldstein list three reasons why people choose defaults: (1) people believe defaults are suggested by the policy-makers, (2) it takes effort to choose, and (3) defaults represent the status quo, and people are resistant to change. Orwell adds to this list our desire to make decisions that conform to our perceived social identity. We not only want to do what other people are doing—we want to do what we believe others think we would do in a given situation.

    (2) There are a number of reasons why people choose the default option, such as the cost of responding and the desire to conform to social norms. In which types of decisions are social norms the most important factor? Are there decisions in which we don’t particularly care about how other people tend to act, or is conformity a law of human behavior?

    • Hi Jellie Bean,

      I think you raise some interesting questions about non-conformity. I wonder if the only situations where we completely do not care what are people think are the ones in which our identities are protected- for instance anonymous commentary online or in research experiments revealing how we interact with eachother when left alone in the complete dark. I imagine group size is also a factor in degree or willingness to conform. Your inquiries lead me to a follow-up question, what kind of people are less likely to conform. Perhaps the level of self-awareness or the degree of your social status has something to do with it.

      From my own experiences, I think the degree to which you derive your self-worth on your uniqueness is also important.

  21. “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not”
    “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not” and other research articles on dating do nothing to refute dating stereotypes.
    Here are some of my takeaways:
    As much as the feminist in me wants to object to the 10 point hotness scale for rating women to college humor’s “hottest college girl” competition that publically rates young college women across the country, physical attractiveness is not actually subjective so why bother?
    If someone has chosen to date a ‘less attractive’ person, or a ‘physically plain’ girl (thanks Gordan Gekko ala Charlotte Bronte), they actually have to convince themselves that this person is more physically attractive than originally thought.
    And gosh unattractive women have it really bad. As an unattractive person, not only is harder to get a job, or a raise, and generally be more successful, but as women they’re undermining their biological imperative to have procreate.
    Unattractive men get a chance to mitigate their unattractiveness by seeking other qualities such as money, power, prestige, humor. That’s why seeing women with less attractive men doesn’t have much shock value. But if it’s the other way around, when Gordon Gekko’s friends choose “really average” looking women despite being successful, intelligent, and driven (gasp!) they’re ‘confronted about the relative plainness of their girlfriends time and time again’. Apparently, it is difficult to imagine that qualities like ‘kindness’ or ‘intelligence’ just might make up for those bad looks. (Sorry Gordon for picking on you.)
    But don’t despair women, I’m sure if you get on that staircase climber and work to make your faces look more symmetrical then you just may have a shot.
    I guess the major point is that, we all tend to gravitate to our own level of attractiveness. I’m not objecting here, but I guess it’s a sad day when I know that if I ever tell my daughter ‘beauty is on the inside’, I know she’ll find out the ugly truth eventually.
    My question to Dan: What are the positive takeaways or societal applications that we can derive from this research article?
    Taylor Mali
    Teachers are one of our favorite punching bags- accused of greed, laziness, and faulted for low test scores. I’ve never been quite as unabashedly arrogant as the obnoxious lawyer at Taylor Mali’s party, but I admit I was skeptical of how challenging teaching actually was until I volunteered as a teacher for my county’s spring break arts camp… and broke down in tears within a few hours of the first day.
    And Taylor Mali is not the only impassioned defender out there. Just ask all those teach for America grads, once idealistic about changing the world with their Anthropology degree only to be burned out with low morale and a pessimistic outlook on the future of American schools.
    Teachers were not always maligned, we don’t have to go as far back as to Aristotle or the sacred ‘guru-siksya’ traditions of Hinduism to show so. And we don’t make the same accusations of all teachers, professors for instance. Perhaps this is because America has the best higher education system in the world but our school education lags behind other developed countries
    I guess my question to Dan and Kathy is then: Why and when did the repute of teachers fall in the America school system and is the repute of teachers inherently tied to the salary they make.

  22. “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?”

    At first, I feel compelled to object to the universal standards of attractiveness, that is, there is a measure that people agree upon, independent of one’s subjective preferences, to judge people, hotness, and physical appearance. However, the more I reflect on it, the more I agree with the premise upon which the experiment is founded/tested on. Self-confidence, self-esteem, willingness to find a significantly less/more attractive partner, or persistence and strategic move must affect the ability for someone to find a partner of his/her satisfaction. However, I was reminded of the first game we did at the beginning of last class, where each has a number on the forehead and only they themselves don’t know their own value. Then, you have to go about finding a partner who is willing to “pair up” with you. The result turns out to be the predominant majority paired up with people of equal value or value differences within the range of two. I think that as we bachelors and bachelorettes walk around in the marriage market, – we interact with hundreds of people every month through which we see a reflection of ourselves, and tag our attractiveness on that basis. So, when we actually look for potential partners, we are pretty much keenly aware of our own market value and will choose the most strategically formula — “diverting their attention to what is attainable” (676) — we maximize the chances of us successfully finding a mate and passing on our genes.

    Question: what if some really self-delusioned people just insist on their “fake” attractiveness and act accordingly, does that increase their chances of finding a more attractive partner? From personal experiences, the answer seems yes. Women tend to find confident men so much more attractive than their self-conscious partners. As the saying goes, fake it until you make it.

    “Shooting an Elephant”
    Such a powerful story. It is relevant in today’s politicalized Duke, where the white men, in this instance, KSig brothers, were to take on the role of an imposing figure who suppresses, dominates, impresses, and poses. I have no intention either in justifying their action (“cultural ignorance”) or incriminating them (“you privileged racists”), but I think the analogy can be drawn in that those people do not actively choose to be in this position of power: they are in some way forced to wear this tyrannical title, before they are to be spit on for their possession of power. As the Korean American character from the play “Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven” ( says “We can take the word racism and hurl at people and demolish them, and there is nothing you can do to stop us.” That is as much free will as the white men have.

    The fundamental difference between the KSig party story and the Burmese crowd is that the Asian American protesters is not an unconscious mob. They consciously decided to take action, out of justified (in so far as freedom of speech and right to protest is protected, though the same rationale also legitimizes those parties, as despicable as the former group may take them to be) frustrations, indignation, anger toward systematic racial discrimination. Neither did they ask the KSig to host a party at their own expense, rather, they were requesting a show of rifle wielding at the tyrant’s expense. The Burmese mob effect is beyond the question of morality, since the Burmese crowd is not self-conscious- it cannot be held accountable for their action. Nevertheless, I am interested in the question, of whether it is an abusive usage of power for the oppressed to publicly “take offense” at what is systematic cultural hierarchy (which is a different thing from racism) ?

  23. “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not?”

    It is fascinating how well people can adapt to different conditions in life. As the article also indicates, even though having an innate physical beauty has economic and mating advantages in life it can never guarantee happiness. Happiness is more subjective than most of the things in life. A given population from a society might have certain values about qualities that might make one beautiful or handsome. However the values of the society cannot predict the happiness of individuals. A person who encompasses qualities that are highly regarded by a society (beauty, success, wealth…etc) might not actually be happy. Whereas a person who lacks all of these and/or more might find ways to make herself happy no matter what her living conditions are. People adapt. People need to thrive and survive in whatever condition they are in. This does not mean that they should not try to reach a better situation, but until the time they do so they can still enjoy life. I think this is the reason for the results this study gets. Yes, people who are more attractive ARE in a better position to be chosen by more or to pick the person that they find the most attractive, for different reasons. However, if a person does not have the characteristic, socially-accepted, beauty features then s/he can still accept the situation and find a person that is available for him/her.

    – Did you ever date someone and later realized that they are actually not as beautiful/handsome, nice, successful, …etc. as you thought they were when you were still together?
    – What do you think about the saying that in each relationship there is a ‘reacher’ and a ‘settler’?

    The Bet

    This is a heart-breaking story of two greedy man, one greedy for money the other for ego-boost. One bets on his life and the other bets on his life-long savings for a trivial issue that will not even be sold at the end of the bet that they have. There are at least two levels of relativity in this story. First, a certain part of the initial group of friends think freedom is more important than anything imaginable and it is better to die than to loose one’s freedom, whereas the other group thinks loosing the privilege of life is not even thinkable. Second, there is the difference between the person who has a lot of money but is not satisfied with it and who is so obsessed with money that he even saves the letter that the prisoner wrote to show as a proof if his intentions are ever questioned, versus a guy who has nothing but feels like he already has more than enough for him.

    – Would you rather loose your freedom or your life?
    – What is your position on death vs life sentence?

  24. First off, I’d like to apologize for my late post – I thought the assignment deadline was the same as the last (Saturday at 2 p.m.) and didn’t discover until this morning that my post was overdue! My most sincere apologies!

    Social Science: “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not”
    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source?

    My objection is that I think the results of this study are hard to generalize, because members HOTorNOT are likely to have a better idea of how attractive they are (based on other member ratings) than most people. While we are given cues that help us determine our attractiveness (take for example the game we played in our “Love” class, where each person had to find a “mate” based on others’ ratings without knowing his or her individual rating), not everyone has an accurate perception of their attractiveness. Take the case of adolescents, for example, whose bodies are constantly changing. For the individual who has just had his or her braces removed, or lost a lot of weight, he or she is not used to his or her new level of attractiveness, which may affect his or her dating decisions. Furthermore, the users of HOTorNOT make place a greater weight on appearances than the average person, since they spend time rating other individuals’ attractiveness.

    This said, I’d like to invite others to consider the website, which is an exclusive online dating community whose members vote to admit prospective members based on their attractiveness. ( Dan’s article gives strong evidence for why this kind of dating site appears.

    What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?

    How does attractiveness compare to wealth, success, personality, etc. as a determining factor in a relationship? Are websites like and HOTorNOT socially acceptable?

    Literature: “The Bet”
    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source?

    In writing my response, I’d like to borrow on my classmate Gordon Gekko’s observation of the relativity question that underlays this story: “Is it worse to ware away early on in order to achieve emancipation (from greed, from materialism, from the chains of society and human sin), or to learn, much later, that your life has been for naught?” This is the exact question I found myself faced with after reading “The Bet”, and find it to be very difficult to answer. While I do think that so much of modern society falls into the latter category, leading lives like the banker, consumed with material desires, the life of the prisoner does not appear to be any more desirable. If neither path leads to happiness, what then is the best goal to pursue?

    My objection is that the prisoner’s accusations of society are too generalizing. The real value of life is in social interaction and companionship, of both which the prisoner was deprived. I agree with, instead, Batman’s comment to Gordon’s post, that it is wrong to make the material our first priority, but the material itself is not necessarily immoral. The banker’s life was poor because he valued the material first.

    What a well-formed question related to this reading that you would like us to ask Professors Dan and Cathy?

    What is the psychology of happiness? Why do we read literature with unhappy endings?

  25. Hi Relativity Team,

    Sorry for the late post, but I hope the quality of my content makes up for it! I hope you can still use these questions in your discuss with our professors this week.


    “The Bet” by Anton Chekhov

    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source
    During “The Bet”, I think very interesting parallels are discussed. One glaring parallel and theme throughout the story is the concept of wealth. The banker, laden with riches and money, believes himself to be extremely wealthy. He seems to define his value in society through his excess in riches. The lawyer, however, seems unsure as to the source of wealth in society. He clearly does not define wealth as freedom, because he willingly gives it up for 15 years. Instead, he finds wealth through the exploration of the world, life, culture, and languages in books. He believes wealth to be the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom that he gains. Through this knowledge, he comes to despise the other sort of wealth, the material riches that the banker possesses. To stand by this, he chooses to leave the house early – just hours before his 15-year sentence ends.

    I think another interesting point of relativity is brought up in this story. As we see the lawyer become accostumed to a life of seclusion, it becomes easier and easier for him. He is depressed in his first year because he was accustomed to human interaction and freedom, it was his norm. However, as life goes on, it is relatively the same. He is comparing his life to the day before, and thus it isn’t so bad. Seclusion and isolation become the status quo.

    Can happiness be connected to this concept of relativity? That we are constantly comparing our lives to the day and weeks before. Therefore, as our standard of living improves, we become happier?

    Social Science

    If I’m Hot… (Dan Ariely)

    Discuss an objection or parallel you drew from this source
    One commentary I have on Professor Ariely’s paper relates to the cause of the hierarchy of dating, a theory as to what might cause the “9’s” to be attracted to each other and the “3’s” to be attracted to each other.

    When a person is physically attractive, they receive lots of attention. This, in turn, gives them a positive mental image of themselves, a level of confidence to put themselves on the line and take chances in the dating world. Confidence is a huge source of attraction, thus, the ones receiving the attention will have confidence and be successful, a positive feedback loop. On the other hand, the opposite is true for the lower end. They will not receive attention, be unsuccessful, and continue to be unconfident and have minimal success in the dating world. So, I think attractive people being attracted to other attractive people is just the tip of the iceberg. The relativity of attractiveness only gets someone started off on the right or wrong track.

    Has any further research gone into the mechanisms or methods that connect attractive people to one another?

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