Snap Judgments vs. Apathy
By Bryan Caplan
Bryan presumes we care less about the judgments others make when they
make snappier judgments. Yet we all care about how our surface
features appear to others, especially when those others make
snap judgments – after all if they judged more carefully, our inner
beauty might shine through. And the busier are other parents, the
snappier are their judgments.
Robin’s right to claim that sometimes we should take superficial first impressions seriously. If you’re applying for a job, you want good credentials so your resume doesn’t go straight to the circular file. The key elements in this story are (a) high rewards, and (b) high search costs. Since the rewards are high, lots of people try to win; and since lots of people are trying to win, it’s too expensive to carefully study all of the candidates. The result: People try really hard to make a good impression, and anyone who fails to make a good impression pays a heavy price.
However, this is only one scenario. Here’s a more common one: Almost nothing is at stake, so almost no one is paying attention. Even if you make a great impression, the rewards are trivial. And since the rewards are trivial, it’s hard to make a good or bad impression, because people have their minds on other topics. Frankly, they don’t give a damn.
My claim to Robin: I agree that parents sometimes seek each other’s respect. But for the most part, they’re in the latter scenario. The other parents are too busy to think about you, and even if they did, they don’t have much to offer.
Now if Robin wanted to argue that in primitive tribes, others’ opinions were important, I might agree with him. But then he’d just be confirming my point: We may be evolved to care about the opinions of other parents. But this evolved desire is no longer adaptive, and parents would be better off if they stopped acting like it were.