Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Economics of Attention

Earlier this morning, I was discussing the tendency of individuals to talk more when they know less. SMBC also brought this point up by planting the flag on the summit of Mt. Stupid. While it may seem like an obvious observation, why is it that the less you know, the more you talk?
While I cannot claim any credentials in psychology, I do have a degree in economics and a personal focus on behavioral econ. Between the academic interest on the mechanics of human choice, and my personal passion of understanding character psychology via acting, I have spent an extensive amount of time discussing and analyzing the fundamentals of human behavior.
As I see it, the primary reasons behind this behavior are a confluence of the need for attention and the appeal for authority, both of which stem from a certain need for external approval. That appproval can be personal (as a child asserting their understanding of facts) or socio-political (to sway public opinion/'votes'). In either case, we find that persons who appear to have a strong sense of self and esteem tend to avoid verbosity, even when their ideas may be wrong or misinformed. Rather than discussing their opinions and engaging in healthy debate, such persons are more inclined to simply end discussion by dismissing the other side altogether, rather than trying to discuss their own opinions (see Rep. Lamar on SOPA/PIPA).
In either case, these methods of argument and discussion are counter-productive. By dismissing opposition out hand through confidence, public perception switches against your arrogance. Persons opposite you won't be swayed, and the vast middle ground is pushed away by your pretentions toward expertise. Even members of your own party may start to turn against you.
On the other hand, when you start climbing the summit to Mt. Stupid, you cause the opposite issue: people who are already paying attention to you find their attention getting strained, and the effluvience of words inhibits others that may start to pay attention to you from giving heed to your words.

Time and again we see that the most respected and authoritative individuals are those with the ability to convey their knowledge, experience, and wisdom as directly as possible, touching the soul with an understanding that cuts through the need for words.
After all, brevity is the soul of wit.

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