As much as we'd rather not admit it, jerks often get ahead in our world -- usually at the expense of a lot of other people along the way. Psychological research over the past few years is revealing why. As it turns out, acting like a jerk isn't the secret to reaping the rewards of jerkiness. The real secret is simply letting others place you on a pedestal.
The most recent study illustrating this point was covered in the Wall Street Journal in a piece entitled, "Why Are We Overconfident?" The study wanted to uncover what adaptive advantage overconfidence could possibly convey, since it so often leads to errors that don't benefit us. The short answer is that even if overconfidence produces subpar results, others still perceive it positively. Quoting from the article:
In one of several related experiments, researchers had people take a geography quiz —first alone, then in pairs. The task involved placing cities on a map of North America unmarked by state or national borders. The participants rated themselves on their own abilities and rated each other, secretly, on a number of qualities.
As expected, most people rated their own geographic knowledge far higher than actual performance would justify. In the interesting new twist, however, the people most prone to overrate themselves got higher marks from their partners on whether they “deserved respect and admiration, had influence over the decisions, led the decision-making process, and contributed to the decisions.”
In other words, overconfident people are perceived as having more social status, and social status is golden.
A study last year highlighted a similar result, but this time with respect to another jerk-marquis trait: rudeness. Being rude is a categorically negative behavior by most standards, and to suggest otherwise--that is, to mount a defense of rudeness--would be a really strange thing to do. But psychology research is often at its best when it endorses positions that at first glance seem awfully strange.
And so it is with rudeness, because while most of us deplore it, research suggests that we also see it as a sign of power. A study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science indicated that the ruder someone acts, the more convinced observers become that he or she is powerful, and therefore does not have to respect the same rules the rest of us bow to.
In one of the experiments, study participants read about a visitor to an office who marched in and poured himself a cup of "employee only" coffee without asking. In another case they read about a bookkeeper that flagrantly bent accounting rules. Participants rated the rule breakers as more in control and powerful compared to people who didn't steal the coffee or break accounting rules.
In another experiment participants watched a video of a man at a sidewalk café put his feet on another chair, tap cigarette ashes on the ground and rudely order a meal. Participants rated the man as more likely to "get to make decisions" and able to "get people to listen to what he says" than participants who saw a video of the same man behaving politely.
What this study appears to indicate is that violating norms is viewed by others as a sign of power, even if the observers would otherwise judge those violations as rude or flatly wrong. Considering many of the openly rude jerks we venerate, these findings make a lot of sense. (Though I would like to see a follow on study that examines observer perceptions when the rude rule breakers are caught. Perhaps it's less the rudeness and corruption we admire, and more the ability to get away with it that intrigues us. Maybe we're just a little smitten with the charisma of villainy.)
Taken together with the results of the study on overconfidence, it would seem that jerks are inherently quite good at putting one over on us. In fact, they don't even have to try. They just need to work their trade and earn the praise of their peers.
blog advertising is good for you