Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Common knowledge, coordination, and the logic of self-conscious emotions

Common knowledge, coordination, and the logic of self-conscious emotions. Kyle A. Thomas, Peter DeScioli, Steven Pinker. Evolution and Human Behavior,

Imagine spilling a plate of food into your lap in front of a crowd. Afterwards, you might fix your gaze on your cell phone to avoid acknowledging the bumble to onlookers. Similarly, after disappointing your family or colleagues, it can be hard to look them in the eye. Why do people avoid acknowledging faux pas or transgressions that they know an audience already knows about?

Following a transgression, people feel the negative self-conscious emotions of shame, embarrassment, or guilt, and these emotions help them regulate their relationships [...]. A transgressor has displayed ineptitude, which can damage his reputation as a valuable cooperator, or a disregard for someone’s welfare, which can damage his reputation as a trustworthy cooperator. The discomfort caused by the resulting emotions, even when privately felt, motivates a person to manage these threats by drawing his attention to the transgression and motivating him to make amends and avoid similar acts in the future [...].

The idea that self-conscious emotions regulate relationships also explains why the presence of an audience intensifies feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt [...] If onlookers infer that a transgression is the result of a stable disposition that predicts future incompetence or exploitation, they now have reason to devalue, ostracize, or punish the transgressor. To prevent these damaging consequences, the transgressor must persuade the onlookers either that the act was not intentional and hence unrepresentative of his underlying disposition, or that he will change his disposition and will not repeat the behavior in the future. Moreover, for such assurances to be more than self-serving cheap talk, they must be made credible: The transgressor must endure a cost, in the form of visible discomfort and perhaps tangible restitution, and display signs that the changed priorities are products of involuntary emotions rather than conscious strategic calculations. Indeed, research on the psychology of contrition and forgiveness shows that the negative self-conscious emotions have these specifications

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