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“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That is usually bad advice. Because then when you say nothing at all it is understood that you have only unkind things to say.
If you are trying to maximize pleasantry then your policy should depend on your listener’s preferences. Based on what you say she is going to revise her beliefs over what you think about her. What matters is her preferences over these beliefs.
A key fact is that you have only limited control over those beliefs. Some of the time you will say something kind and some of the time you will say something unkind. These will move her beliefs up and down but by the law of total probability the average value of her beliefs is equal to her prior. You control only the variance.
If good feelings help at the margin more than bad feelings hurt then she is effectively risk-loving. You should go to extremes and maximize variance. Here the old adage applies: you should say something nice when you have something nice to say and you should not say anything nice when you don’t. In terms of her beliefs, it makes no difference whether you say the unkind thing or just keep quiet and allow her to infer it. But perhaps politeness gets a lexicographic kick here and you should not say anything at all.
(On thing the standard policy ignores is the ambiguity. Since there are potentially many unkind things you might be witholding, if she is pessimistic you might worry that she will assume the worst. Then you should consider saying slightly-unkind things in order to prevent the pessimistic inference. Still there is the danger of unraveling because then when you say nothing at all she will know that what is on your mind is even worse than that.)
If she is risk-averse in beliefs then you want to go to the opposite extreme and never say anything. She never updates her beliefs.
But prospect theory suggests that her preferences are S-shaped around the prior: risk-averse on the upside but risk-loving on the downside. Then often it is optimal to generate some variance but not to go to extremes. You do this by dithering. Your never give outright compliments or insults. Your statements are always noisy and subject to interpretation. But the signal to noise ratio is not zero.
A full analysis of this problem would combine the tools of psychological game theory with persuasion mechanisms a’ la Gentzkow and Kamenica.
What do you do in the following awkward situation? your friend receives an invitation to a party. The host is also your friend but you haven’t received an invitation.
Was the invitation lost in the mail or were you not invited? You can’t ask the host directly because it would be too uncomfortable if the answer was you weren’t invited. But in the event that the invitation was lost in the mail it is in all parties’ interest in having that uncertainty resolved.
There would seem no custom that would allow communication of the good news and at the same time avoid communication of the bad news.
But RSVP does exactly that, as long as the custom is to RSVP both acceptances and regrets. Then if you were invited but you do not RSVP the host will know you didn’t get the invitation, and send a followup.
Game theorists will notice that the bad news can still be inferred. If the host does not follow up then you learn that you were not invited. But the beauty if this system is that it is never common knowledge. The host never knows with certainty that you know about the party you weren’t invited to. You know about the party but you know that the host does not know that you know, etc… This higher-order uncertainty goes a long way in alleviating the awkwardness.
More generally there is value in social conventions that allow non-public communication: exchange of information, especially bad news, without making that information common knowledge.
I am starting a new club. Charter membership is hereby bestowed upon everyone who would never be in a club that would have them as a member. You may quit for $100.
(By the way, I asked around nobody wants you in the club consisting of the complement of my club.)
Do you use opt-in or opt-out? That is, do you agree to meet unless one or more of the group calls and says they can’t make it, or do you agree only if enough of you call and say they can make it?
With opt-out each person has insufficient incentive to make the call. If she has already decided not to go, courtesy is the only motive for informing the others. Moreover even if she is courteous, since the call could kill the meeting, if she is not 100% sure she can’t make it, she has a private incentive to wait until the last minute to make the call, just in case.
With opt-in each person has stronger incentives to try to coordinate. Because if I want to go to the meeting and I don’t make the call it might not happen.
So, returning to the question in the title, it all depends on what you want. Opt-out minimizes the chance that the meeting will be cancelled, but probably also at the expense of minimizing attendance.
Musicians and academics are promiscuous collaborators. They flit from partnership to partnership sometimes for one-off gigs, sometimes for ongoing stints. In academia, regardless of the longevity of the group, the individual author is always the atomic unit. Co-authorships are identified simply with the names of the authors. Whereas musicians eventually form bands.
Bands have identities separate from the individuals in the bands. The name of the band stores that identity. It also solves a problem we face in academia of how to order the names of the contributors. You don’t. (There is evidence that the lexical ordering of names is good for Andersons and bad for Zames.) We should form bands too.
The idea of a band is important enough that sometimes even solo musicians incorporate themselves as bands. Roger Myerson is the Nine Inch Nails of game theory.
Bands work in the studio (writing papers) and then tour (giving seminars.) Musicians have two typical ways of organizing these. Jazz and pop bands create and perform as a group. Classical music is usually performed by specialists rather than the composer herself.
Our bands do something in between which is hard to understand when you think of it this way. We compose as a band but then perform as individuals. That’s weird because you would think that either you want to hear the composer do the performing or a performance specialist. If it is always the composer then it must be because the composer has a special insight into the performance. But then why not all of them? We should tour as bands some times. And we should also reward performance specialists who perform others’ work.
I want to name my bands. I want my next co-authored paper to be “by (insert name of band here) ” Sandeep, what do you say? Our torture paper will be “by Cheap Talk.” I look forward to making petulant demands and trashing hotel rooms.
Luca Malbec 2007. It’s Argentina in a bottle. The wine is huge, almost black, and over the top in terms of fruit extraction, oak, and alcohol (14.5%). The bottle itself weighs twice as much as wimpy French wine bottles.
Its perfectly agreeable wine but it has no complexity. It smells like you just walked into a tool shed and found a blueberry pie cooling on the shelf. And it is clearly built to stand up to those fat steaks Argies are so fond of. So as a vegetarian I have almost no use for this wine except for one thing. I am usually the only wine drinker in the house, so I drink a bottle over the course of a few days. This wine is so huge that it tastes exactly the same three days later as it did when I opened the bottle.
Now I have discovered a second thing. It makes a perfect pairing with dark Belgian chocolate. The chocolate masks some of the oak and dark fruit flavors and allows the slight acidity and strawberry flavors to come out and those perfectly complement the chocolate. These aspects are typical Argentinian Malbec so I would bet this pairing would work with any you can get your hands on.
I found this out because my daughters came home from a birthday party bringing a box of Belgian dark chocolate. The birthday girl’s father is a friend of ours who is Belgian, so that explains the chocolate. Now, his wife is from Argentina, and her father is a winemaker and yes, his best wine is a Malbec. So the pairing works on many levels.
“You’re a cad if you break up around Christmas. And then there’s New Year’s — and you can’t dump somebody right around New Year’s. After that, if you don’t jump on it, is Valentine’s Day,” Savage says. “God forbid if their birthday should fall somewhere between November and February — then you’re really stuck.
“Thanksgiving is really when you have to pull the trigger if you’re not willing to tough it out through February.”
That’s from a story I heard on NPR about turkey dropping: the spike in break-ups at Thanksgiving followed by a steady period (for the surviving pairs) through the Winter months. If there is a social stigma against cutting it off between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day, then there may be value in that. Often social rules emerge arbitrarily but persist only if they serve a purpose, even if that purpose is unrelated to the spirit of the social norm. The post-turkey taboo plays the role of a temporary commitment that can strengthen those relationships that are still worth maintaining.
The value of a relationship fluctuates over time. Not just the total value of the partnership relative to autarky but also the value to the individual of remaining committed. The strength of a relationship is precisely measured by the maximum temptation each partner is willing to forego to keep it alive. The moment a jucier temptation appears, the relationship is doomed.
Unless there is commitment. Commitment is a way of pooling incentive constraints. A relationship becomes stronger if each partner can somehow commit in advance to resist all temptations that will arise over the length of the commitment. This transforms your obligation. Now the strength of the relationship is equal to the expected temptation rather than the most severe temptation actually realized. A social stigma against ending the relationship over certain intervals of time aids such a commitment.
Its good that commitments are temporary, but you want their beginning and end dates to be arbitrary, or at least independent of the arrival process of temptations. The total value of the relationship also fluctuates and you want the freedom to end the relationship when it begins to lag the value of being single. This is especially true in the early stages when there is still a lot to learn about the match. Over time when the value of the relationship has clarified, the length of commitment intervals should increase.
Commitments can also solve an unraveling problem. If you know that your partner will succumb to a juciy temptation and you know that its just a matter of time before a juicy temptation arrives, you become willing to give over to a just-a-little-juicy temptation. Knowing this, she is poised to give it up for just about anything. The commitment short-circuits this at the first step.
Karthik Shashidar writes to us:
I am a regular reader of your blog, and like most of the stuff that you guys put there. Yesterday while blogging, I came across something which I thought might interest you people, hence I’m writing to you.
Recently my girlfriend and I realized that we were spending way too much time talking to and thinking about each other, and that we needed to scale down in order to give us time to do other things that we want to do. Both of us are in extremely busy jobs and hence time available for other things (including each other) is very limited, and hence the need to scale down.
I was wondering why this is not a widespread phenomenon and why more couples don’t do this “scaling down”
His analysis is here.
There is a natural force pushing couples toward too much engagement. Unilateral escalations make your partner feel good. Even if you internalize the long-run cost due to the inevitable following-suit, the slightest bit of discounting means that the equilibrium level will be above the social optimum. The usual dynamic game logic seems especially perverse here. If I am extra sweet to my sweet does she punish me for that? And what form does the punishment take, even further escalation?
Negotiating down from these heights is indeed tricky. Unilateral de-escalation is risky as Karthik discusses on his blog. The proposal could easily be read as a cold shoulder. Even assuming that both agree to scale down, how do you decide where to go? It is not easy to describe in words a precise level of interaction and this ambiguity leads to the potential for hurt feelings, if there is mis-coordination.
Some dimensions are easier to contract on. It’s easy to commit to go out only on Tuesday nights. However, text messages are impossible to count and the distortions due to overcompensation on these slippery-slope dimensions may turn out even worse than the original state of affairs.
But even setting aside all of these problems, what mechanism can you use to coordinate on a lower scale? If we both make offers and split-the-difference, then the one asking for a higher scale is going to feel hurt. Any mechanism has got to be noisy enough to hide such inequities without being totally random. The trick may be to short-circuit common knowledge. For example we could have a third party make a take-it-or-leave-it proposal and then the two partners secretly reject (if too low) or accept (if not.) The proposal is enacted only if both accept.
This ensures that when the offer is accepted, both parties learn only that each was willing to scale down to at least the same level. And when the offer is rejected, the one who was not willing to go that low will never know whether the other was, i.e. no hurt feelings.
(dinner conversation with Utku, Samson, and Hideo.)
Read about it in the Wall Street Journal.
Many of his papers have been highly theoretical works focusing on imperfections in financial markets. “He’s probably the most abstract thinker ever to head a Federal Reserve bank,” said Robert Lucas, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who is serving as a consultant to the Minneapolis Fed.
Mr. Kocherlakota’s colleagues say he is a pragmatic person who is hard to identify fully with any one camp.
“He believes in the freshwater world, but he’s not that radical,” says Luigi Pistaferri, a frequent co-author with whom Mr. Kocherlakota worked for three years at Stanford University. “He agrees that there are market failures, and his attitude is, ‘How do we make the best of a world in which there are such failures?’ “
I assume this means we will need a new macro co-editor at Theoretical Economics. Volunteers?
There is strategy involved in giving and interpreting compliments. Let’s say you hear someone play a difficult –but not too difficult– piece on the piano, and she plays it well. Is it a compliment if you tell her she played it beautifully?
That depends. You would not be impressed by the not-so-difficult piece if you knew that she was an outstanding pianist. So if you tell her you are impressed, then you are telling her that you don’t think she is an outstanding pianist. And if she is, or aspires to be, an outstanding pianist, then your attempted compliment is in fact an insult.
This means that, in most cases, the best way to compliment the highly accomplished is not to offer any compliment at all. This conveys that all of her fine accomplishments are exactly what you expected of her. But, do wait for when she really outdoes herself and then tell her so. You don’t want her to think that you are someone who just never gives compliments. Once that is taken care of, she will know how to properly interpret your usual silence.
In the world of blogs, when you comment on an article on another blog, it is usually a nice compliment to provide a link to the original post. This is a compliment because it tells your readers that the other blog is worth visiting and reading. But you may have noticed that discussions of the really well-known blogs don’t come with links. For example, when I comment on an article posted at a blog like Marginal Revolution, I usually write merely “via MR, …” with no link.
That’s the best way to compliment a blog that is, or aspires to be, really well-known. It proves that you know that your readers already know the blog in question, know how to get there, and indeed have probably already read and pondered the article being discussed.
It is well-known that when you ask a person to construct a random sequence, say of zeroes and ones, the sequence they create differs in systematic ways from a “truly random” sequence. For example, they exhibit regression to the mean: the person constructing the sequence is too careful to make sure that the short-run averages are 50-50 resulting in too-frequent alternations between zero and one.
Knowing this, here is a simple bet you can use as a money pump at parties. Tell someone to write down a random sequence of heads and tails, and bet them that you can guess the numbers in their seqeunce. A simple strategy that correctly predicts more than 50% of the time is to randomly guess the first number and then guess that each subsequent number is the opposite of the previous. But if you study this article (and its links), you can refine your strategy and do even better.
And soon, as icing on the cake, you can offer your victim favorable odds, say you pay $1.10 every time you are wrong and she pays you $1.00 every time you are right. You will still make money.
Then after you have relieved your fellow revelers of their pocket cash, and they want to turn the tables on you, remember to use one of the coins you have just won to construct your sequence in a truly random fashion.
Although men and women follow a similar number of Twitter users, men have 15% more followers than women. Men also have more reciprocated relationships, in which two users follow each other. This “follower split” suggests that women are driven less by followers than men, or have more stringent thresholds for reciprocating relationships. This is intriguing, especially given that females hold a slight majority on Twitter: we found that men comprise 45% of Twitter users, while women represent 55%. To get this figure, we cross-referenced users’ “real names” against a database of 40,000 strongly gendered names.
Even more interesting is who follows whom. We found that an average man is almost twice more likely to follow another man than a woman. Similarly, an average woman is 25% more likely to follow a man than a woman. Finally, an average man is 40% more likely to be followed by another man than by a woman. These results cannot be explained by different tweeting activity – both men and women tweet at the same rate.
And this makes Twitter different than other social networks:
These results are stunning given what previous research has found in the context of online social networks. On a typical online social network, most of the activity is focused around women – men follow content produced by women they do and do not know, and women follow content produced by women they knowi
(See the article here. via MR.) Actually this may not be stunning at all because there is probably a very simple explanation for both observations. Twitter is a one-way social network. If I want to follow you I do not need your permission. Unless you block everybody and require followers to ask permission.
Regardless of the social network, women are less willing than men to allow unsolicited followers and so they are more inclined to require permission. So for example if I just randomly selected 100 Twitter users to follow, there will be many of those 100 whom I will be unable to follow because they require permission. Most of those will be women. Thus, on Twitter the ratio between the number of followers of a random woman to the number of followers of a random man will be smaller than the same ratio on, say, Facebook. And everybody will follow more men on Twitter than on Facebook.
Storn White, lifestyle artist.
Research, like a lot of collaborative activities, encourages specialization. Successful co-authorships often combine people with differentiated skills. So successful co-authors are complementary which means that your co-author’s other co-authors are substitutes for you. This should imply that you are less likely, other things equal, to have a successful co-authorship with your co-author’s co-authors than with, say a randomly selected collaborator.
If we tried to look for evidence of this in data the difficulty would be in holding other things equal. You are more likely to talk to and have other things in common with your co-author’s co-author than with a random researcher so this would have to be controlled for.
These issues make me think there is some really interesting research waiting to be done taking data from social networks, like patterns of co-authorship or frienship relations on Facebook and trying to simultaneously identify (in the formal sense of that word) “types” (e.g. technician vs idea-man) and preferences (e.g. whether these types are complements or substitutes.) The really interesting part of this must be the econometric theory saying what are the limits of what can and cannot be identified.
If somebody looks better from the side than the front it is a good sign that they have a poorly calibrated self-image. Mirrors make it easy to manipulate the way we look from the front but it’s much harder to affect our appearance from the side.
Most of us define ourselves by the ways we differ from others. More accurately, by the ways we think we differ from others. A lot of the time we are just wrong about ourselves and especially about how we compare with others.
Here is a good test of how well-calibrated is your self-perception. Do you like your friends’ friends? Since your friends like you (presumably) and also like their other friends, it follows that you are likely to be more similar to your friends’ friends than you are to your friends. And so how you feel about them says a lot about how you really feel about yourself, and its often different than how you tell yourself you feel about yourself.
(This trick doesn’t work for SO’s SO. Because your SO’s past SO is likely to be very different from you since she learned from her mistake. And if its your SO’s current (other) SO, then for obvious reasons you are probably not able to make a levelheaded judgment about whether you like him.)
It has some surprising implications. If you are someone who tends to feel superior to others, then you should like your friends’ friends, in fact you should on average feel inferior to them. If you don’t then you are mistaken about your superiority, at least according to the standard you apply. And if you are someone who tends to feel inferior, and you find that you like your friends’ friends, then you are probably not as bad as you think.
Now tell me what it means when your friends’ friends don’t like you.