Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Appealing to Cognitive vs. Emotional Empathy

From a reader:

Thoroughly enjoyed your book. I'm pretty sure you hit on the right conclusions in the closing chapters. I used to work with batterers and some violent offenders. Emotional self regulation and empathy tend to range along a spectrum. The highly emotional men (empaths - as you refer to them) that I worked with responded well to empathy. Men on the sociopathic end of the spectrum tended to view emotional displays of empathy as pathetic and useless. The sociopaths I encountered tended to be quite adept at "cognitive empathy" (the ability to model and predict behaviors from an intellectual perspective), but were blind to feeling. As a consequence, they didn't seem to perceive compassion or guilt. It took me a while to come to the conclusion that the soft, tender, vulnerable part of them just wasn't there in the same way as it often is in others. 

They were however exquisitely stunned to consequences. I learned very quickly to drop empathy as a psychotherapeutic intervention, and to focus on rewards, punishments and outcomes in their lives. They were quick to pick up the fact that kindness was often a far better long term strategy for getting what they want than cruelty. 

Pro social behaviors can be taught to children without a conscience. Parents and teachers just need to know what they are working with. I could go on and describe the manipulative games the sociopaths I worked with used to engage in, the special interest they took in manipulating their therapists, the telltale language they used to describe others, or how they game the system, but you already know these things. I liked working with them. I think I was a puzzle to them. Encountering someone who could be "touchy/feely", and who could abruptly turn off their empathy to confront them directly seemed to confuse them. I imagine that I was able to promote some interest and a sense of unease in knowing that I could see through them. Interesting people. Everyone's trying to make their way in the world.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Trust as Explained by Game Theory

This was an interesting page/exercise sent to me via Twitter applying the concepts of game theory to the generation and maintenance of trust.

People no longer trust each other. Why? And how can we fix it? An interactive guide to the game theory of trust: http://ncase.me/trust/

It takes like 20-30 minutes to complete. At first I was turned off a little by the arbitrary constraints of the game, but they end up dealing with that issue later on -- so patience pays off! I've seen these models before, but it was interesting to apply it more directly to trust. Also, I hadn't seen the addition of mistakes/misunderstandings into the model before too. That has already changed the way I view others and the world. For instance (this might not make sense until you do the exercise), a friend of mine recently had an Amazon package fail to be delivered. She assumed that it was some shady neighbors stealing the package and was going to stop having any packages delivered, even though she has had like 20 successful package deliveries so far. I encouraged her to keep trying until she has another package go missing, just in case there was a mistake or other one off occurrence that shouldn't necessarily change her game playing strategy. It's a risky strategy maybe, but in her case she has no other convenient alternative for package delivery.

Without really remembering, I had applied essentially the "Diamond Rule" to this game. I think this worked ok (and probably works better with actual people than bots?), but it is true that in a situation in which there is a mistake, it can also compound a mistake into a global loss.

There's that phrase "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me". But this game suggests a more optimal rule, when mistakes are factored in: "Fool me once, ok, I take it on the chin. Fool me twice, shame on you with punishment."

Monday, July 31, 2017

Narcissism pros and cons

A reader sent me this article discussing recent research on the pros and cons of narcissism in business leaders. According to the research, narcissism is good up to a point because it often gives people the determination, confidence, and drive to pursue difficult and risky tasks. At a certain point, however, people don't like dealing with the narcissist as a boss, motivation drops, and unchecked narcissism can lead to unnecessary and stupid risks and an personal agenda substituting for the broader group agenda.

The article uses Steve Jobs as an example. Being a raging narcissist facilitated his early development of Apple, but once the company achieved a particular size and needed to keep attracting new talent, it became a detriment. During his time away from Apple, he learned lessons in humility that helped him become an even better business leader when he returned to run Apple 11 years later.

Not only does the article/research do a good job of examining both the pros and cons of a trait that we often associate as being negative, it also deals explicitly with the idea that people's personalities are more fluid than many people give them credit for, otherwise how would Steve Jobs be able to learn humility:

“Even if you have a narcissistic leader, and in a sense it’s causing them to be less effective in certain ways, people can proactively practice virtues like humility and develop their character,” Owens said. “Over time, it will begin to stick and enhance their leadership effectiveness.

Also, I don't know why this did, but one thing that surprised me about people's reaction to the book was some people were really turned off by what they perceived to be my narcissism and some people were really turned on by what they perceived to be my larger than life confidence. For some reason, it tended to split along gender lines with women being much more likely to be turned off and men much more likely to be attracted to it. I wonder why?
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