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The Price of Booing

A radio listener named Eugene Kim, a psychiatrist, writes with some good feedback about our “Boo … Who?” podcast (which we recently updated in an hour-long podcast called “Show and Yell”):

Loved the “Show & Yell” episode, and had a few laugh out loud moments in the car as I was driving (i.e. the “boo” Giants baseball piece).  However, as a fellow explorer of the unseen, the unconscious, and seemingly irrational decisions of fellow human beings, I was disappointed at the cursory attempt to explain why we do and don’t boo. To that I shout: BOO!!!!!  😉
As Terry Teachout pointed out, no, we are not just polite people.
But Mr. Teachout’s best guess was off target as well.  The endowment effect? Marginal and not encompassing enough!  (You point this out as well.)
Assertion: People engage in an unconscious calculation of all costs & benefits, to include SOCIAL COSTS/BENEFITS when they decide to boo / not boo.    
When y’all brought in the Apollo piece and had the sound clip of the MC who solicited / sanctioned / encouraged the audience, I thought you would have explained this aspect of the social cost & benefit.
Why on earth would I boo in a setting where I thought I instead would be the recipient of fellow audience members’ derision and cold stares?  In that situation the social cost far outweighs any benefit (i.e. relief of internal angst) in doing so.  When taking into account the SOCIAL costs/benefits, this seemingly logical decision in fact becomes illogical!
On the other hand with the Apollo piece, you have a situation in which the MC, right upfront at the beginning of the show, “discounts” the social cost of boo-ing by explicitly soliciting the behavior when it’s warranted.  Furthermore, booing is an accepted social norm, a historical tradition of the Apollo show audience, which further reduces the risk of incurring any social costs.  
The men who struggled with the decision to boo the performer singing Gospel clearly struggled because of the warranted fear of incurring social cost: the derision of their fellow members of the audience.  I don’t recall the exact quote…but something along the lines of getting off easy because he’s singing the Gospels…that you don’t boo Jesus.  
Acknowledge that I don’t present any data or papers to support my assertion in this email.  But could certainly delve into it on request.

Great point, Eugene. We struggled to make this episode have anything to do with economics (because it really didn’t) and even though we thought we were implicitly addressing the issue he raises, the fact is that we really didn’t. Next time!