DUBNER: For those of you listening in the year 2240, we’re all dead.
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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.
DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.
DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.
Today on the show: How important are first impressions?
DUBNER: “God, I thought that guy was a real jerk.”
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DUCKWORTH: Stephen, I know you’ve done a lot of interviews in your life. I’m wondering how quickly do you come to a first impression of someone? How quickly do you think they’re are coming to an impression of you?
DUBNER: I can answer the second question quickly. I don’t know. I think that I, like most of us, have a pathetically small amount of feedback about how others perceive us upon a first meeting. Someone I recently met said to me — I really appreciate it, even though it was negative — they said, “Wow, you ask a lot of questions.” It was not meant to be a compliment. But it was useful feedback, because I do ask a lot of questions, and it’s not always appropriate. But I have to say, it’s very rare, I think, that you actually get feedback about someone else’s first impression of you. As for your first question about me interviewing people, so in most cases where I interview someone, I and my crew, we’ve already tried to learn quite a lot about that person. That’s why we’re interviewing them. But my experience is not a very typical first impression. I think what you’re really getting at is when people meet —.
DUCKWORTH: You are exactly right. I should say more, like, should you ever be at a cocktail party, and should you be, you know, at the canapé station.
DUBNER: At the canapé canopy.
DUCKWORTH: I don’t even know what a canapé is. It’s like a small morsel of food?
DUBNER: Small canopy.
DUCKWORTH: It’s just a small canopy. But you meet somebody, and you’re making small talk. I guess, in that context. Not “Stephen the journalist” but “Stephen the human.”
DUBNER: Yeah. It’s something I have thought about. And I’m happy to share the way I think about this, but honestly, I want to hear the science, because I have a feeling that you have some. But before you give me the science, I do want to preregister my objection — or at least a caveat, if I can. Because given how hard it is to actually observe and measure this kind of personal response in the real world, I may be a little bit skeptical if the evidence you’re going to present is mostly experimental and laboratory findings.
DUCKWORTH: So, you’re preregistering “meh,” but the reason behind that is what?
DUBNER: Look, you know I love psychology. You know I love you. I love the work you do. I love the work your colleagues do. I also love economics. I think each of these fields of study has some serious limitations. I think one of the limitations in the psychological research that I read, especially when it’s experimental or lab findings, is that people like you are using a relatively small, confined, and artificial circumstance in which to try to replicate how people behave in the real world, and especially when we’re dealing with something internal like this — like, “What do I think when I first meet you, Angela Duckworth?” — I think it’s very, very hard to measure an accurate rendering of that for a variety of reasons. One is, it’s hard to read a person’s mind, even in a good experiment. And two, because of the nature of this type of question, I may not be as revealing as you want me to be.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, interesting. Like, you might not say what you really think.
DUBNER: Yeah. Like, “God, I thought that guy was a real jerk, because he didn’t even look at me when I shook his hand.” Whereas, if I meet that same guy in an experiment at a university, I might say, “Well, you know, he struck me as someone who might have a little bit of a confidence or intimacy issue.” That’s what I mean.
DUCKWORTH: Right. You won’t be unvarnished. So, I’ve been thinking about first impressions, because my research has gone in that direction. And it’s not really my research, as in, I’m not the lead of it. But I have — or I should say I had — I had a postdoctoral fellow named Louis Hickman who became a, an assistant professor. He’s now at Virginia Tech.
DUBNER: Oh, so the reason you “had” him and not “have” him is because he has a job. You didn’t murder him.
DUCKWORTH: No, no, no. He’s still in the world, and I didn’t off him. Louis became a butterfly from, you know, whatever. What comes right before butterfly? It’s not a caterpillar.
DUBNER: Pupa. Larvae. One of them. Science. Biology.
DUCKWORTH: Anyway, he has spread his wings, so to speak. And Louis had, you know, started working with me as a postdoc. We created this online task where people introduce themselves in 90 seconds. We thought this is kind of the way job hiring is going with so much of it being transacted through technology and not necessarily in person. So, what we did was we recorded hundreds and hundreds of people introducing themselves to a camera. And then, what Louis did was he had human beings rate these people on three dimensions that are widely understood as primary dimensions on which we do judge people that we meet. One is warmth. One is competence. The third one is a little bit more in debate. We also judge people on their moral character. “Does this person have, you know, integrity? Are they trustworthy?”
DUBNER: Can I just ask, in an experiment like this, how is one supposed to glean an impression of — warmth, I get; competence, I sort of get; but moral character? Unless you’re going to show me, like, a 12-hour video that shows them in many, many different circumstances, then I don’t know how I would assess their moral character.
DUCKWORTH: So, you might say, as a conscientious objector, “I refuse to rate this complete stranger on their moral character.” And I think that would be a legitimate response. But in the study, we ask strangers to watch these videos and to make these ratings. And we don’t know what goes into any of these ratings. I mean, “What makes you think this person’s warm?” “What makes you think this person is competent?” I will tell you the items that we ask people to rate these videos. So, imagine you’re watching a 90-second introduction of someone. They say, “Hi, I’m Angela, and I’m from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, et cetera, et cetera.” And then, immediately afterwards you get this survey. We had three items to measure warmth, and they were: approachable, warm, sociable. And then, the three items for competence were: talented, skilled, capable. And then the three items for morality were: trustworthy, sincere, principled. Now you might think all of this is preposterous.
DUBNER: I do! But can I say, as much as I’m making a stink, I can see why this is important. Because the world does work this way. You know, thin-slicing and all that.
DUCKWORTH: We do. And I want to tell you more about this study, but I do need to go backwards and just say we are not the first people to do research on first impressions. In fact, some of the best research was done at Princeton by Alexander Todorov, who is no longer at Princeton. He’s moved on to Chicago Booth.
DUBNER: But also not dead.
DUCKWORTH: But also not dead. We should clarify that in all cases: dead or not dead. Alexander Todorov: alive.
DUBNER: Although, we should say, for those of you listening in the year 2240, we’re all dead. Just to be clear.
DUBNER: 2180? I was thinking there might be some major life-extension going on.
DUCKWORTH: How about 2322?
DUBNER: I don’t know. There might be babies right now.
DUCKWORTH: Of course, they don’t know what we’re saying, because they’re babies.
DUBNER: Yes, but they’re able to recapture and recalibrate their 2-year-old memories and they’ll live to 200.
DUCKWORTH: They’re bionic.
DUBNER: So anyway, most of the people we’re talking about are dead now. And we’re dead.
DUCKWORTH: Good point. Okay. So, Alexander Todorov — I think of him as the leader of the research on first impressions. And he has established, in one of his research studies, people come to a first impression within the first tenth of a second. So, 100 milliseconds. He established that by allowing people to look at pictures of people. And whether you can see it for a tenth of a second, or two-tenths of a second, or, you know, half a second, or a full second — it doesn’t matter. Like, you come to very similar impressions. You might have a little more confidence if you have a little more time. But one of the things that he also discovered is that these impressions are made very quickly from things like: how attractive is that person? So, for example, I talked about trying to understand how a first impression of warmth, or competence, or more integrity is made. When someone meets you for the first time, if you are more attractive, they will think — all other things being equal — that you’re also a competent person.
DUBNER: Yeah. I mean, there’s a fair amount of research in economics that shows what’s called “the beauty premium.” Dan Hamermesh and others have done this research. It shows that tall and good-looking people generally have it easier in life. Most of us have anecdotal and empirical evidence that some of this is probably true, to at least a large degree. The problem with this kind of experiment, for me, is, I hear about the data collection, and I think about how much it really means. It strikes me that you’re just measuring what one person in an experiment thinks and says about an image of a person that they’re seeing for the first time. To me though, the important part is the relationship between that experiment and real life where you actually interact with human beings over a long period of time. That’s like the difference between typing the word “human” on your keyboard and actually being a human.
DUCKWORTH: I think the term for this — in psychology, at least — is that you have a concern with ecological validity. That maybe these experiments were well done, maybe they did all the statistics right, but does this really have any bearing on the real world?
DUBNER: And, can I say, I also appreciate that when you’re trying to solve a difficult and interesting problem, you have to chunk it up and you have to start somewhere. So, I don’t mean to discredit this notion at all. I just wanted to register my continuing series of caveats.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah, all these preregistered complaints and skepticism.
DUBNER: Now I’m mid-registering, and I’ll post-register as well.
DUCKWORTH: So, there has been a lot of research on what it is that goes into those millisecond impressions. It’s interesting to look at the gender angle on this. For both men and women, features that are identified as “feminine” make you more attractive. Think about anime characters. Like, huge eyes and, like, the pointy chin. You know, whether you’re a male rater or a female rater, you rate these male or female faces as more attractive the more feminine they look. On the other hand, masculine features are associated with competence. And some would argue that there’s a kind of a double-penalty for women, in a sense, because if you further investigate male versus female faces, what you find is that if a guy looks very masculine, people think, “Oh, he’s competent.” If he looks very feminine, then you think he’s hot. For the woman, though, those two ends of the spectrum are both bad, because if she’s very female-looking, people tend to rate those women as extremely incompetent. And if she’s really masculine looking, it violates the expectations of what the woman is supposed to look like. And basically at the very high end of masculine features for a woman, like, you can think of, like, Susan Boyle from that show with Simon Cowell, “Britain’s Got Talent.” She ended up singing beautifully. But, you know, when she stood there on stage, I mean she has more masculine features; she also wasn’t dressed in a very feminine way — oh my gosh, people couldn’t believe it, because she looked so masculine. So, basically, the point being that at high levels of masculine features in women, it’s now violated expectations, while men seem really capable and strong when they look really masculine. So, I guess I just want to say that this first impression of research, which again, you could argue has issues of ecological validity, definitely have relevance. And I do think we can say definitively that we do come to impressions very quickly, and perhaps unfairly, because the research is also pretty clear that these can be pretty inaccurate.
DUBNER: I am on board with you about the fact that we come to a first impression, at least, quickly, and that they can be inaccurate. I guess the thing that especially interests me is how long they last and how they change. I would say that most of the relationships, in my life at least — and I would assume for most other people — the first impression or the first meeting is just that.
DUCKWORTH: You don’t think you’re strongly biased by that first meeting to then basically go into confirmation-bias mode, which is that you’re always looking for evidence to support your first impression?
DUBNER: I think I probably am. But I think time, essentially, wins out. You know, it reminds me a little bit of the argument that we made in the first Freakonomics book about names. So, there’s a lot of literature, including some done by Steve Levitt and Roland Fryer, about how influential a person’s first name is on their life. Many people who read the book came away with exactly the opposite conclusion from what we wrote, which was that a name barely matters at all. That was partly driven by the fact that there was a film made called “Freakonomics” that we didn’t make. We kind of participated in it, and they sort of got it backwards, and we told the director, and he didn’t really care, because he thought it was a better story.
DUCKWORTH: That would so bother me. Oh my God. That would drive me crazy.
DUBNER: Oh, believe me, I’ve been bothered. But it turns out that, I don’t know, filmmakers weren’t really that interested in hearing about the errors from the writers of the book that they were adapting.
DUCKWORTH: They had confirmation bias.
DUBNER: Yes, exactly. So anyway, a lot of people do have the impression that your name really affects your prospects in life. The data, however, say that’s not the case. The fact is, the name is a first impression that tends to fade really quickly and thoroughly over time as you develop a real-world relationship. So similarly, I would say, when you meet someone for the first time, and maybe you think that they are particularly brilliant, or maybe idiotic, or maybe intimidating — I do agree with you that there’s a strong likelihood that confirmation bias may kick in and you’ll feel that person is that way. They match your perception, and it may be a little bit harder to dislodge that impression. But I think that, over time, that really fades. I can think of several people I know, and really like, and admire, where my first impression was not a good one. And I can think of examples in the opposite direction too — people I thought at first were just awesome on every dimension and who turned out not to be.
Still to come on No Stupid Questions, Stephen and Angela discuss some of the most significant first impressions in history.
DUCKWORTH: Turns out: Hitler — not a great person.
* * *
Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about snap judgements and first impressions.
DUCKWORTH: You’re right that very, very, very first impression based on just an image of somebody — like, what they look like, they walk in the room — with more interaction, it does change. So, you’re actually now evaluating someone not just on what they look like, but their behavior. So, we update what we think about someone — even in the course of a laboratory session. And actually, getting back to Louis Hickman’s research, I know 90 seconds sounds like a very short amount of time, but it’s a lot longer than a hundred milliseconds. And we wanted to know, when you have all this dynamic information: you can listen to what the person says — so their verbal behavior; you can listen to how they say it, this is called paraverbal behavior — like, how up and down their voice goes, and do they use pauses, that kind of thing.
DUBNER: I would say that was abusing a pause. Not using a pause.
DUCKWORTH: And then there’s nonverbal behavior, which is: do they gesticulate? Do they smile? Do they arch their eyebrows? Is their head bobbing back and forth? And so, you’ve got a very rich set of dynamic cues: verbal, paraverbal, and nonverbal. So, you’re right that the very, very, very, very first impression — just based on what somebody looks like — is quickly updated when you have more dynamic, behavioral information. So, we know they can be updated, but it’s also true that there is some staying power. We know that, for example, you can predict how people will make decisions about whether somebody should receive a loan or not, whether they deserve to be sentenced to, like, more or fewer years in jail, even presidential elections, I think, have been studied. At least correlationally, you can see that first impressions seem to predict these things. And I do think for you to introspect Stephen and say, like, “Oh, I could think of a few people that I’ve changed my mind about,” I think one of the funny things about confirmation bias, Danny Kahneman would remind me, and remind anyone, that when you have an interview with somebody, you’re going to come to some very quick first impression. And then, you’re going to spend the rest of the interview confirming it. I think it’s almost impossible to know that you’re doing that.
DUBNER: Well, yeah. But, I mean, isn’t that the whole exercise of, like, this kind of conversation, and you and I talking about this stuff all the time, and living life itself — like, the whole point of learning about these biases is so that you can disrupt them.
DUCKWORTH: But Danny doesn’t think you can do it by reading his book, listening to this podcast, and trying to remind yourself. Danny thinks this is why you need a system. If you’re trying to hire people, you should just know that you’re going to be biased by your first impression. And therefore, you need to have multiple people interview the same person.
DUBNER: Right, but why is it so hard for one person — like you, let’s say, interviewing someone — to say to yourself, in the midst of this conversation, you’re saying like, “Oh, I don’t like this person. I don’t know what it is. Could be their clothes, their hair, the way they used a certain word, the way they didn’t hold the door open for me as we were coming into the room together, blah, blah, blah, blah. Could be a million things.” What’s to stop you from three minutes in saying, “Okay, Angela, stop. Get off the confirmation-bias train. Try to ask a question that has nothing to do with my perception right now, that gets to the core of what I’m interested in this person about.” What’s to stop us?
DUCKWORTH: Now you sound like me. So, when I have these conversations with Danny, I’m like, “But Danny, why can’t you just remind yourself? Like, come on.”
DUBNER: Ah, the student has become the teacher.
DUCKWORTH: But the real teacher’s not here in this conversation to tell us. But I think the issue is that it’s something which doesn’t viscerally feel like it’s a problem. I’ve been doing job interviews, as you know, for the C.E.O. search for Character Lab, and not once have I had a conversation where I was like, “Oh, you know, I’m probably in confirmation bias mode.” I’m just having a conversation, and I feel like I’m being even-handed and rational.
DUBNER: Are these conversations in person or on Zoom?
DUCKWORTH: They’ve all been on Zoom, but I’m going to have an in-person one coming up.
DUBNER: Now when you’re on Zoom, you have your camera on, I assume, yes?
DUCKWORTH: I do.
DUBNER: What would happen if, instead of Zoom — which I think we think gives us more information, because there are visual cues — what if instead of Zoom, you just got on the phone. And if you get on the phone, you don’t feel compelled to be looking at the person and have that person looking at you, and you can actually just listen. Even if you gained three seconds of time where you are not being observed as being observant, you could say to yourself, “Hey, Angela, get over that first impression and get to the next thing.”
DUCKWORTH: Well, what’s interesting is that Louis found from these, like, 90-second introduction videos: when it comes to competence it’s more driven by what we say. So, you know, having a logical structure to what we’re saying, having a coherence to the conclusion, and so forth. It turns out that moral integrity — which, I think you had some skepticism that anybody would be able to make any inference about in the first 90 seconds of meeting someone — you’re right there, Stephen. Which is to say that it was the most difficult for raters to get a handle on for them to agree upon. And a first impression of warmth was driven most strongly by these nonverbal, visual things, like what someone is doing with their facial expressions, for example. If you want to say that’s a distraction, then yeah, cut the video. But if you wanted to hire a teacher, for example, and you thought, “You know, I really want a warm third-grade teacher, but I’m going to do the interview on the phone,” then you’d be losing all that visual information. It says something very important about human perception, which is that we do look at these visual cues. I mean, if you are smiling or not smiling, if you are gesticulating with your hands or not, if you are making eye contact or not, those cues matter a lot.
DUBNER: I definitely am fully on-board with the degree to which a visual input, even on an audio-first product can be really important. Also, in terms of your argument about the importance of a first impression, at least in certain circumstances, I don’t want you to think that I disagree. In fact, I can think of one example from history where I very, very, very much agree that first impressions matter a lot. I’m going to read you a quote, see if you know who said this. “In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.” Who do you think said that about whom?
DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. It feels very like Hemingway. I don’t know.
DUBNER: You’re in the right era. Early-ish 20th century.
DUCKWORTH: Is it Steinbeck?
DUBNER: No. It’s not a writer. These are politicians. I’ll read it again. “In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.” And this was in a particularly fraught, political moment in Europe.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, Hitler?
DUBNER: There you go.
DUBNER: This was Neville Chamberlain.
DUCKWORTH: He was, like, the United Kingdom. Was he the prime minister?
DUBNER: He was indeed the prime minister of Britain.
DUCKWORTH: I can’t believe I got that right! Yes!
DUBNER: Congratulations. What was happening is that Hitler and the Germans wanted to annex Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia. And most of Europe said, you know, “What are you talking about? You can’t just go taking someone else’s region.” And Hitler said, “Well, yeah, but they’re all Germans living there, da da da.” So anyway, this is ultimately what led to the developments that led to World War II, because once Hitler got Sudetenland, he just kind of kept going. So, when you read that quote, “In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word,” And the fact is, no, he couldn’t be.
DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Turns out: Hitler — not a great person.
DUBNER: So, this is an argument that maybe we should not overweight first impressions, or that first impressions really do matter. Because, you know, once Chamberlain had taken that position, it was very hard to walk it back.
DUCKWORTH: I mean, understanding how our first impressions are made — and maybe that’s a through line. I remember reading an article that made me think, like, “Oh, I’m so glad there is this science.” This is a paper by Richard Cook, Adam Eggleston, and Harriet Over, and it’s called “The Cultural Learning Account of First Impressions,” and their thesis is that when you meet somebody that you don’t know, very quickly, you come to first impressions, just like we said. Their explanation for this is that we have these associations — these correlations of sort of like, “Oh, when I see people who are this, I often find that they are that.” And you might have correlations from culture — from advertisements, from movies, from what you see on the news — between what somebody looks like and then what you’re told is their character. Their idea is that these cultural messages seep in — they become our associations. And so, one of the implications of this is that, like, we sure do need a science of first impressions because if they are culturally-shaped, and if they can, for example, reinforce gender stereotypes, racial stereotypes, or perhaps inaccurate associations, then at least to be aware of them is better than not to be aware of them.
DUBNER: It also makes me think about the fact that we are always not only taking, but making, first impressions, and a lot of times probably don’t even know it. I mean, you just think about it. Every stranger who sees you, the way you carry yourself in public, in your class, in the cafe, but even among colleagues who know you and so on, it’s like you’re always, to some degree, being auditioned — often without knowing you’re being auditioned. Weirdly, this makes me think of Moses.
DUCKWORTH: Moses? Okay.
DUBNER: Yeah. You know, God picks Moses.
DUCKWORTH: Because of his square jawline.
DUBNER: Square jawline and very anime-looking eyes. Although, the square jawline was probably hidden by an 18-inch beard. You could keep all your tools and things in your beard and some extra food. That’s what we men do when we grow the winter beard. Anyway, there’s been much, much, much, much debate about why Moses was the person chosen by God in the telling of the Bible and the Torah. He wasn’t a particularly good public speaker, and he had a kind of checkered history. He had to run away from being raised as a prince of Egypt because he’d killed a guy. Anyhow, God sees Moses in the wilderness, we’re told, and there’s a midrash, a commentary, that tells us that Moses was in the wilderness because a kid, a baby goat, had escaped from the flock, and Moses was a shepherd, and he had chased this kid and found it drinking from a little pool of water. And Moses, again, according to this story, says to the baby goat, “Oh, I didn’t know you ran away because you were thirsty. You must be really tired.” So, Moses picks up and carries this single kid back to the flock, and God is watching the whole time. And God says, “Whoa, if Moses is so compassionate toward a single kid in a flock, how much more compassionate will he be toward the flock of Israel that belongs to God?” So, I’m not saying that was a first impression. I think God had been spying on Moses for quite some time.
DUCKWORTH: You know, being all omniscient and all.
DUBNER: But yeah, it makes you think about all the impressions that you, or I, and everyone we know are making on people all the time. And I think it might be a good moment then to ask for understanding and forgiveness. We know ourselves. Like, if you’re a good person, or if you think of yourself as a good person, it’s so painful to be perceived — or what we feel is misperceived — as being selfish, or mean, or something like that. And so, I think the one thing that I’m really convinced of from this conversation is that, yeah, first impressions do matter — often more than I wish they did — but because they do, I think it’s worth thinking about them a lot more. Not only the ones we make, but the ones that we take.
DUCKWORTH: I’m not Moses, and I don’t think you’re God, but I want to know what my first impression was on you.
DUBNER: Okay. I’ll tell you. Before I tell you this, I would like to call out to listeners. I would love to hear from our listeners about a first impression that you had and how it turned out to be really wrong. I would love to hear those stories. Use your phone to make a voice memo. Just do it in a nice, quiet place. Include your name, where you live, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Okay. Angela, I’ve never told you this, and I’m a little reluctant —.
DUCKWORTH: Oh, no.
DUBNER: But only a little, because the ending is happy. So, you and I, we had talked on the phone, I’d interviewed you a time or two. And then, we asked you to come participate in this live game show we were doing for a time called
“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.” And you were one of three celebrity panelists who would be assessing the interesting, factual presentations of guests who were from the audience. And I remember backstage, in the greenroom, before the show, I met you for the first time, and you were very pleasant, and you’re a great human. I can really say that. But as the producers and I are kind of telling the celebrity panelists, such as yourself, how the show is going to work, and what we need you to do, you were kind of frantically looking for a place to take or make a phone call. And I thought, “Oh man, she’s maybe a little self-important or primadonna,” like, “She’s here to do this thing, but she’s running out to make this phone call.” And so, my first impression was, like, a little bit on the not super, super positive side. But — and this is really what I’m talking about when it comes to first impressions — I got to know you that night, and then many, many other times, I was totally wrong. It turned out that you really had a very important phone call to make.
DUCKWORTH: I was going to say, I was rescuing someone, right?
DUBNER: I’m sure you were. And so, that is my story of my first, and faulty, impression of Angela Duckworth, because I know the real one to be much, much, much different from the self-important or primadonna-ish one that I had encountered that day. So, yet another plea to understand that first impressions matter, but over the course of an actual life and relationship, I feel like they decline in direct relation to the length of time and how well you get to know someone. So Angela, I’ve admitted that my first impression of you was not a hundred percent positive, but eventually replaced by 101 percent positive. I’m a little bit reluctant to ask, but you, me? Did you have one? How bad was it?
DUCKWORTH: I remember thinking, primarily this: I’m not sure I had a strong impression of warmth, competence, or, you know, moral character, or lack thereof.
DUBNER: Certainly not moral character!
DUCKWORTH: But I do remember thinking, “God, he is so good at being a journalist,” because you got me to say things that I didn’t really feel I should be saying on the record — not that I was lying, but just, you know, all scientists like to be careful and stick to the data. And you got me to just say what I really thought about human nature. So, I remember hanging up on that conversation and thinking he kind of “out-journalized” me.
DUBNER: I’m glad I didn’t go so far as to alienate you though, that you came back for more. So, thank goodness.
DUCKWORTH: No, I answered your next phone call.
DUBNER: Maybe there is within that obnoxiousness, just a shred of moral character then, at the end of the day.
DUCKWORTH: Maybe there was some moral character there after all.
DUBNER: Just a shred.
No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.
In the first half of the show, Angela confesses that she doesn’t know what a canapé is. And Stephen jokes that it’s a small canopy. This is, obviously, incorrect. According to Oxford University Press’s An A-Z of Food and Drink, a canapé is a small, thin piece of bread or toast topped with a savory garnish or spread. “Canapé” is French for sofa — so the edible kind of canapé consists of a topping sitting on a piece of bread just as a person would sit on a couch.
Later, Angela wonders what stage in the life cycle of a butterfly comes before its final form. Stephen was correct in guessing a pupa, also known as a chrysalis. The stage can last from a few weeks to — in certain species — a few years, while the animal grows legs, wings, and other anatomical features of a butterfly.
Then, Stephen briefly mentions “thin-slicing” — a concept which has been addressed in past episodes of the show but wasn’t explained today. The term refers to drawing conclusions, usually about a person, based on very brief observations. The concept was introduced by psychologists Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in a 1992 article for Psychological Bulletin.
Finally, Stephen and Angela discuss how — far in the future — everyone currently listening to this podcast will be dead. Stephen notes that 2-year-olds living now may, with life-extension technology, be able to live to the age of 200 in 2322. As many of you likely noticed, that math doesn’t add up. A toddler listening to the show today would be about 300 years old if they made it to 2322. To any listeners in the future who fit that description, I’d like to say, “Hello! Thanks for tuning it. And if this is your first impression of human math skills in the 21st century, sadly, it’s a pretty solid representation.”
That’s it for the fact-check.
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Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear your thoughts on last week’s episode on the progress paradox. We asked listeners to tell us why they think people in the wealthiest countries often experience deep unhappiness. Here’s what you said:
Bifei BA: Hi. I’m a listener from Beijing, China, and I’m very unsurprised to hear China being mentioned in the episode about people in wealthier countries becoming less happy than before. I think it’s because the improvement of economy also means that the organizations are putting more and more requirements about efficiency and skills on their employees, which leads to higher level of competition. I know a lot of people who cannot get a job, even though they are very highly educated and even those who have a job are feeling compelled to work for more hours because they don’t want to be surpassed by other people.
Chuck STRAWN: Hi, Steven and Angela. This is Chuck Strawn from Seattle, Washington. I think one of the reasons that rich countries experience unhappiness has to do with the overall notion that our purpose as people is to continue to produce and also to consume. The idea that the only reason that we are here is to buy more, make more, buy more, make more, buy more really does echo what Angela was talking about in terms of comparison. Our whole economy, and our whole reason for being, and our reasons to interact with other people, is based on comparing with them and trying to improve ourselves in comparison to them and also in comparison to the market.
Anonymous: In response to the happiness episode, I was surprised that choice wasn’t mentioned. I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, and I am still a religious person but do not identify as a witness. My childhood was marked with very clear expectations and rules. Even though I appreciate and love my life now, I am often overwhelmed by just the choice that it is to be a person in the world when you get to decide who you want to be. It is overwhelming, down to the point where when people ask, “What do you want for lunch?,” I just feel like I want less choice. And it does wear away at my happiness. I do believe I was happier when I was younger, but I am more fulfilled and satisfied with my life now.
That was, respectively: Bifei Ba, Chuck Strawn, and a listener who would like to remain anonymous. Thanks to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. And remember, we’d still love your first-impression stories. Send a voice memo to NSQ@Freakonomics.com. Let us know your name or if you’d like to remain anonymous. And you might hear your story on next week’s show!
Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: How important is family?
DUCKWORTH: “I cannot come to Thanksgiving this year, and I cannot stand you.”
That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.
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No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. Our staff also includes Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, Greg Rippin, Julie Kanfer, Morgan Levey, Zack Lapinski, Ryan Kelley, Katherine Moncure, Jeremy Johnston, Jasmin Klinger, Daria Klenert, Emma Tyrrell, Lyric Bowditch, and Alina Kulman. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to email@example.com. To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Freakonomics.com/NSQ. Thanks for listening!
DUCKWORTH: We’re all going to be dead. Dead! All of us!
- Nalini Ambady, professor of psychology at Stanford University.
- Richard Cook, professor of psychology at Birkbeck, University of London.
- Adam Eggleston, psychology research associate at the University of York.
- Roland Fryer, professor of economics at Harvard University.
- Daniel Hamermesh, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Texas at Austin.
- Louis Hickman, professor of industrial-organizational psychology at Virginia Tech.
- Daniel Kahneman, professor emeritus of psychology and public affairs at Princeton University.
- Steven Levitt, professor of economics at the University of Chicago and host of People I (Mostly) Admire.
- Harriet Over, professor of psychology at the University of York.
- Robert Rosenthal, professor of psychology at U.C. Riverside.
- Alexander Todorov, professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
- “The Cultural Learning Account of First Impressions,” by Richard Cook, Adam Eggleston, and Harriet Over (Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 2022).
- Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War, by Tim Bouverie (2019).
- “Revealing Hidden Gender Biases in Competence Impressions of Faces,” by DongWon Oh, Elinor A. Buck, and Alexander Todorov (Psychological Science, 2018).
- Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, by Daniel S. Hamermesh (2011).
- Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman (2011).
- “First Impressions: Making Up Your Mind After a 100-Ms Exposure to a Face,” by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov (Psychological Science, 2006).
- “The Causes and Consequences of Distinctively Black Names,” by Roland Fryer and Steve Levitt (Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2004).
- “Thin Slices of Expressive Behavior as Predictors of Interpersonal Consequences: A Meta-Analysis,” by Robert Rosenthal and Nalini Ambady (Psychological Bulletin, 1992).