How Can You Stop Comparing Yourself With Other People? (NSQ Ep. 13)
Also: how can we stop confusing correlation with causation?
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Relevant References & Research
Question #1: How can you avoid the emotional pain of social comparisons?
- Angela mentions that Nobel Laureate economist Gary Becker decided against majoring in math because his college roommate was much better at the subject. The roommate — John Milnor — went on to receive a Fields Medal in 1962.
- During their discussion about healthy comparison, Stephen mentions Angela’s professional admiration for psychologist Carol Dweck. Angela also discusses Dweck’s career on NSQ Ep. 8, “Wouldn’t It Be Better to Hear Your Eulogy Before You’re Dead?” and Ep. 12, “Does “As If” Thinking Really Work?”
- Stephen asks Angela if she ever compared herself to the high-achievers she interviewed for her book, Grit, like JPMorgan Chase C.E.O. Jamie Dimon and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. To hear more about Angela’s interactions with Pete Carroll, check out Ep. 6, “Is Incompetence a Form of Dishonesty?” and Ep. 7, “How Do You Handle Criticism?”
- Stephen shares a study by economist Emily Oster that concluded that the relatively low status of Indian women in certain rural communities was positively affected by the introduction of cable television.
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Question #2: Why are we so inclined to force causal narratives?
- Stephen discusses his experience researching his parents’ conversion from Judaism to Catholicism for his first book, Choosing My Religion. Stephen also describes the writing process for this book in Ep. 10, “Why Are Stories Stickier Than Statistics?”
- Angela explains the human urge to make causal connections goes far beyond data sets. In a 1944 experiment run by Smith College psychologists Fritz Heider and Mary-Anne Simmel, participants attributed causality and motives to random sequences of geometric shapes shown in a short film.
- Angela references the work of Yale psychologist Paul Bloom when explaining that causal inferences are present in children less than a year old. Bloom’s research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on morality, religion, fiction, and art.
- Stephen mentions Nassim Taleb’s concept of “narrative fallacy” — the idea that humans often mistakenly assign explanations and relationships to a series of facts. Psychologist Danny Kahneman writes about narrative fallacy in Thinking, Fast and Slow — a book the NSQ crew highly recommends to anyone who enjoys our show’s topics.
- Stephen recalls a previous discussion on dealing with uncertainty from NSQ Ep. 1, “Did Covid-19 Kill the Handshake?”
- Stephen brings up a paper by his Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt that found money had minimal impact on a candidate winning an election (although winning candidates usually have more money). Instead, the more compelling candidates tended to attract more money.